Let us ignore for a moment the Molotov cocktail Jon Gruden has lobbed through the window in Oakland in order to build some strange football autocracy in his identity. There is still something jarring happening there, the consequences of which won’t be fully realized until the meat of his Powerball-sized contract kicks in.
But on this frenzied Monday, roughly a week before the trade deadline, he may have scored a rare fleecing—even if the deal itself is an admission of one of Gruden’s biggest faults as a coach who does not have a reputation for developing or reconditioning young talent. Even if he denied such a thing was even possible a week ago and blamed the media for doing its job. Even if he plucked Amari Cooper off the field mid-practice, again burning a locker room that likely has no clue who will be next, and whether the quarterback is even safe.
It’s hard to fathom the reasons why Dallas decided to give up valuable draft capital—a first-round pick—for Cooper, who has not been at his best over the past two seasons. But let’s try to put the Cowboys' desperation maneuver in perspective:
• The NFC East is wide open. Once again, it looks as though the storied division is headed for one of those logjam seasons where every team save for the poorly-hydrated Giants are in contention. Dallas is tied with the Eagles for second place at 3-4 and, in Jones’ mind, this could be the type of maneuver that finally jump-starts one of the least-efficient offenses in football. Dallas’s leading wide receiver is Cole Beasley, with tight end Geoff Swaim lagging behind. Offseason free agency acquisition Allen Hurns has 13 catches on 28 targets for 158 yards and a score.
• Jason Garrett is reeling. Perhaps Jones’ favorite Cowboys coach in modern times is nearing a point where it would be difficult to justify keeping him around much longer. His conservatism on the football field is killing drives and costing the team games. The lack of options at wide receiver has forced Dallas into an unoriginal, and at times predictable, scheme that’s still powered by Ezekiel Elliott. This is an owner’s final lifeline to a coach he admires a great deal.
• The Cowboys have a well-timed bye. If a season can pivot, it usually happens on a bye week. Self scouting can sometimes produce revelations that are impossible to see during the day to day grind. Garrett and his offensive staff now have the chance to reimagine their passing game with another set of capable, if temperamental hands.
Jones loves dealing for big-time receivers. Though the scars may not be healed from the Joey Galloway swap or the Roy Williams trade, he is aggressive, and he is not concerned that sacrificing long-term assets for a high-risk, short-term gain will cost him his job. That is the beauty of being the owner and operator of the red emergency phone.
Funny how, in his mad scramble to build up his roster, Jones found a trading partner equally eager to tear his operation down. One man views draft picks as futile for now; a function of some future idea that is not interesting or valuable to a 76-year-old owner who just wants to get back into the playoffs. One man views draft picks as something worth melting a franchise for, confident that he can turn the assets into something better.
While Gruden will need to spend the next few years explaining why he’s operating the Raiders like a joyless hedge fund manager, Jones might have the tougher time selling an expensive player with a propensity to drop the football. Cooper’s fifth-year option will cost Dallas almost $14 million next season. It might be difficult to integrate him into the offense even with the bye. There might not be enough talent around him to accentuate Cooper’s best attributes.
Gruden might not have handled the deal the right way, and he might not care given that this locker room could all be playing somewhere else by the time the 2019 season starts. But in this case, at least, a first-round pick was too good to turn down.
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