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Free agent focus 2018: John Brown fills a need, a need for speed

The Cowboys need to improve the weapons around Dak Prescott and speed kills.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the Cowboys’ offense became non-existent when Ezekiel Elliott was suspended. The offense desperately needs a refresh and that means it’s imperative to improve Dak Prescott’s weapons. How can the Cowboys offense become a little less predictable and a little more dynamic? How about getting a speedy receiver with big-play potential?

[In this series, come along as we peruse the long list of free agents and focus on players that could be of interest for the Cowboys. Some of these players may, of course, price themselves out of range. However, any time you feel like your team is close like Dallas most definitely does, why not be a little aggressive in the acquisitions department?]

WR John Brown, (5’11, 179 lbs, 27-years-old) - Arizona Cardinals

2017 stats: 10 games played, 21 receptions, 299 yards, three touchdowns

John Brown’s collegiate career started when he entered Mars Hill College for his freshman year in 2008. His 27 catches for 619 yards, 1,472 all-purpose yards, and seven touchdowns earned him the SAC Freshman of the Year. Strangely, he sat out the next season before transferring to Coffeyville Community College for one year before transferring to Pittsburg State University in 2011 at the age of 21.

There he played three seasons, walking away the school’s all-time leader in receptions (185), receiving yards (3,380), and receiving touchdowns (34). He was a notably good special teams return man as well with his 4.34 speed. He finished his college days as a three-time Little All-American as well as a three-time First-team All-MIAA receiver.

Brown was drafted 91st overall in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Cardinals. He was the first Pittsburg State player drafted since Ronald Moore in 1993. He started quickly, catching his first touchdown pass from Carson Palmer in week one against the Chargers. Two weeks later, Brown hauled in a couple of touchdown catches against the rival 49ers.

Against the Eagles, Brown caught a 75-yard touchdown to win the game. He finished his rookie season with 48 receptions, 696 yards, and five touchdowns while becoming the first rookie in NFL history to have four game-winning touchdown catches. In 2015 season, he upped the ante, having 65 receptions, 1,003 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. 17 of Brown’s 65 receptions were for 20+ yards or more and he was looking to become a much bigger part of the Cardinals’ offense in 2016.

As these things go, hamstring injuries got in the way of his 2016 season and he only had 39 receptions for 599 yards and two touchdowns. He also had to deal with Palmer getting banged up multiple times as his big-play ability was limited to five plays of 20+ yards. This past year was his absolute worst performance of his career setting lows in almost every receiving category while dealing with injuries to himself (turf toe) and his quarterbacks, too. He never got it going with Palmer before he was hurt and couldn’t make a connection with Drew Stanton or Blaine Gabbert.

His 38.2 catch rate plus 5.4 yards per target are not even close to expectations of an NFL receiver. The Cardinals are dealing with retirements from their head coach and quarterback, making it highly unlikely Brown becomes a priority. His best bet will be a one-year prove-it deal and that’s where Dallas comes in.

His calling card was always his field speed and reliable hands to stretch the field, he has a knack for tracking the ball, is quick in and out of his breaks. He also plays special teams as the gunner and is known to be a great locker room guy. Brown had his own troubles staying on the field in 2017 (five games missed) but before that he missed two games in three seasons.

The Cowboys need to get creative on offense and they don’t currently have a guy with his abilities to stretch the field and make plays. The Cowboys need to start ramping up the competition at receiver. Taking a shot at a guy with speed and big-play ability for the price Brown’s likely to command is a low-risk, high-reward type of move that this team usually loves.