No, there's no hook here that you'll have to pull out of your cheek. The fact is, the Dallas Cowboys are 5-1 and playing like Super Bowl contenders as they enter their Week 8 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings, so there's not much they need to look to do as the Nov. 2 trade deadline rapidly approaches. And because of that, they don't have to be thirsty buyers this year. So, as we take a look at some possible trade targets who could put them over the top in what could be a "very, very special year" for Dak Prescott and his defense alike -- the latter being led by players like Randy Gregory and a historic run from cornerback Trevon Diggs -- using big-name prospects would simply be to bait you into a click.
"We don't do that here." - King T'Challa
Instead, let's blow right past names like Marcus Maye, because the Cowboys already have a great problem with depth at the safety position, and despite the recent DUI arrest on Damontae Kazee, he likely won't face punishment until 2022 -- if he does at all. Let's also push past Joe Haden, sources telling CBS Sports the Cowboys have had no interest in pursuing that trade, and also Kyle Fuller, because Dallas is highly unlikely to trade for a cornerback with the debut of rookie second-round pick Kelvin Joseph coming in the next game or two.
Oh, and then there is Khalil Mack, one of the biggest pipe dreams going, but the play of Gregory (who'll need his rubies in 2022 and beyond) and the looming return of All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence -- combined with Mack's remaining contract -- make any suggestion of the Cowboys trying to strike that deal a laughable one. And while I'd be on board with trading for former Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones, if they didn't want to pay him in 2020, they're not going to want to pay him in 2021 and beyond with more than $40 million in salary remaining on his current deal with the Miami Dolphins.
There's also Quinnen Williams, whom the New York Jets are hellbent on not trading and if they break their promise to him and do it, the asking price would be high going in for any club, but astronomical for the Cowboys because, as has often been reported by CBS Sports, general manager Joe Douglas loathes to do any business with the Joneses -- thanks to the Jamal Adams fiasco. So to acquire Williams (or Maye), Dallas would have to mortgage their future, and the chances of that happening are slimmer than Calvin Klein pants.
OK, enough about who they likely won't go and grab. Let's talk about who they should realistically pursue, as to not waste your pre-deadline optimism, in a season that has the Cowboys enjoying great depth at many positions but also needing to upgrade a select few.
Nick Martin, C - Raiders
Compensation: Conditional 2022 sixth-round pick becomes fifth-rounder (75% playing time)
Reunited and it feels so good. Ever heard of some guy on the Cowboys roster named Zack Martin? Well, he's not the only one in his family who plays in the NFL. While the older Martin has been a perennial All-Pro right guard in Dallas for quite some time now, the younger Martin has been quietly more than capable at center in his six NFL seasons. He's a former second-round pick who also hails from Notre Dame and who spent his rookie contract with the Houston Texans before signing with the Las Vegas Raiders this past offseason.
Granted, the younger Martin isn't a world-eater like the older one is, but he can easily be viewed as an instant upgrade over a struggling Tyler Biadasz. And considering the Cowboys also have zero idea who their backup center is -- now trying Connor McGovern's hand at it after seeing the experiment there with Connor Williams fail massively in the preseason -- sending a late-round pick to Las Vegas while absorbing only $647,000 in remaining salary makes this a no-brainer and could be one of the midseason tweaks that readies them for a long playoff run. I'm sure Zack wouldn't disagree.
Martin serves as a backup for the Raiders, but if he can step in and be a starter for the Cowboys, as he should be able to, sending a conditional pick tied to playing time could keep Dallas from having to find a center in the 2022 draft (assuming he does well enough to warrant an extension after the season).
Akiem Hicks, DT - Bears
Compensation: CB Anthony Brown + 2023 seventh-round pick
It'll be a few more weeks before the Cowboys get to see starting defensive tackle Neville Gallimore return to the field, and when he does, he'll still have a lot of ramping up to do to regain top form since he has not played a single regular season snap in 2021. The same goes for Trysten Hill, who returned to practice in Week 8 but has been off the field much longer than Gallimore while recovering from a torn ACL suffered in 2020. Now veteran defensive tackle Brent Urban has been moved to injured reserve with a triceps injury that will force him to miss at least three games, and Urban wasn't consistently playing well even when he was on the field, with Carlos Watkins also playing uneven and having also missed time this season.
While it's been rookies Quinton Bohanna and Osa Odighizuwa who have kept the wheels from falling off on the defensive interior, the bottom line is the Cowboys need reinforcements, and pronto. Enter Hicks, who will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022 and, if the Bears are truly not looking to extend him, it's a chance for them to get something in return before he potentially walks next offseason. This would be a bigger contractual ask of the Cowboys, who'd have to eat roughly $6.73M in remaining salary for 2021, and they'd have to massage their books to make it happen, so offering up Anthony Brown helps.
With the looming debut of Kelvin Joseph and a talented upstart in fellow rookie Nahshon Wright working to be the long-term answer opposite record-setting cornerback Trevon Diggs, the Cowboys can afford to move on from Brown and gain $4.25 million in savings via trade, money that would cover nearly 63% of the incoming hit from acquiring Hicks. For the Bears, they'd get a veteran who already has more interceptions than anyone on their defensive unit, and one that's under contract until 2023 whiile being due only $5 million in 2022 salary. That means both teams can walk away from this one wearing a sizable grin.
Michael Brockers, DT - Lions
Compensation: 2022 sixth-round pick
Let me start here by saying I'd be more comfortable offering the Lions a 2022 seventh-round pick in exchange for taking Brockers and his contract off their hands, but the Cowboys don't have a seventh-round pick next year -- having traded it away to the Houston Texans in 2020 for defensive lineman Eli Ankou (ew). That said, the floor now becomes the sixth-rounder (assuming they didn't trade it for Martin above), and that should be attractive for a Lions team that gave the Los Angeles Rams a seventh-rounder to acquire Brockers this past offseason. If no move is made for a player like Hicks, then Brockers has to be in consideration for the Cowboys, seeing as he delivered a five-sack season for the Rams in 2020.
The former first-round pick has not been lights out for the Lions, but there could be a psychological aspect to it considering he was stunned by the Rams' decision to trade him away in the offseason, and to a team that's rebuilding from scratch and has yet to win a single game. Insert Brockers into a lineup coached by the energetic and highly-skilled Dan Quinn on a Cowboys team that's proven themselves Super Bowl contenders, and he might perk up a bit. His remaining 2021 salary of $696,000 is coinage found under sofa cushions, and while he's under contract through the 2023 season, there are easy outs for the Cowboys if he doesn't perform well going forward.
If they designate him as a post-June 1 cut next year, they'll save a combined $13 million over the final two years of his deal -- $3 million and $10 million, respectively -- or they could seek to rework his deal if he does play well. The bottom line is the Cowboys need more help/depth on the defensive interior, and while Hicks is the one I'd aim for first here, if that doesn't pan out, I'd walk over to the Bears' division rival and see if a deal can be struck for Brockers.
The Cowboys need to be all-in on not wasting another special season from Dak Prescott, and one in which the defense has greatly improved but is still a piece or two from being elite themselves.
Honorable mention: Melvin Ingram, DE - Steelers
All told, the Cowboys don't need another pass rusher, having already successfully utilized rookie first-round pick Micah Parsons off the edge in the absence of Lawrence, but adding Ingram at a low cost might be too good to pass up. The veteran reportedly wants out of Pittsburgh after signing a one-year deal this offseason worth $4 million, but with a promise of more playing time, and he's now seen his snap count drop from 100% in Week 3 to just 17% in Week 6. A former first-round pick of the Los Angeles Chargers in 2012, Ingram's most successful seasons in the NFL have come as of late, when he earned three consecutive Pro Bowl nods from 2017 through 2019, and he was one of the bigger names to hit free agency in 2021, but didn't sign on with a team until joining the Steelers in training camp this past July.
Ingram does have some warts though, considering he played in just seven games last year due to a knee injury that landed him on season-ending injured reserve in November 2020, finishing the year with no sacks for the first time in his career. He's now four seasons removed from his career-best season in 2017, when he racked up 10.5 sacks, and the Cowboys are going to want to know he can truly contribute before looking to send away an asset of some sort in exchange for him.
It might serve Ingram well to play under Quinn, but his issue is playing time, and he's going to run face-first into the same issue in North Texas once Lawrence returns opposite Gregory. If the Cowboys can convince him it's OK to play backup on a contender than one trying to figure out if they are or not, a late-round pick makes absorbing his "small" remaining salary would be a magic recipe for all involved. But, again, Ingram wants playing time and toss in the coming return of Dorance Armstrong from injured reserve as well, he'd likely be disgruntled in Dallas, too.
It does bear mentioning though, because Jerry Jones has sold free agents on plenty of things in the past.