Nov 16, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams (12) fumbles the ball under pressure from Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Aaron Donald (97) during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Tar Heels won 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A Cowboys Draft Trade That Makes Sense


I don’t think that I’ve ever been as excited for any professional sports draft to start as I am for the 2014 NFL Draft, and that’s because that will be the day when all of the “Will the Dallas Cowboys trade up to draft Johnny Manziel?” stories finally die, and I’ll never have to hear them again. That is a day that I cannot wait for.

If Manziel somehow slips and is still on the board when the Cowboys go on the clock with the 16th pick, then I’ll entertain a discussion about the pros and cons of drafting the former Heisman Trophy winner. But trading up for a quarterback makes no sense for this team right now.

There is, however, one player that fills a big enough need for Dallas that might be worth the cost of trading up: Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Until recently, I have been of the opinion that the Cowboys would (and should) look for help at the safety position in the first round, and I spent a lot of time comparing Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor. While I still think that both of those guys are possible picks for the Cowboys at 16, I’ve changed my tune on what I think the Cowboys should (and will) do with their first round pick.

When I talked to former Cowboy and current ESPN analyst Darren Woodson recently, he told me not only that the Cowboys are still very high on JJ Wilcox (much more so than the fans), but he also explained the type of defense that Rod Marinelli likes to run and how he loves to rotate guys in and out. While the Cowboys started free agency with a need at defensive tackle, I sort of put that to the side after Henry Melton agreed to terms in Dallas. Sure, they weren’t necessarily set at the position, but it was no longer such a priority, to me.

Although my friends (and family, and anyone who has ever met me) will tell you otherwise, I am someone who is willing to admit when I’m wrong, especially when I get new or updated information and even more so when that information comes from a person who is far more knowledgeable and informed on the subject (like, for example, Darren Woodson).

Given what Woodson told me about how Marinelli will run the defense, and the emphasis that he places on the defensive line and having as many able bodies ready to go as possible, I don’t believe that the Cowboys ever downgraded defensive tackle from their off-season priority list and I also don’t believe that they see the safety position being as much as a need as I did (and as most fans do).

That’s where we get to Donald. He is, now, considered the best defensive tackle prospect in this year’s Draft. He was seen as a possible target for Dallas at 16 at one time, but he has since shot up the boards following workouts and it would be considered somewhat of a shock if he made it all the way to them. The earliest likely landing spots for him (given the current Draft order) appears to be eighth overall to the Vikings and I don’t see him getting past Chicago at 14.

So, the question becomes: just how much do the Cowboys like Donald and would they be willing to give up the necessary picks to move into a position to select him? I have been pretty steadfastly against the idea of the Cowboys trading up, given all of the needs that they have. But, Donald would be such a great asset to the defense, and work in so well with the new defensive system, if Dallas can get a reasonable deal, that’s the type of player that is worth giving up a few picks for.

If the Cowboys don’t get Donald, the next best player at the position is Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan (Notre Dame’s Louis Nix is also a top defensive tackle, but should be taken by a 3-4 team that needs a gigantic nose tackle). Jernigan failed his drug test at the Combine in March, which could actually work in the Cowboys’ favor.

If the Cowboys believe that there isn’t too much of a gap between Donald and Jernigan, they might be willing to go in another direction at 16, and hope that Jernigan (otherwise a first round talent) falls to them in the second round (or, possibly, they actually trade back from 16 and try and grab Jernigan at the end of the first round).

The truth of the matter is, even the Cowboys themselves don’t know what they’re going to do on Thursday night. They have ideas, but as soon as one wrench gets thrown into the gears (and that will happen), their top plan could completely blow up and they will have to reevaluate.

That’s the fun of the NFL Draft: no one, especially not the media, has any idea what is actually going to happen. But man, is it fun to talk about and speculate!

I have to believe that Donald is on the Cowboys’ wish list, perhaps at the very top, and that they’ll be looking to see what it costs to move into a position to nab him.

And that would be the logical and sensible pick for the Cowboys, if they do in fact trade up.

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Tags: Aaron Donald Dallas Cowboys Johnny Manziel NFL Draft Timmy Jernigan

  • Rich

    Donald and Jernigan are different DT’s with Donald being a 3 tech and Jernigan being a 1 tech. I hope to heck they don’t trade up. Just take Easley in the 2nd.

    • Krupinsky

      I realize that they’re different positions and as you can tell I like
      Donald a LOT better, but he was one of the players that Dallas brought
      in for pre-Draft meetings and Stephen Jones has talked about interest in
      him as recently as last week. I’m not just pulling interest in him out
      of nowhere.

      And I wasn’t saying that trading up would be the BEST move, but if they were going to trade up for ANYONE, Donald would be the one player that they could justify doing it for. But, it’s all for naught now anyway.

  • David

    Dan,

    Jernigan is a 1 tech who is rapidly falling in most peoples draft boards. Dallas cannot afford to trade up for anyone with so many glaring needs. They have plenty of holes to fill and can go with a DE like Barr, an OLB like Shazier or safety like Pryor or Dix. They could also go O-line or WR if the defensive value is not there. But for the love of god do not trade up and lose picks.

    • Krupinsky

      I realize that they’re different positions and as you can tell I like Donald a LOT better, but he was one of the players that Dallas brought in for pre-Draft meetings and Stephen Jones has talked about interest in him as recently as last week. I’m not just pulling interest in him out of nowhere.

      • David

        No worries Dan you always write a good column on here. I wish Donald, Barr and Shazier would have been available at 16 just to see who they would have gone with. I read Dallas had the same grades for all three of them. Personally I think they would have gone with Barr.

        • Krupinsky

          Thanks. Honestly, as Donald kept dropping and dropping I was really starting to wonder if Dallas might be able to swoop in, if they could get a good deal, but I’m really good with the Martin pick, assuming that they start to address the defense tonight.

          • David

            I think Donald will be a good player dont get me wrong, however I never thought he would be a good pick for Dallas because they already have a pro bowl 3 tech in Melton and have several other desperate needs.

          • Krupinsky

            Yeah, I definitely see that POV and don’t disagree. That’s actually how I had been thinking for a while too, after they signed him. I just thought recently that, given the way they’re probably going to try and mass rotate along the line, they might take a serious look at Donald.

          • David

            Yes it is very nice to have a good convo on here. I coach High School football now and like to have good debates with people haha but some are impossible. Like I said I was really hoping for Barr, Shazier or Pryor. But I do love Martin as well.

          • Krupinsky

            Also, it’s nice to have a civilized, respectful disagreement through an Internet comment thread, haha. That’s typically rare.

  • John

    I saw Donald get by Tampa Bay, then sneak by the Giants, and when the Rams were on the clock I was sure the Cowboys were going to trade up – that would put them one spot in front of Chicago – and address the immediate need for playmakers in the defensive line rotation… Maybe they tried and the price was too steep – if so, good for them for showing patience. No such thing as a “can’t-miss” draft pick…