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Cowboys domino: The Cole Beasley decision

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Do the Cowboys try to retain their slot receiver? How much is he worth if they do? And if they don’t keep him, how does it affect the roster?

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Shane Roper-USA TODAY Sports

The Pro Bowl (weird as it was at times) is done and the Dallas Cowboys’ coaching staff is home. While the offensive coordinator job is still technically open, all signs are that Kellen Moore will wind up filling it, with Jon Kitna as the quarterback coach. We still have to wait for that to become official, but now the team should be ready to move onto the the next phase of things: Free agency. And this season, as is normal for the Cowboys, the biggest decisions concern their own free agents. Everyone knows DeMarcus Lawrence is the big target to retain, but that is a case where the only real thing for the team to decide is just how hard they are going to negotiate the handsome price they will pay for him.

However, there is one rather complicated situation for the team to handle, and that is what to do about slot receiver Cole Beasley. He has expressed unhappiness over his role in the offense, leading to speculation that he is basically gone in free agency.

Despite that, Beasley has often played a vital role for the Cowboys as the go-to slot receiver, especially when they really need to convert on short-to-medium third downs. He is very difficult to cover one-on-one, and now that the team has added Amari Cooper and seen the emergence of Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz have improved, Beasley has real value on the field, whether he is the target or making it easier for Dak Prescott to get the ball to someone else. Part of his discontent seems to lie with the way offensive coordinator Scott Linehan didn’t appear to want to incorporate him into the game plan.

But Linehan has graduated to ex-offensive coordinator. It remains to be seen how presumptive OC Moore will seek to utilize slot receivers. He may have an encouraging message for Beasley if he wants to stay.

There is also the question of just how much Beasley was being left out of the game plan. 2018 was not really a down year for him. It was his second best season behind 2016 in yardage, targets, and receptions. He caught 75% of the balls thrown his way, and averaged just over 10 yards a catch. And while he only had three touchdowns, the one he grabbed to win the final regular season game was a clear exhibit of just how good a weapon he can be.

So the Cowboys have to make a decision on whether they really want to let him go in free agency (assuming he would be receptive to a new deal with Dallas). The question in that case is just how much they are willing to pay for him. It is anticipated that he would be expecting a contract worth between $6 and $8 million annually. Are the Cowboys willing to pony up that much? If not, what will they do to replace him?

Well, if they aren’t, they have to have a plan for that replacement - and that is far murkier than the OC status. Beasley is a specific talent, able to get open almost at will, with good hands and more speed than many think. If he is not retained, the Cowboys have some uncertain alternatives. They can try to re-sign Tavon Austin, but he has a significant injury history, missing nine regular season games since coming to Dallas last year. His record as a pass receiver is not nearly as good as Beasley’s, with only a 59% catch rate. He is an electrifying return man, which is perhaps reason enough to try and re-sign him, but that does not make him a reliable option in the slot. They also have Cedrick Wilson, who spent his rookie season on IR. Wilson is seen as having a chance to be a very good slot receiver, based on his performance in training camp before his injury, but it is just potential, where Beasley is a proven commodity. Otherwise, they could try a bit of slot-receiver-by-committee, but recent history with that whole “by-committee” thing is not encouraging.

That leaves free agency and the draft. And frankly, there is little chance of finding someone who can replace Beasley’s contributions either route. A free agent of anywhere near his abilities is going to cost just about as much, so why not spend the money on someone who already knows the quarterback? And while Moore is expected to make some real changes to the offense, he should keep a lot of the same terminology and some of the concepts to make things as easy on his players as possible.

Still, the team may be tempted to try and replace Beasley with a much cheaper draftee. It is seen to be a good draft for wide receivers, with players like Marquise Brown and Andy Isabella possibly being there when the Cowboys select in the second or third round.

But if I were involved in the personnel decisions at the Star, I would be advocating strongly that the team make an offer to Beasley, and be willing to work with him to keep his talents on board. The team has nearly $55 million in cap space per Over the Cap and has shown it can find more whenever it needs to. Investing in their own free agents has been a strategy of the Cowboys for some time now, and it is one that should be continued with Beasley. They can afford it. And he is worth it.