Here's why Cowboys couldn't pull off biggest deal of NFL's trade deadline

Charles RobinsonNFL columnist

When the NFL trade deadline came and went Tuesday, arguably the hottest back and forth negotiation of the afternoon fell apart for one simple reason: As much as the Dallas Cowboys valued New York Jets safety Jamal Adams, they weren’t willing to price him into the rarefied air of Khalil Mack and Jalen Ramsey.

That determination — and the fact that Dallas is going to need ample draft capital to fill out a pricey roster in the coming years — ultimately scuttled any chance of a deal between the Cowboys and Jets.

A source familiar with the talks told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday that Dallas expressed significant interest in acquiring Adams right up to the waning hour of the deadline, but never came close to the Jets’ price of a first-round pick, two future second-rounders and potentially more. Note the “potentially more.” The source in Dallas wasn’t sure a first- and two second-rounders would have closed the deal because the Jets seemed reluctant from the start to move Adams. So much so that it seemed likely the Jets would have pushed for another pick or even a player if Dallas had indeed offered a first-rounder and two second-round picks.

Jets star Jamal Adams was the hottest name on the trade market in the hours before the deadline. (USA TODAY Sports)
Jets star Jamal Adams was the hottest name on the trade market in the hours before the deadline. (USA TODAY Sports)

Ultimately, the source said Dallas was prepared to send as much as a first-round pick and either a depth player or some kind of pick swap involving a fourth-rounder for Adams. Talks hit a wall when it became apparent the Jets weren’t willing to move off an asking price that may have risen further than what was reported in the media. Ultimately, the Cowboys believed the Jets’ “deal-sealing” price was going to land in a zip code close to the two first-round picks the Oakland Raiders received for Mack in 2018 and the two firsts the Jacksonville Jaguars received for Ramsey earlier this month. Dallas recognizes Adams as a special young safety — it just wasn’t ready to place him in a class with Ramsey, who is arguably the best young cover cornerback in the NFL, and Mack, who is one of the most disruptive edge rushers in the league.

The source added that the possibility of a deal for Adams presented itself only in the last week, after Dallas began squaring up teams that might be open to shedding talent in the midst of a rebuild. The Jets became a priority after it became apparent that a large portion of the roster was open for trade discussion. Dallas was relatively surprised when an inquiry into Adams wasn’t the flat “no” that the Cowboys anticipated. That prompted the Cowboys to make some conceptual offers before the Jets ultimately began pricing the trade out of range. Even something close to the Mack or Ramsey compensation wasn’t going to happen, even for a safety with as much talent as Adams.

There was an undercurrent to the Cowboys’ refusal, and it had everything to do with the future. With the team fully committed to extending Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper — as well as a handful of other 2020 free agents who are expected to get competitive offers elsewhere — ownership is acutely aware that draft capital (and financially viable depth) will be at a premium the next few seasons.

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The bottom line: With Prescott coming off a cheap contract and Dallas expected to be shouldering steep deals at quarterback, wide receiver, running back, defensive end and the totality of the offensive line, the Cowboys will have to add layers of depth through the draft rather than free agency.

More than anything, that’s why Adams isn’t a Cowboy today.

Some other revelations from the deadline:

What is Jets’ roster plan after listening to offers for Jamal Adams?

The Jets even listening to an offer on Adams — which wasn’t well-received by the safety — speaks volumes about how new general manager Joe Douglas is feeling about his roster. Douglas has been getting an on-the-job evaluation of New York’s roster for roughly five months, and it’s now clear he’s open to swapping out basically any cornerstone except for quarterback Sam Darnold.

That suggests this could be more of a tear-down and rebuild than first thought, but also more in line with what we’ve seen from the franchise over the past several years. Douglas has enough of a reputation to have earned some trust when he’s signaling that things are a bigger mess than he anticipated. And that seems to be what he was indicating at the trade deadline.

Perhaps akin to what the San Francisco 49ers engaged in with the arrival of general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan in 2017, I’d expect 80 percent of this roster (or more) to be turned over by the end of the 2021 season.

Broncos wanted second-round pick for Chris Harris Jr.

The Broncos oddly priced themselves out of the market on Chris Harris Jr. One team that checked in on Harris in the past week confirmed Tuesday night that Denver was fishing for a second-round pick and didn’t seem inclined to move off the price.

In a soft trade market for cornerbacks, that price didn’t draw interest.

The takeaway is either Denver is intent on making a run to keep Harris, or the Broncos assume they can land some kind of solid compensatory pick when Harris leaves and doesn’t want a defensive mutiny on their hands down the stretch.

General manager John Elway may believe he can’t afford the latter, given how poorly this season has already gone.

Eagles landed Genard Avery, a player Jets’ Gregg Williams was eyeing

The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t land the big one, but they might have gotten a nice piece anyway. A league source said Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams coveted Cleveland Browns defensive end Genard Avery, whom he believes can be a very good pass rusher in the right scheme. Unfortunately for Williams, the Browns weren’t interested in dealing Avery to the Jets — quite possibly because Browns general manager John Dorsey and Williams didn’t leave on the best of terms after Williams was passed over for Freddie Kitchens for Cleveland’s head coaching choice.

Dorsey was apparently OK shipping Avery to the Eagles, where he’ll get ample opportunity to rush the passer in Jim Schwartz’s scheme. Avery might not be a world-beater, but Williams likes his pass rushers to be tenacious and have an edge. That Williams continued to covet Avery after leaving Cleveland says something about what the Eagles landed this week.

Trent Williams remains with Washington. (USA TODAY Sports)
Trent Williams remains with Washington. (USA TODAY Sports)


Redskins, Bengals send baffling signals

The poorly performing front offices seem to get get exposed at the deadline. A play in two acts ...

Act I: The Washington Redskins. They decided at the last moment to listen to offers on offensive tackle Trent Williams, mystifying other teams that had been interested for weeks. The Browns in particular had a gripe after trying for more than six weeks to get Washington to engage in talks about Williams to no avail. One source told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday that Cleveland would likely have surrendered a first-round pick for Williams at the start of the season if Washington had opened the floor for offers. It didn’t until the last possible moment, and the Browns weren’t obliged to engage by the time Washington finally opened for business.

Act II: The Cincinnati Bengals. One league source was mystified over the Bengals choosing this week to bench Andy Dalton, when doing the deed one week earlier might have signaled that the franchise was ready to move on from aging veterans. Instead, Cincinnati waited to bench Dalton and then never got involved with other franchises at the deadline. That left multiple teams to wonder exactly what the plan is in Cincinnati.

The franchise is going to be in the running for the No. 1 overall pick all season. Now it’s going to lose some pieces in free agency that would have drawn some draft ammunition on the market (the New Orleans Saints would have loved a shot at A.J. Green). Meanwhile, Cincinnati will get nothing in the long run. And if that lack of activity wasn’t damning enough, it’s worth noting elements of ownership — including some who comprise the front office — were on vacation in Europe on Tuesday.


Will Aqib Talib play a down for the Dolphins?

One source familiar with the Aqib Talib deal from the Los Angeles Rams to the Miami Dolphins said he believes Talib will never step on the field for the Dolphins and that reality may have been part of the deal getting consummated. Talib had previously nixed a trade with the Rams and yet didn’t protest being sent to Miami in what was a clear salary dump by the Rams in exchange for gifting the Dolphins a fifth-round pick.

Why would he do that?

As the source put it, likely because Miami will be OK with him never playing a down for the franchise.

Eagles valued depth that Vaitai provided them

The other somewhat odd development: Eagles offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai staying put. There were a number of teams making calls on offensive line depth and Vaitai was a prime candidate for a deal. But one source suggested on Tuesday that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was more interested in keeping Vaitai around for depth purposes and potentially gaining whatever compensatory pick he might land when the Eagles inevitably lose the offensive lineman in free agency.

It’s a fair assessment if Roseman wants to backstop his guard and tackle spots as much as possible for a potential postseason run.

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