FRISCO, Texas -- Maybe it’s not part of the Dallas Cowboys’ plan. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Maybe.
But three of the Cowboys’ acquisitions thus far in the offseason have played in a combined six Super Bowls.
Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks were teammates when the New England Patriots lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. They competed against each other the next season when Gilmore’s Patriots beat Cooks' Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Ronald Jones led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in rushing when they won Super Bowl LV and was a Kansas City reserve in February when the Chiefs beat the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII.
While it might be a coincidence, there is also an actual benefit for the Cowboys, whose Super Bowl drought is at 27 years and counting.
“I think when you have guys that’s been in it, saw the process, I think the biggest thing that you can preach is trusting the process,” Cooks said, “and not talking about it, but more so letting your work and your actions talk about it throughout the week, taking it one day at a time, keep your head down and grind, and then when you look up, that’s when you’re there. But don’t worry about looking too far out in the future.”
The trades for Gilmore and Cooks are the Cowboys’ biggest acquisitions of the offseason so far. Gilmore will line up opposite Trevon Diggs at cornerback and give the Cowboys perhaps their best secondary in more than a decade. The Cowboys hope Cooks’ speed at receiver is a difference-maker as coach Mike McCarthy moves into the playcalling role with Dak Prescott at quarterback.
When September rolls around, Gilmore will turn 33 and Cooks will turn 30.
“Obviously, I’ve been to the big dance before. But I just think at the end of the day it takes a team coming together, all playing as one,” Gilmore said. “Sometimes it may not look pretty, but us sticking together and having each other’s back and playing for each other, that’s what it comes down to.”
Gilmore and Cooks come to Dallas already as the best of friends. Despite being teammates for just one season, they've talked regularly during the offseasons. Their families are tight too.
“For him to be able to line up across the ball from me, you talk about I get to go against an All-Pro corner every single day in practice between him and Diggs,” Cooks said. “As they say, iron sharpens iron.”
At times, the Cowboys seem to be a franchise built more on style than on substance, but more veteran players (Prescott, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch) have served as valuable leaders, while some of the newcomers in the past few years (Jayron Kearse, CeeDee Lamb) have developed a voice of their own.
Last year, the in-season additions of veterans Jason Peters and T.Y. Hilton proved invaluable on and off the field. Peters served as a spot starter on the offensive line but also as a personal tutor for first-round pick Tyler Smith. Hilton, who contributed key catches down the stretch, helped Lamb grow.
But Gilmore, who was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, and Cooks, who has six 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his career, are still closer to their prime years.
Last season, the Colts won just four games. Gilmore clinched three of the wins with pass deflections on the final play in games against the Chiefs, Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders.
“I’ve been in a lot of big games throughout my career, in big situations, and I really thrive off those moments, making plays whenever the team needs a big play in the game,” Gilmore said. “I don’t really try and force it. I let it come to me … I live for those moments. A lot of players that I looked up to growing up, they was able to make those plays at the end of the game. No matter how big the situation is, they were able to step up and make the play.”
His addition to a defense that has led the NFL in takeaways each of the past two years, should make things stronger, but he adds a veteran’s caution.
“I think we can be as good as we want to be,” Gilmore said, specifically about the secondary. “You just can’t really talk about it. You got to go out and do it. So I’m looking forward to putting the work in with these guys, getting to know them and us helping each other out to be the best secondary we can be.”
Since entering the NFL in 2014, Cooks has 58 receptions of 25-plus yards. Only Tyreek Hill (64) has more in that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Cooks and linebacker Kiko Alonso are the only players to be traded four times in their careers since 1990. If he has more than 1,000 yards this season, he would become the first player in NFL history to do so with five different franchises.
Yet he has not made a Pro Bowl.
“Honestly, the accolades as far as Pro Bowls and those things, I don’t do this for fame. I truly do it to be able to win games and compete at a high level,” Cooks said. “I let my playing talk for itself. All those other things, it comes with it. If it don’t, so be it. But I’d like to think you put my numbers up with anyone else and they’re right there with them.”
In his three years with the Houston Texans, Cooks totaled 11 wins. The Cowboys won 12 last season. Since 2019, Gilmore has experienced three straight losing seasons: the first post-Tom Brady season in New England, after being traded to the Carolina Panthers (5-12) and last year's 4-12-1 season with the Colts.
The Cowboys have made the playoffs each of the past two seasons and will be looking to make it three straight years for the first time since going six straight seasons from 1991 to 1996. Those Cowboys won three Super Bowls in that span.
These Cowboys hope Gilmore and Cooks can be the difference-makers in getting back to a Super Bowl.
“I’ll tell you I couldn’t be more hungry. Last three years; is what it is,” Cooks said. “But I tell you when you stepping into a locker room like this and an organization, and you’ve got those three years under your belt like that, I mean, that is definitely fueling the fire and that hunger to be able to come out here and just show up and help my team win. I can’t wait. I truly can’t.”