The Dallas Cowboys made a serious miscalculation last offseason when it came to wide receiver. A thought process that included trading away one of their top offensive playmakers while expecting similar production from a receiver coming off a major injury was a foolish notion that never added up.
Predictably, the result was the Cowboys went looking for another WR to help during the 2022 season. That search led the team to explore adding another injured WR, Odell Beckham Jr., before signing veteran receiver TY Hilton for the stretch run.
Despite having a good offense last year, the Cowboys struggled to find a receiving threat after Second-Team All-Pro WR CeeDee Lamb. It was a group effort to contribute to the passing game behind Lamb, but there wasn’t enough firepower or speed to scare defenses, and it was one of the reasons the offense fell flat in their playoff loss.
A new league year is about to begin, however, and the Cowboys can go about righting a wrong. Trading away WR Amari Cooper left a gaping hole on the roster, something the team realized all too late. Cowboys Executive VP and COO Stephen Jones acknowledges the offense needs more help at the position.
The Cowboys simply cannot go into next season with the same group. Even if Michael Gallup does come back healthier another year removed from the torn ACL, the offense needs another weapon.
As it currently stands, Dallas’ wide receiver room has Lamb, Gallup, last year’s third-round pick Jalen Tolbert, third-year man Simi Fehoko, undrafted free agent Dennis Houston, and return specialist KaVontae Turpin. Aside from Lamb and Gallup, the rest of the group combined for eight receptions and 61 yards. Noah Brown was a big part of the passing game in 2022, but he’s an unrestricted free agent not guaranteed to return.
That isn’t enough to help quarterback Dak Prescott.
The positive news is that the Cowboys have a star in Lamb. In his first season as the unchallenged alpha, Lamb returned the team’s faith in him by catching 107 passes, for 1,359 yards and nine scores. All career highs, those numbers placed Lamb inside the top six in the league in each category, cementing himself among the game’s best receivers.
Gallup proved to be a solid running mate when he was with Cooper for three seasons and Lamb for two, so the potential is there for him to return to being a good complimentary piece. At just 27-years-old Gallup does have a 1,000-yard year to his name, the question marks surrounding him arise from the torn ACL and cleanup surgeries he required this offseason. Hopefully that will help him get back to form, but that form is now three seasons in the rearview mirror.
Dallas will surely be hoping for a better sophomore season from Tolbert, who was a disappointment as a rookie. Tolbert’s two catches were well off what the team expected when they drafted him in the third round. Coming from a small school there was always going to be a steep learning curve, but Tolbert never looked NFL ready last year. The team cannot make the same mistake in 2023 and count on him making much of an impact.
The rest of the receivers are question marks, and none have given the Cowboys justification for not significantly upgrading the position. Quality WRs are needed. There’s a reason the team tried to sign Beckham Jr. and wound up adding Hilton last year, the Cowboys simply don’t have enough talent at wide receiver. Fehoko, Houston, and Turpin can pitch in for depth, but they are not the answers.
There’s a whole offseason to change that, though. Free agency doesn’t have many big names among the group with Kansas City Chiefs WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and New England Patriots WR Jakobi Meyers leading the way. However, those receivers are also likely to command sizable contracts in such a lackluster class, which likely prices them out of Dallas’ sphere.
Other options that could interest the Cowboys are Detroit Lions WR DJ Chark or Indianapolis Colts receiver Parris Campbell, both of whom might land more in the teams’ price range. Chark and Campbell can offer something the Cowboys’ offense currently lacks, which is speed.
Of course, the Cowboys could revisit signing Beckham Jr. as well, who should be healthier now than he was a few months ago.
The Cowboys can also use the draft to find the help they covet. This draft is full of WR options who will be available with their first-round pick if they choose. It’s a deep receiver draft but lacks elite talent according to most experts. Among the options at pick 26 could be USC WR Jordan Addison, TCU WR Quentin Johnson, Ohio St. WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, or Tennessee WR Jalin Hyatt. Even if the team misses out in the first round, they should be able to find a good WR in the second or third round.
Finally, the Cowboys could trade for a top WR, but that would be a high cost if they’re looking for an established receiver. Draft compensation and salary are potential roadblocks if the team takes that path.
There are avenues for the Cowboys to upgrade WR this offseason and it needs to be a priority. Lamb is a star, but the hope is that Gallup can return to form and Tolbert adjusts in his second season. That’s too much hope to rely on when the team is in the prime of Prescott’s career.
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