There is no doubt around the NFL that the Dallas Cowboys are going for it all this season. They’re not concerned with their long-term future or content with taking a passive approach to filling the holes on their roster.
Not with an 81-year-old owner. Not with a team they think is Super Bowl-ready right now.
That’s why multiple NFL sources said they believe the Cowboys will be among the most active teams in advance of the Oct. 31 league-wide trading deadline. The only question, as they head into their bye week, is whether they’ll be more aggressive in pursuing a cornerback to replace Trevon Diggs or a linebacker to replace Leighton Vander Esch.
Or, will they go out and find a No. 2 receiver — which is still their biggest need of all.
Yes, their self-proclaimed “best defense in the National Football League” has looked vulnerable since the losses of Diggs (torn ACL) and Vander Esch (neck). But it’s the offense that seems more likely to get in the Cowboys’ way. They have an elite quarterback-receiver tandem in Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb capable of doing incredible things.
But in this pass-happy era of the NFL, championship -caliber teams need more than that.
That’s been the story for the Cowboys since March 2022, when they traded Amari Cooper for a fifth-round pick. Cooper has thrived in Cleveland, with 100 catches, 1,527 yards and 10 touchdowns in 22 games. Meanwhile, Michael Gallup (57-628-4 in 20 games since the trade) hasn’t looked the same since he tore his ACL at the end of the 2021 season. And Brandin Cooks, whom the Cowboys traded for back in March, has appeared to be a bad fit in the Mike McCarthy offense (13-109-1 through five games). Either that, or McCarthy just hasn’t figured out how to best use him yet.
There were tiny signs of a Cooks breakout on Monday night in Dallas’ 20-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Cooks had four catches for 36 yards and used his speed to race across the end zone and catch a 2-yard touchdown pass. But the Cowboys’ passing attack is still basically Lamb or Bust. Lamb (34-475-1) has been the target of 22% of Prescott’s passes. He’s responsible for 35% of the Cowboys’ receiving yards. And on Monday night, the Cowboys’ need for another receiver was really on display when Prescott targeted Gallup 10 times and he caught only three balls.
So, if they recognize they need another target, who can they get in the next two weeks? Assuming they can figure out the salary cap issues and aren’t afraid of the asking prices, there could be a lot of intriguing options available on the market:
There is no doubt the Broncos (1-5) are going to be in tear-down mode starting now and through the entire offseason. The 24-year-old Jeudy figures to be available, even though the Broncos picked up his fifth-year option for 2024 in May and even though they’ve resisted trading him for the past two years. He’s not happy there and he’s clearly not the No. 1 receiver. But the 6-foot-1, 193-pound former 15th overall pick (2020) is loaded with talent. In the right situation, he could thrive. And the price might not be prohibitively high if the Broncos really are blowing everything up.
The Broncos are less likely to trade the 6-foot-4, 216-pound Sutton, but they might be able to get a lot more for him than they could get for Jeudy. Sutton is generally considered the better of the two Denver receivers, even though he’s older (28). He and Lamb would be an impressive 1-2 punch and really give defensive coordinators fits. Sutton would also give Prescott a huge target in the red zone, where the Cowboys offense has been struggling all year. He is signed through 2025 with another $26.5 million left on his deal for those years. But neither of those years is guaranteed.
Once the Bucs weren’t able to sign Evans to a contract extension, it seemed inevitable they’d trade one of NFL’s most perennially underrated receivers before he leaves in free agency in the offseason. Then they got off to a 3-1 start and that thought quickly evaporated. But they are 3-2 and play twice before the trading deadline — vs. the Falcons and at Buffalo — and a lot can change in that time. No one thinks the Bucs will actually trade the 6-foot-5, 231-pound Evans, but there’s always the possibility of an offer that they won’t be able to refuse. And for a 30-year-old receiver who has 24 catches for 386 yards and three touchdowns and has topped 1,000 yards in each of his nine NFL seasons, he’s clearly worth the price, even if Dallas still has to pay the remainder of his $13 million salary this year.
Two years ago, Renfrow had 103 catches, 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns. Then the Raiders hired Josh McDaniels and traded for Davante Adams and Renfrow disappeared. He has just six catches this season and clearly doesn’t fit in the McDaniels offense. Las Vegas will probably cut the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder after the season even though he has one (non-guaranteed) year left on his deal. He’s 27 and there’s no guarantee he can ever be the player he was, but he surely won’t be expensive. He’d be worth a flier and might be an immediate upgrade over Gallup in Dallas.
He has been consistently productive as a No. 3 receiver throughout his career. Yes, he was supposed to be more than that for the Patriots, but their quarterback issues have ruined any chance of that. He leads New England with 28 catches for 307 yards and two touchdowns, and the 6-foot-1, 203-pounder clearly has the skills to do more than that if he wasn’t playing for one of the worst passing offenses in the league. He’s in the last year of his contract, but there is a sense that a desperate Bill Belichick won’t just give him away.
An Osborn trade is probably a lot less likely now that Justin Jefferson is out a month, at least, with a hamstring injury. But the 6-foot, 203-pound Osborn has gone very quickly from emerging receiver — with 110 catches, 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in the past two years — to an afterthought in Minnesota this year (17-214-2). The writing was on the wall when the Vikings drafted Jordan Addison in the first round in April. With Osborn heading toward free agency and the Vikings struggling at 2-4 (with a game against the 49ers on Monday night), they might be able to squeeze someone for mid-round pick for him.
The Bears are 1-5 and heading toward another rebuilding job, maybe even with both a new quarterback and coach. Mooney has just 10 catches through six games, and that includes three games with no catches at all. But he’s 25 and had an 81-catch, 1,055-yard season just two years ago. So the talent is obviously still there with this 5-foot-11, 175-pounder. If he can get to a situation with a top quarterback, there’s a chance he could explode in the final year of his contract.
With the Cardinals in the very early stages of tearing down their team, it’s impossible to imagine “Hollywood” returning after his contract expires at the end of the season. He currently leads the team with 29 catches, 334 yards and three touchdowns. But with the team going nowhere, they will absolutely consider offers for the 26-year-old. He may not be a true No. 1 receiver, but he’d be an excellent No. 2. He’s expensive — whatever’s left of his $13.4 million salary — but he’s unsigned for 2024.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @Ralph Vacchiano.