You’d be forgiven for thinking the Cowboys aren’t missing Michael Gallup, who’s been on the injured reserve since his appearance in the season opener. After all, the Cowboys have scored 35 points or more in their last four games and rank fourth in offensive DVOA. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb have both had games in which they looked dominant, while Cedrick Wilson and Noah Brown have played admirably in Gallup’s place.
So with Gallup returning to practice and getting close to returning to the field, chatter has arisen suggesting that Dallas ought to trade Gallup, either for a player or a draft pick. There’s something to be said for shipping out an expendable and easily replaced player for something more valuable, but that’s not the case here and it’s why the Cowboys should not, under any circumstances, trade Gallup.
The duo of Wilson and Brown have not replaced Gallup. They’ve both certainly played well, but they simply don’t do the things Gallup does. That this offense has still played at a high level in his absence is a testament to offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s flexibility as he’s changed his offensive approach without the young receiver available, as well as Dak Prescott’s ability to flawlessly execute seemingly any concept.
One major way this offense has changed is in its ability to go deep. Prescott is great at a lot of things, but in each of the last two years he’s routinely been one of the best when throwing deep, and Gallup’s been a big part of that. Among receivers with 25 or more catches, Gallup has led the Cowboys in yards before catch per reception (YBC/R) in every single year he’s been with the team. His 10.0 YBC/R last year, when playing without Prescott for most of the year, is Gallup’s lowest figure. Brown currently leads this year’s team with 10.0 YBC/R, though his six catches are the team’s second-fewest behind just Gallup.
In other words, Gallup is exceptional at making huge gains through the air. Whereas Cooper and Lamb do a lot of their damage after the catch Gallup is the opposite, routinely running deeper routes and doing a great job of tracking the ball and securing the pass.
So it’s no surprise that Prescott’s deep throw numbers have decreased this season so far. Through six games, Dak is averaging 6.1 air yards on completed passes; that’s 15th in the NFL. He was in the top ten each of the last two years in that category, averaging 7.6 in 2019 and 6.8 in 2020. In fact, Prescott’s completed air yards average this year is currently the second-lowest figure in his career, dating back to his last season playing for Scott Linehan before Moore started opening things up more.
Gallup just adds an element to this offense that nobody else on the roster, and few others across the league, can. Which is a way of saying that this offense could become even better, and even more explosive, when Gallup returns. That alone should be reason enough to quiet any thoughts of trading him away.
But there’s also the issue of a Dallas defense that isn’t quite there yet and a schedule that’s only getting tougher. The Cowboys have been great at generating defensive takeaways this year, but if their performance against the Patriots’ generally inept offense was any indicator, they’re vulnerable when not taking the ball away.
With the likes of Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, Patrick Mahomes, Derek Carr, and Kyler Murray still left on the schedule. Dallas may find themselves in a few more games where Prescott will need to will the team to victory. So having a receiver who can take the top off of a defense, thereby opening things up even more for everyone else, could come in handy. In short, the Cowboys offense is really good right now, but Gallup makes it better. And in a league where offense wins championships - eight of the last ten Super Bowl winners finished the year in the top ten in offensive efficiency - it pays to make your offense as good as possible.