The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2023 offseason with two glaring needs: a true No. 2 wide receiver to take some pressure off of CeeDee Lamb, and a legitimate starting cornerback to play opposite Trevon Diggs.
Instead of choosing from the slim pickings of weak free agent classes, the Cowboys addressed these needs through a pair of trades for two established veterans.
First, Dallas sent one of their 2023 fifth-round picks to Indianapolis for veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Dallas then sent a 2023 fifth-round pick and a 2024 sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans to acquire wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
While these might not be the splashy signings Cowboys fans were expecting, they were certainly shrewd investments. Dallas used their surplus of fifth-round picks (they had three in the round thanks to compensatory selections), to add two proven, albeit aging commodities. And they still own a pick in each round of the upcoming draft.
While these additions give Dallas more flexibility in the draft, are Cooks and Gilmore enough? Both players are clearly still serviceable starters, but are they too far out of their prime to make enough of a difference?
Let’s discuss how much better the Cowboys got through these two trades.
How much does Stephon Gilmore have left in the tank?
This could be the question that defines the season for a Dallas defense that’s already among the league’s best. But if Gilmore can play at a high level in 2023 at 33 years old, Dallas’ defense could be a championship-caliber unit.
Gilmore spent the 2022 season with Indianapolis, where he played 16 games and picked off two passes while breaking up 11 more. Gilmore was actually one of the few bright spots on a lousy Colts team. He allowed just 53 receptions on 84 targets and ranked seventh among all cornerbacks with a coverage grade of 81.1 from Pro Football Focus.
What Gilmore has lost athletically he makes up for with incredible intelligence and ball skills. He’s also best suited in man coverage and should be a perfect fit in Dan Quinn’s man-heavy scheme.
Is Stephon Gilmore an elite, shutdown corner? Probably not anymore. But barring a sharp decline, he’s the perfect No. 2 corner for a Cowboys defense that’s talented at all three levels. He’s a more than competent replacement for Anthony Brown, and won’t be someone opposing offenses can pick on at will.
Diggs and Gilmore could be takeaway machines in 2023 and will force teams to target the middle of the field more often than the boundaries. If Micah Parsons and the Cowboys pass rush continues to play at an elite level, then watch out.
Gilmore might be the missing piece that can make Dallas’ secondary elite. And it only cost Dallas a fifth-round pick to get him.
A healthy Brandin Cooks represents an immediate upgrade
There’s nothing to suggest that Brandin Cooks still can’t play at a high level. Sure, his 2022 season was lackluster, but he was stuck catching passes from Davis Mills on a team that was designed to lose football games. He was also the top priority for opposing defenses each week, with nobody else in Houston commanding any respect from opponents.
In Dallas, Cooks will play a supporting role in a much better passing game. He’s put up big seasons when playing with guys like Drew Brees, Tom Brady and even Jared Goff. Plus, Cooks has been highly productive when serving as the WR2 in an elite offense.
In 2016, Cooks played second fiddle to the emerging Michael Thomas, who led the team in receptions. Cooks still hauled in 78 receptions for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2017 he was the secondary option to Rob Gronkowski in New England. That year, he put up 1,082 yards and seven scores. Cooks also managed to catch 80 passes for 1,204 yards in 2018 when competing with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp (who only played in eight games) for targets.
The numbers prove that Cooks might be best-suited as the second option in a receiving game. And his presence raises the upside of the entire Cowboys offense, while letting talented but unproven players like Michael Gallup and Jalen Tolbert play more ancillary roles.
We all know Lamb is a stud. But Dallas’ group of weapons aside from him were uninspiring. Cooks is an immediate upgrade should he stay healthy. He still has top-end speed and offers versatility to play on the outside or in the slot, which should allow coach Mike McCarthy to get creative with how he deploys both weapons.
The biggest concern with Cooks is his health, as he has suffered several concussions in recent years, and another one could jeopardize his season and beyond. Expecting Cooks to play a full 17-game season feels ambitious at best. But if he manages to avoid injury, he could give Dallas one of the top receiving tandems in the league.
Adding Cooks and Gilmore gives Dallas draft flexibility
These trades represent two short-term, win-now moves for a Dallas team that could be on the cusp of something special. But adding Cooks and Gilmore also could carry some long-term effects as well.
By filling their two biggest needs through these trades, Dallas has more flexibility to take a best player available approach in the upcoming draft. Rather than reach for need positions, Dallas could be in position to find value picks, or trade back to recoup draft capital.
The NFL is incredibly unpredictable. But the additions of Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore could represent the finishing touches on the championship roster Cowboys fans have been waiting for.