The Dallas Cowboys are having open auditions for the role of the team’s number one wide receiver. Okay, so maybe it’s not open as it’s limited to a selected group of players, but as it stands now - the role of Dak Prescott’s favorite target is still up for grabs. With Dez Bryant gone and now playing for the [enter new team here when it finally happens], Brice Butler moving out to the desert, and Ryan Switzer heading to the California bay to play for the Oakland Raiders - the wideout group has been remodeled. Free agents Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson are now on the team, rookie draft picks Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson are ready to earn their star, and last year’s new guys Noah Brown and Lance Lenoir are still fighting to remain with the team. Combine those six guys with the two veterans on the roster, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams, and you have eight receivers all competing for a variety of different things in Dallas.
Who steps up and becomes the team’s top receiver is anyone’s guess, and while we all have latched on to our favorite new shiny toy, the team’s most important receiver might be standing right in front of us. In 2016, Cole Beasley emerged as the team’s most efficient receiver. He led the team with 75 catches on 98 targets for a catch rate of 76.5%. Following the 2016 season, NFL.com had Beasley listed as the third best slot corner in the NFL after Jamison Crowder and Randall Cobb.
3) Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys (3.41 separation at target)
Slot separation: 3.48 (74.7 percent of targets)
Out wide separation: 3.15 (18.4 percent of targets)
Air yards per target: 6.9
It was a career year for Cowboys slot receiver Cole Beasley with 75 catches for 833 yards, both of which led the team. Beasley led all 15 slot receivers in this sample with 3.48 yards of separation on his targets from the slot. There were times this year, especially in the early going, where Dak Prescott seemed to favor Beasley over all other receivers. The Dallas slot receiver only averaged 6.9 air yards per target, making him a reliable option in the short-to-intermediate passing game for the rookie quarterback. Prescott didn’t truly begin to connect with Dez Bryant until later in the season after the receiver was further away from his injury absence. Nevertheless, Beasley looks like a solid offensive building block for the Cowboys offense over the next few seasons.
But then something happened - the 2017 season. It was terrible for all the Cowboys receivers. Beasley numbers dropped considerably to 36 catches for 314 yards. These were his lowest catch/yardage numbers since his rookie season in 2012. Bleacher Report ranked the slot receivers for the 2017 and offered up this explanation for Beasley’s decline:
17. Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys
Teams have started to figure out Cole Beasley and his role in the Cowboys offense. Beasley has a limited route tree, so defenders are sitting on the underneath routes and daring him to beat them deep. That didn’t happen in 2017. Beasley is still an explosive athlete who can win in one-on-one coverage, but he wasn’t as effective this year as he has been in previous seasons.
So, what does that mean for Cole Beasley going forward? Was 2016 just a fluke? Was he just the beneficiary of the lack of attention he got from defenses because of the presence of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten? Or were there other factors involved that can be corrected?
Enter Sanjay Lal to the rescue.
The Cowboys have not only remodeled their receivers, but they’ve added a new receiver coach to replace Derek Dooley, who is now the offensive coordinator at Missouri. Lal has already been on the receiving end of high praise from the players and that is not limited to the new guys who are just learning their craft. New tricks are being taught to older dogs. One of Lal’s missions this offseason is to change “the demeanor” in Beasley’s route running. What does this entail exactly? Allow Cole to explain...
“Just really flying off the ball,” Beasley said. “I’ve been real patient at the line a lot in my career. And now there are things that I need to do to have change-ups, if you will, and different ways to come off the ball and attack. I was a little passive last year waiting to see what, I got so many different looks I was waiting to see what they were going to do before I started my route and I wasn’t as good of a route runner because of it. Just firing off the ball and playing fast is what I’m focusing on.”
Creating separation has been the message this offseason. The new receivers they’ve brought in specialize in just that. The Cowboys will be looking to several pass catchers to help make a difference this season. It’s going to be a team effort. If Lal can help Beasley regain that edge that made him so good in 2016, the team will have once again found one of their pieces. With no Switz around, Cole is this team’s slot corner now and in the future. Beasley is in the last year of his contract at an average of $3.4 million per year. With a down year last season, some are content with just letting his contract play out and move on after the season. But that could be a mistake.
The team should consider offering him a two-year extension similar to what Julian Edelman received, which averaged $5.5 million per season. With the Dez money soon to be off the books, the team is not spending very much on the wide receiver position. And with a couple players on rookie contracts, they don’t have very much money invested in the position. Despite the narrative painted by others that his mind isn’t always on football, Beasley has always been very committed to the team and doing what he needs to do to be his best.
Beasley’s a keeper and he could be in for a big season. Getting him extended now might be the cheap way to go. Once you see those chains moving in 2018, it will be abundantly clear.