There’s very little that happens in the NFL that doesn’t have a ripple effect. Especially when it comes to moves made in the offseason, there’s often the falling of dominoes as one move leads to another. In it’s most basic form, a team signs or trades for a veteran, that then takes them out of the running for another player at a similar position, and it will likely drastically change the needs for that squad in the coming NFL draft.
The waves don’t just wash ashore at that team’s facilities, either. Those moves in turn impact how other teams operate, either by having one of their options removed, making other players available to them who might have been off limits or changing the landscape of the draft picks ahead of them. For the Dallas Cowboys, this scenario rings true with the trade of quarterback Sam Darnold from the New York Jets to the Carolina Panthers.
On Monday afternoon, Darnold found himself a late easter basket. Facing the possibility of being usurped by the No. 2 overall draft pick and having to hold a place for him in New York, Darnold now has an opportunity to prove himself a franchise quarterback for a different franchise. Away from the misguided leadership of former head coach Adam Gase, Darnold will start anew under second-year head coach Matt Rhule. Darnold certainly has a lot to prove, and though it’s reported the Panthers will exercise Darnold’s fifth-year option, nothing about his time is guaranteed.
So how does any of this impact Dallas? In two ways.
Backup Quarterback: Teddy Bridgewater
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The Cowboys have yet to land on a backup quarterback behind the returning-from-injury-and-recently-paid Dak Prescott. Last season, for the first time in Prescott's career the club went out and brought in a veteran quarterback to play behind him. Andy Dalton was saddled with the pandemic and an early-season, season-ending injury to Prescott and floundered in his opportunity. However Dalton course-corrected, led Dallas to three-straight wins late in the season and somehow parlayed that performance into a quote-unquote guaranteed starting gig in Chicago with the Bears. His one year, $10 million deal has lined Dallas up for a potential fourth-round comp pick in 2022. Teddy Bridgewater is now on the outs in Carolina, and though they intend to try and trade him, his performance in 2020 was unimpressive and his salary is hefty. Bridgewater has two years remaining of a $63 million deal signed just last offseason. His base salary of $17 million includes $10 million in guarantees, and there's another $1 million in roster bonuses due. In the possible event that no team wants to bring Bridgewater in for that amount, the Panthers could look to keep him, but they also might decide to cut bait and release him. Carolina would then be in a position to still pay Bridgewater that $10 million in salary, even if he were to sign somewhere else. Enter Dallas. It's possible Bridgewater could find a job where he competes for a starting gig, but he may also have to go the Dalton route, be a backup for a year, hope to get some starts and rebuild his image. He'll have $10 million in his pocket for the trouble and with the (more-than-likely) offseason language in his contract, could sign somewhere for the league minimum and the Panthers are on the hook for the other $9 million-plus. Even better, the team that pays Bridgewater low money, is the team that would get his services in the comp-pick ledger for the 2023 draft after he re-enters the market in 2022. Bridgewater would give Dallas a player capable of stewarding a good team (he went 5-0 in 2019 for New Orleans) were Prescott to have any injury issues in 2021. If the former Saint and Viking were to be cut free, the Cowboys certainly seem like one of the teams that could offer him an insanely talented roster to work with, and the slight hint of uncertainty to Prescott's rehab could convince him he'll see snaps with all those weapons.
The 2021 draft
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The backup market isn't the only Cowboys-affecting aspect of the trade. The Jets are firmly locked in to drafting a quarterback, which assures what most already saw as destiny, quarterbacks at least going 1-2-3 in April (after San Francisco traded the farm to move up to No. 3). But what about Carolina? Does Darnold's acquisition and option pickup more mean they aren't drafting a quarterback? A case can certainly be made either way. He's relatively cheap, and giving up only a 2022 second and a 2022 fourth rounder (also a 2021 sixth but who cares about that) means the Panthers can still grab their guy should he happen to fall to No. 8. What the Panthers do will have an immediate impact on the Cowboys, who are slotted to select just two picks later at No. 10. The more quarterbacks selected ahead of Dallas the better. Carolina has always been a sexy destination for TE Kyle Pitts, but they also now could be interested in trading that pick to a team which wants to jump ahead of Denver. The Broncos could be interested in a tumbling QB option.
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Carolina's biggest needs are OT, TE and CB now that QB is quasi-filled, so their moves directly impact what's seen as the blue-chip talent in this draft and the Cowboys' biggest needs. It's impossible to forecast exactly how the trade will sway the Panthers' draft wants, but whichever direction the wind blows will carry that scent down to the Cowboys' options. In addition to the first round pick, the Panthers are scheduled to pick in front of Dallas in each of the first four rounds. Who they pick will always alter the Cowboys' big board.
2021 Regular Season Schedule
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Low and behold, the rotating schedule has the NFC East and the NFC South squaring off in 2021. That means the Cowboys will be looking to extract revenge on Darnold for the 2019 loss that was one of the bigger stains on the club's resume for that year. The Cowboys went into New York and lost their third consecutive game, 24-22, to fall to 3-3. Darnold connected with wide receiver Robby Anderson for a huge 92-yard touchdown in what was probably one of his finer starts in his brief career. Anderson is already WR2 in Carolina. The stench of that loss stayed with Dallas throughout the rest of the season, as Darnold's 338 passing yards were the sign that things were really wrong in Jason Garrett and Rod Marinelli's final season in town. The remaining players from that squad will certainly be looking to reclaim some dignity by beating down Darnold and Anderson's new mates.