Perhaps the dominant story throughout the Cowboys’ last outing was the one-night redemption story for WR CeeDee Lamb. The night ended on a high for Dallas’ number-one receiver, but Lamb will need more heroic moments this season as his team soon faces some big decisions about his future.
Lamb’s status as WR1 was called into question after an especially atrocious drop early in Dallas’ Week 3 victory over the New York Giants. With a few other drops in the first two weeks, an issue that’s been noted in previous seasons as well, Lamb was mostly excoriated throughout social media during the first half.
Thankfully for Lamb and for the Cowboys, he turned things around later with a spectacular one-handed catch for a critical fourth-quarter touchdown. Lamb came up big on multiple plays in that drive, converting on fourth down and setting Dallas up in the redzone with a 26-yard reception.
After calls for Lamb to turn in his #88 jersey early, the receiver helped maintain its legacy in the second half. But now in his third year, Lamb will need to keep the positive momentum going into the upcoming offseason.
Lamb is signed through 2023 on his original rookie contract. As a former first-round pick, his contract gives the Cowboys the standard fifth-year option for the 2024 season. Dallas has to decide whether or not to exercise that option sometime next spring, usually shortly after the draft.
Right now, based on his playing time and having not yet been named to a Pro Bowl, Lamb’s option year is projected at $13.59 million. That would make him one of the 30 highest-paid receivers in the NFL based on current contracts, but it is still a far cry from the $27-$30 million annual averages that guys like Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, and DeAndre Hopkins presently enjoy.
Given what the NFL’s top receivers are making these days, getting Lamb for a fifth year at $13-$14 million is a bargain the Cowboys likely won’t pass up. But even if they get to punt on a long-term deal until 2025, that doesn’t mean Dallas won’t be faced with some long-term decisions sooner.
Perhaps the biggest ones will be about their overall management of the WR position. At what point do the Cowboys make another significant investment through the draft, and what could that mean for Lamb’s future with the organization?
It’s not hard to see how Dallas’ drafting Lamb in 2020 set the stage for Amari Cooper’s untimely departure. Had Lamb not been in the stable, it seems unlikely that the Cowboys would have parted with Cooper and potentially crippled the offense.
What if Dallas is once again put in a position to add a premier talent in the 2023 NFL Draft? With Michael Gallup locked in for several seasons, could the Cowboys once again prepare for the future and make the current WR1 seemingly expendable?
With receiver contracts in a state of unprecedented inflation, Dallas could also be considering getting a long-term deal done sooner than later with Lamb. The Cowboys don’t have to wait for 2025 to work out a contract extension. We’ve seen them extend players during their fourth seasons before.
But while trying to get ahead of the market can be a good thing, it’s predicated on trusting the player to be worth the still-significant bump in compensation. Paying Lamb $13-$14 million in 2024 should be a good deal unless something really screwy happens the next two years, but what about $25-$30 million beyond that?
While there’s still plenty of reason to believe in Lamb both now and for the future, he obviously doesn’t have a lot of cushion right now based on Monday night. The vitriol towards that drop doesn’t come if he had more skins on the wall, but Lamb is still working on his credibility and needs the good to outweigh the bad consistently going forward.
Amari Cooper’s ultimate fate in Dallas has to make Lamb wonder what lies ahead. Nobody imagined that Cooper would be gone this quickly after he got his multi-year contract. And while some other issues may have been at work than just the salary cap, Cooper’s departure was partly facilitated by Lamb’s presence.
Will history repeat or will CeeDee Lamb be the Cowboys’ number-one receiver for many years to come? How he performs throughout 2022 could go a long way to answering that question.