No one should've expected a fire sale by the Dallas Cowboys ahead of the 2020 NFL trade deadline. With Nov. 3 now arrived and the 4 p.m. ET deadline having come and gone, the Cowboys were content in the moves they've made over the past week. The headliner was of course the decision to send defensive end Everson Griffen to the Detroit Lions in exchange for a conditional sixth-round pick, and that was immediately followed by the release of both defensive lineman Dontari Poe and cornerback Daryl Worley -- for either of the struggling veterans. From there, it was a seventh-round pick sent to the Houston Texans in exchange for defensive lineman Eli Ankou, in a move mostly shrugged off because of its curious nature.
After all, and this is no knock to Ankou but instead stating the obvious, the 26-year-old journeyman is now joining his fifth team in four seasons, and the Cowboys gave up a pick for him only 11 days after the Texans themselves claimed him off waivers following a release from the Indianapolis Colts. It was also the Texans second look at Ankou, having drafted him in 2017 before waiving him in final roster cutdowns that same year. For now, the move feels like free money for the listless Texans, and it marks what could be the final move for the Cowboys in the realm of making trades this season.
Sources told CBS Sports immediately following the Griffen trade that the club might make "one or two" more moves, and they made three -- counting the attempts to trade Poe and Worley before releasing them.
ICYMI:— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) October 28, 2020
After initially confirming news of the #Cowboys decision to trade Everson Griffen to the #Lions, I spoke with @PriscoCBS and @Hassel_Chris to break down the move.
Spoiler: I like it. #science
[🎥: @CBSSportsHQ] pic.twitter.com/vzLZmoqD8D
Anyone looking for a marquee player to be shipped out was predictably disappointed.
"Of course [there are untouchables in Dallas]," owner Jerry Jones told 105.3FM The Fan on Tuesday. "Absolutely they are. The numbers of them are not just somebody that we want to go forward whether it be against Pittsburgh or whether it be against the next several years. Absolutely."
He would not, however, name said untouchables.
"No, I don't think you start there," he continued. "I think if I were to give it, you would know why I wouldn't do that. You'd start with the touchables, not the untouchables. And the untouchables as it would pertain to the kind of trade we're talking about, a down the line situation, an equivalent of depth, backup for -- that's unlikely today. I don't see the urgency there today for that.
"And, so, the guys that would get up there and someone that would have a meaningful consideration by another team, you know, it's unlikely. Let me be real clear here: we're spending, and I'm fine with it, but we're spending a lot of time on something that has a high improbability today."
What's clear is Aldon Smith instantly became one of those untouchables -- the Cowboys having turned down an offer from the Seattle Seahawks (and potentially other clubs) to keep the talented pass rusher in Dallas.
"That's correct," Jones said when asked to confirm the reports. "That's definitely correct. We're not interested in doing anything in Aldon Smith. It's really been a positive how he's evolved.
"He's a different player than he was, but that doesn't make it negative. You just think he's been out the years that he's been out. I like his focus. I like his attitude. I like his attitude about the future.
"I'm not interested in doing anything [trade-wise] on Aldon."
That's for good reason,, because both the Cowboys and Smith are currently motivated to get a deal done on a possible extension -- be it in 2020 or in the offseason to follow. If for whatever reason the two sides aren't able to strike a deal, given the resurgence of Smith's career following his return to the field after a four-year hiatus due to suspension, it's likely the Cowboys would land a top compensatory pick, should he sign a big-money deal elsewhere. Jones has an edge in any free agency talks with Smith though, or rather several.
First, it was the Cowboys who took a chance on him when no one else would. Second, Smith has established a deep personal relationship with Mike McCarthy and it was his existing one with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula -- who also coached him to greatness with the San Francisco 49ers -- that helped fuel the Cowboys decision to sign him. Additionally, Smith is one of the few who quickly took to defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's scheme, and he currently leads the team with five sacks.
With so much leaning in their favor regarding Smith, they believe they can agree to terms in the near future.
The news on Smith drives home the Cowboys view on their list of untouchables, and when it comes to other potential trades that could've involve lower-tier players, Jones was mostly taking a laissez-faire approach -- harping heavily on reserving/creating cap space and evaluation young talent as opposed to digging into the savings being squirreled away for Dak Prescott and 2021 free agency.
"I'm in the mood, but certainly not in the mood that would do anything to negatively, knowingly negatively impact our future, both this weekend as well as now and in the years to come," Jones said. "So, what does that mean? What does that mean is that I don't expect anything, but if something should come up of any nature, certainly got the ability to entertain it and make a decision on it."
And as far as the cap goes, team exec Stephen Jones was in lockstep with the Hall of Fame owner.
"I just think the biggest thing we got to measure here is the cap space," he told The Fan on Monday. "To really get another tackle in here that could help us, you know, that's a stretch. Most people don't want to give up their good tackles this time of year. Then, to put one in here that's a big cap number, that might be the only way you can get one is just, at the end of the day, you got to measure how much that's going to help you in terms of the issues that we have right now."
"More than anything, I think these players just on the defensive side of the ball just need to play, and hopefully we'll be getting Andy Dalton and certainly that will help," Jones said firmly. "It was great to have Zack Martin back in there [in Week 8]. I think he really gave us something there to help the offensive line out. So, overall, we've played better, certainly not well enough to win.
"We got to continue to improve and I think we will."
So while a last-minute trade wasn't impossible, it was highly unlikely.
"I think we're basically in a mode that if something came to us that made a lot of sense, then we'd certainly look at it," said Jones. "I don't know that we're aggressively out here right now either trying to get somebody or move somebody. What we want to do right now is play some of these young guys that we have, give them the reps that they need, see what we have as we move through the season here. I only think we're only going to get better as a football team, and see some of these young guys step up and play is important.
"You look at a guy like Randy Gregory last night, who finally gets his reps, and certainly you could see what we've always liked about Randy Gregory. I just think we got to get in here and let some of our young players play, and I think we'll continue to get better."