In Defense of the Cowboys Roy Williams

Expectations can color any opinion on a subject. Take the classic example. Your friend goes to the movies and comes over afterward to say the movie was one of the best he's ever seen. He pushes you to see it - it's that good. Then you go to the movie, and you think it's alright, but you're not sure what the fuss was all about. That's because the expectations had been set so high that the movie stood little chance of meeting them. Without the expectations having been set beforehand, you might have walked out with a different opinion.

It can happen in sports, too. Take the case of Roy Williams. Coming out of Texas, he was a high draft pick (#7 in 2004) and that immediately set expectations, and it's probably valid at that point. It may not be fair, but it's a fact, when you're drafted that high and get that kind of money, then you're expected to produce at a high level. Roy has never really produced at that level. So he gets labeled as an underachiever, not as good as he should be, all of that stuff. Meanwhile, he's put up some solid numbers in the league. But he'll never be able to shake that initial expectation. Then, he gets traded to another team for some high draft picks, and it starts all over again.

This time however, the idea that Roy has to justify the trade is not valid. Roy's just the player, and he's given you a record to look at. He's created a paper-trail in the NFL, so it's not like college where you're projecting his potential in the pros. You know basically what he is by now, so if you decide that trading a first-round draft pick on him is justified, that's on management, not Roy. Roy is not going to be able to change his game just because a general manager decided this was the value he was putting on the player. He knew what he was getting; he had the track record to look at. Roy's job is not to justify the trade, but to play as well as he can to help the team.

All this brought me back to another ex-Cowboy receiver who was in a similar situation. He was a high draft pick who didn't live up to expectations out of the gate. Then he got traded, for two first-round picks to another team, and basically went on to be the same receiver for that team as he was for the first team. That receiver played in the league for 11 years, and was an effective, yet not spectacular, receiver. When he teamed-up with a speed receiver on the other side in Dallas, he had some good years.

That player was Keyshawn Johnson. Known more for his mouth than anything, Johnson put together a very respectable resume as a WR. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, (and watching him be an analyst, the hate is really winning out), there's no denying he could play. But, he always came with that asterisk to his reputation - *never as good as he should be. Well, those expectations are the problem, not the player.

In fact, look at the similarity of their first three years in the league.

Roy - 181 catches, 2,814 yards, 23 TDs

Key - 216 catches, 2,938 yards, 19 TDs

I see two players on similar trajectories. (Granted, last year Roy's numbers were a total bust with the in-season trade and the foot injury). They are also similar in other ways. Both were physically in the "big" category for receivers. Both are okay with catching the ball in traffic and going over the middle. Both were good blockers in the running game. For fun, take a look at the long runs Dallas has had recently, and on a good portion you'll see #11 downfield blocking a defensive back out of the way. That's a valuable skill that often gets overlooked in wide receivers.

They were different in one way. Roy is more of a vertical threat than Keyshawn was, as evidenced by their YPC stats in their first three years (Roy was around 15.5 and Key around 13.5). Roy is also more dangerous after the catch.

So what's the point? Let me lay out clearly what I'm saying.

  1. The idea that Roy Williams needs to justify the trade is inverted logic. Dallas knew what he was, or they should have known, just by looking at his track record. He's a good receiver, he can help a team, but he's not a dominant receiver that can take over an offense. He's just not that player. Was getting a player of Roy's caliber at #20 in the 2009 draft acceptable (basically the end result of the trade)? We don't know yet, but that's on the Dallas brass, not Roy. All he can do is live up to his abilities, not the expectations.
  2. So far, Roy hasn't lived up to his previous track record. As mentioned before, last year was a wash-out and so far this year, he's got some work to do. So there's a fine line to walk when evaluating Roy Williams. He needs to pick up the pace a bit to get back to his previous level, but he doesn't have to pick up the pace enough to satisfy the expectations, because they were wrong in the beginning, and it's unlikely he will ever satisfy them.
  3. If the Cowboys decide to put Miles Austin in the starting lineup opposite Roy, we could see an uptick in Roy's play. If Austin can consistently represent a deep threat, then Roy will have his Terry Glenn, like Keyshawn did in Dallas.  

Roy Williams is not living up to the hype, but then everybody should have known that going in, so let's quit punishing Roy for something he didn't create. Unreal expectations. If we want to critique Roy, let's say his work so far in Dallas hasn't lived up to his past work. We want to see that Roy again, the guy who produced consistent, not spectacular, numbers in Detroit.

We don't need a justification of the trade. All we need is solid contribution that helps the team win. Here's hoping we see that after the bye week.

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