Dallas Cowboys fans heard something quite unfamiliar from Jerry Jones during a recent radio interview. The longtime owner of the NFL’s most valuable franchise exercised caution when it came to trading away the Cowboys' first-round pick in next year’s draft. Specifically, he was asked by Dallas-area station 105.3 FM The Fan if he’d be willing to part with the valuable selection for an established running back or defensive player.
"I'd be reluctant to, but certainly if the right situation came along that could improve us now, with where we are with [quarterback Tony] Romo, his career and where we are with what we've put together, it's a good time to go for it," Jones said.
Jones wouldn’t mention any player by name, mostly because NFL rules prohibit him from doing so, but it’s widely believed that the player the Cowboys covet the most is Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
A brief glimpse at Peterson’s resume is enough for any one to understand why Jones would want Peterson. The Texas native is a six-time Pro Bowler who claimed the 2012 league MVP by rushing for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns while helping carry Minnesota to the postseason.
Yet Jones is being cautious, maybe even apprehensive, because a deal for Peterson could be very costly and ruin the Cowboys long-term future.
The main issue at hand is the Vikings insistence on keeping Peterson, even though he’s publicly stated he doesn’t believe Minnesota is the “right place for him.” With quarterback Teddy Bridgewater entering his second season after a better-than projected rookie year, Minnesota could use Peterson to not only protect the young passer but to even make a return to the postseason in 2015.
Thus, even though the Vikings have stated on numerous occasions that they won’t part with Peterson, if they somehow come around to the idea the asking price could be astronomical. Peterson did just turn 30, but with basically a year off on the commissioner’s exempt list, he should be in top form and return as the one of the top rushers in the NFL.
Jones has been careful not to part with his picks of late, and Minnesota could demand several on top of some players who could contribute right away, as well as some salary cap relief. The Cowboys have 14 total picks for the 2016 and 2017 drafts, and it's reasonable for Minnesota to ask for at least one first-rounder and perhaps as many as three in some combination in the second and third rounds over the next two draft cycles.
On picks alone that’s a huge haul, but Jones already hinted he would be open to deal 2016’s first choice. The Cowboys haven't exactly been brilliant at picking players. Out of 37 picks the Cowboys have made since 2010, only six (Zack Martin, Anthony Hitchens, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, and Dez Bryant) have paid huge dividends while the 31 other players have either filled a need in a minor way or been relatively average.
A sticking point for Jones is the loss of any member of a 2014 squad that reclaimed the NFC East title with a 12-4 record, and was perhaps one touchdown call away from making the conference title game for the first time since the 1995 season.
But the salary cap is the likely reason for why Jones has held off on selling the Cowboys future off for one player. Before this offseason, Dallas was consistently over the cap at $18 million combined from 2014 to 2012, according to figures compiled by Spotrac. In 2011, Dallas had more than $30 million in space but exceeded that amount and didn’t make the playoffs until last season.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest Jones is serious about better cap management. He already let Murray walk to the division rival Philadelphia Eagles back in March, as well as right tackle Jermey Parnell, linebackers Bruce Carter and Justin Durant, and defensive tackle Henry Melton. Jones also put off any serious contract negotiations with Bryant by using the franchise tag on him to further hoard the $13 million cap space he presently has. He even got defensive end Greg Hardy, a troubled but talented player, for a one-year, $11 million deal that he won’t have to pay out until Hardy can return from a 10-game suspension next season.
Another subplot might be at work here, as well. Jones famously pulled off a trade with the Vikings more than 25 years ago that sent running back Herschel Walker to Minnesota for a total of 18 total players and draft picks. Walker would flame out with the Vikings and never rushed for more than 1,000 yards in three years, while Dallas built a three-time Super Bowl champion monster that dominated the 1990s.
However, recent trades by Jones haven’t played out nearly as well. There was the trade to move up to No. 6 in the 2012 draft to get cornerback Morris Claiborne, the two No. 1 picks in 2000 and 2001 Jones gave Seattle for receiver Joey Galloway 15 years ago, and the first and third-round picks the Cowboys handed Detroit for the right to sign receiver Roy Williams to a five-year, $45 million contract.
Jones even admitted several years ago that that last trade was one he wished he could take back.
It’s a feeling Jones has certainly had with a number of moves over the years, but with the Cowboys seemingly on the verge of Super Bowl contention, even a deal for Peterson could be off the table.