The great bye week mystery for the Dallas Cowboys is whether or not they remain in contention for the NFC East. At 3-4 off a road loss to the division-leading Washington Redskins, the Cowboys certainly have their work cut out for them, also trailing the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
All three teams made notable trades before Tuesday’s deadline. The Cowboys set the market price at wide receiver by acquiring Amari Cooper for a first round pick in 2019. Prepared to trade a second round pick for Cooper, the Eagles settled for pending free agent Golden Tate – sending a third round pick to the Lions for his services.
With two new big name receivers in the division, the Redskins decided to bolster an already tough defense in their trade. Losing a fourth round pick in the deal, Washington added former Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Not only did the Cowboys make the first trade out of these three teams, but they also made the first coach firing, determined to salvage this season at the midpoint by remedying their offseason mistakes of not doing more at wide receiver and hiring Paul Alexander in the first place.
Desperate football teams often win important games, and the Cowboys are certainly desperate for these moves to work out. While Tate and Clinton-Dix will play in the final year of their contract with their new teams, at 30 and 25 years old respectively, the Cowboys are building their passing offense around Cooper starting as soon as Monday night against the Titans.
The 24-year old receiver, already with two 1,000 yard seasons, is under contract through 2019.
By far the biggest deficiency on the Cowboys roster through their first seven games was their passing game. Currently ranked fourth in rush yards per game, third in total defense, third in pass yards allowed per game, ninth in rush yards allowed, and 29th in pass yards per game deep into Quarterback Dak Prescott’s all-important year three, an infusion of talent was necessary at WR.
The same cannot be said about the Eagles with their addition of Golden Tate. Lacking the same trademark aggressiveness that carried them on a miraculous championship run a year ago, the Eagles only win in their last four games came against the Giants before beating the Jaguars in London on Sunday morning.
The Eagles will return home with their 24-18 win over the Jaguars to prepare for the Cowboys at home during the bye. Tate should factor into their game plan heavily, as he’s already menaced this Dallas secondary in week four with the Lions.
Tate’s eight receptions for 132 yards and two scores against the Cowboys are a season high compared to any Eagles receiver. Alshon Jeffery comes the closest in comparison with eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown against the Titans.
The Cowboys are as committed to Prescott as the Eagles are in Carson Wentz, and both young quarterbacks have new targets to add potency on offense. For the price, Tate should be a great addition to an Eagles team that must create more big plays. The exact same can be said about Cooper, hopefully for the foreseeable future to a Cowboys team willing to make this trade hours after their loss at the Redskins.
Last but anything but least are those Redskins, who deserve respect as a legitimate threat in both the division and conference. Fourth in total defense with the second fewest turnovers in the league, the Redskins don’t beat themselves on offense while lining up a stout defense that’s now even harder to attack through the air.
With 14 career interceptions and three forced fumbles, Clinton-Dix will fit nicely with D.J. Swearinger as the Redskins pairing at safety.
Cowboys Nation will surely remember their own team’s pursuit of a different safety from Seattle this offseason. With Earl Thomas on IR and the Cowboys addressing bigger needs, the truth for the Redskins is that Clinton-Dix doesn’t drastically improve their team. Harsh reality for the Cowboys and Eagles may be that they don’t need to, looking to improve on a 5-2 record without another NFC East game until Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium against the Cowboys.
Thus, I think it’s fair to say that the Cowboys are the most improved team heading out of their bye week in the NFC East race. Jason Garrett’s team may have also began the season with at least the second most talented roster, making their 3-4 start not only disappointing but potentially too big of a deficit to overcome.
With a significantly younger roster than both the Eagles and Redskins on average, the Cowboys trade for Amari Cooper is a way to extend their window into the present – precisely what the Eagles were able to do a year ago, with a Lombardi trophy to show for it.
The Eagles and Redskins have yet to face off this season, nor have the Cowboys and Eagles as a lot of meaningful football is left to be played around the new-look NFC East.