The NFL trade deadline is under a week away, 4 p.m. ET on Halloween, and as of right now Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones thinks his squad isn't a trick: He truly believes Dallas, 4-2 and in the NFC playoff mix, has most of what it needs to make a run in the playoffs.
"I think we've got a team that's a contender," Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. "I would really extend to improve our team right now."
Extending makes it seem like Jones, who is also the team's general manager, is willing to reach out to other teams to make a deal. Confusing use of language considering he desires teams to send him the first text or make the first call.
It'll have to come our way," Jones said. "The initiation of an opportunity to make a trade at this time that would help us principally has to start on the other end. That's not showing a lack of aggressiveness. It's just that's where it starts. I like where we are with our personnel today. So I'm not thinking in any way that we need to upgrade our roster."
This is the opposite mindset from their NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles -- the defending NFC champions, who in a trade with the Tennessee Titans on Tuesday despite their 6-1 record, currently the best in the conference. The San Francisco 49ers, the team who has ended the Cowboys' last two playoff runs and beat them 42-10 in Week 5 this season, has swung key trades in the past like the one for Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey a year ago, a move that has paid major dividends. However, Jones feels like the Cowboys aren't too far away from the tier that the two conference championship game participants from a season ago are in.
"I'm not gonna say we belong on the field with San Fran and we haven't played Philly," Jones said. "I'm anticipating Philadelphia being what they look like, so I don't want to go that far. But we're in the upper echelon."
Given injuries at linebacker -- a neck injury that sent Leighton Vander Esch to injured reserve and the preseason torn ACL for rookie third-round pick DeMarvion Overshown -- and cornerback -- a torn ACL that ended Pro Bowler Trevon Diggs' 2023 -- there are areas where more depth could be helpful given the Cowboys have 11 regular-season games left and what they hope turns into multiple postseason games.
"I have areas on this team that we could, if certain circumstances happen, that you might improve," Jones said. "You know that your best chance to get it done is when it comes by you and you grab it. To go out and push it, the odds of getting it done at the price or the trade conditions that you would expect is dreaming. You have a lot of machinations that you're working with every day. Would I do something that would take away from this team so that it can help us in the future? Probably not."
Therein lies the rub. Jones wants to continue to have one foot in the now and one in the future, a school of thought that may be a key culprit in the Cowboys not advancing past the NFC Divisional Round since 1995. Dallas currently controls the rights to its own first-, second-, third- and seventh-round selections in the 2024 NFL Draft, and the Cowboys are in possession of all seven of their 2025 picks. Should Jones decide to bolster his roster in what appears to be a parity-filled NFC, here are a few players he should considering having conversations about prior to the trade deadline.
One of the players who has stepped up in Vander Esch and Overshown's collective shoes is second-year, undrafted safety Markquese Bell. The 24-year-old out of Florida A&M has been a career defensive back, but the 6-foot-3, 205-pound defender has been tasked with filling in at linebacker on Dan Quinn's defense, and he shined brightly in the team's Week 6 win against the Chargers.
Bell totaled seven tackles, five of which occurred at or around the line of scrimmage while allowing just 36 receiving yards and one first down in coverage. He earned a 91.3 grade for his performance from Pro Football Focus, making him the seventh-highest graded player in the NFL for Week 6, on offense or defense, among those who played at least 25 snaps.
"Great job, I think you are going to see what we see every day when you look at a young man who came up through special teams," McCarthy said of Bell's effort on Monday. "Super competitive. He is a natural in there [at linebacker], particularly in sub-groups. I just love his tenacity and confidence for a young player. I thought he did a nice job."
However, against teams like the 49ers and Eagles, physical outfits that have offenses centered around punishing ground games, the Cowboys could use a little more size at their linebacker position to rotate in with Bell. Dallas could also use more at the position so they don't feel the need to pull All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons, whose 22% quarterback pressure percentage is the second highest in the NFL among players with 100 or more pass rush snaps this season, off the line too much where he has been highly effective at disrupting opposing quarterbacks.
The Denver Broncos are a mess in Year 1 under new head coach Sean Payton, making them ripe to make a trade. They are off to a 2-5 start and are 0-4 against the AFC, their own conference. The defense has allowed 31.0 points per games this season, the second-most in the NFL. Even when their defense does well, they usually lose. Denver lost 19-8 at the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6. The Broncos have allowed fewer than 20 points in 13 games since the start of the 2022 season, but they have a record of 5-8 in those games.
While Payton said the Broncos "aren't looking to do business" with their players before the trade deadline, they have already done so, flipping defensive lineman Randy Gregory to the San Francisco 49ers and releasing outside linebacker Frank Clark. Josey Jewell, 28 years old, is an experienced inside linebacker (49 starts in 68 career games) and has some nice size on his frame, standing at 6-2, 236 pounds. He could be a nice add to their run defense, which could keep Bell more fresh for passing situations. Plus, he is in the final year of his contract, so Jones could probably acquire him on the cheap.
Losing one of the key components of their top-five-ranked scoring defense (16.7 points per game allowed, the fourth fewest in the NFL) in Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs, whose 18 interceptions since he entered the NFL in 2020 are tied for the most in the league alongside Patriots Pro Bowl corner J.C. Jackson, cut their defense deeply. However, second-year, fifth-round pick DaRon Bland has stepped up admirably in Diggs' absence.
His eight career interceptions since the start of the 2022 are the most in the NFL, three of which have come in 2023, making him tied for the second-most this season. Bland's 9.4 passer rating as the primary defender in coverage leads the NFL among the 75 players with 30 or more passes thrown his way. Stephon Gilmore, the 33-year-old former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has also been steady as his 43.2 passer rating in coverage ranks fifth in the entire NFL this season among the 75 players with 30 or more passes thrown their way. However between Gilmore's age, which makes him close to ancient in NFL cornerback years, and the need for more depth on the outside in general, a trade for a cornerback would make sense.
Calling the Tennessee Titans about the availability of second-year cornerback Roger McCreary, a 2022 second-round pick, wouldn't hurt. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has had plenty of success extracting key players out of Nashville, so it would make sense for Jones to give it a go. McCreary could be the exact type of player Jones is looking for: one that could help the team now and later. He is only 23 years old, and is in the second year of his rookie deal, His 71.7 passer rating allowed in coverage this season ranks 34th among 75 players with 30 or more passes thrown their direction, but as the third outside corner on a defense with the most intense pass rush in the NFL (50.7% quarterback pressure rate, first in the NFL and no other team is at 45% or higher), McCreary could thrive.
Tennessee has essentially waved the white flag on the season between the Byard trade, and head coach Mike Vrabel operating as if the Titans are playing preseason football Malik Willis and Will Levis could play in Week 8 against the Atlanta Falcons. It can't hurt to pick up the phone and check on McCreary's availability.
WR help for Prescott and Lamb
Courtland Sutton (43 targets) has been the most utilized pass-catcher in Denver's offense this season, but the Broncos would be wise to attempt to flip him for more draft compensation given all they have surrendered to acquire Sean Payton and Russell Wilson. Sutton has five receiving touchdowns already this season, more than he had in each of the prior two seasons combined. At 6-4, 216 pounds, Sutton has the stature to be a strong red zone target, something the Cowboys desperately need in light of Michael Gallup's struggles this season.
Everything can change in two years in the NFL. In 2021, Hunter Renfrow totaled 103 catches for 1,038 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns to earn the first Pro Bowl selection of his career. Then, the Raiders rewarded him with a two-year, $32 million contract extension in the 2022 offseason. However, he just hasn't been fit in head coach Josh McDaniels' offense since 2022. His best attribute is his ability ad-lib his routes and drift into open space to make himself available for his quarterback.
McDaniels' offense is predicated on structure, and that has simply been a bad fit. This season, Renfrow has just eight catches for 73 yards on 12 targets despite playing in all seven games. He has only been targeted five in the last three weeks, including not at all in the Raiders' 21-17 win against the New England Patriots in Week 7, a game in which he had only seven offensive snaps. It doesn't help that Las Vegas signed former New England Patriot Jakobi Meyers to a three-year, $33 million contract this past offseason to play a similar role as Renfrow out of the slot.
Renfrow is only 27, and he could still provide plenty of value to another team's offense should he be given a chance to succeed, something not currently present with McDaniels. He could be a strong option for quarterback Dak Prescott when he decides to roll outside of the pocket and extend the play, something he did plenty of times in the team's 20-17 win at the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 6.