Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline came and went. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the Dallas Cowboys were bystanders like their fans as a flurry of transactions took place. Though the Cowboys were reported to have a legitimate interest in acquiring Houston Texans receiver Brandin Cooks, the team could not strike a deal with the Texans before 4 PM EST.
The Cowboys and Texans were discussing a deal to send WR Brandin Cooks to Dallas, per sources. And the sides were in the neighborhood on comp. Cooks’ $18 million guarantee for 2023 was the dealbreaker here.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) November 1, 2022
Whether they had agreed on compensation is an open question, given the steep asking price.
The autumn draft that can be felt isn’t seasonal, or a November change in the climate. It’s the collective exasperated sigh of Cowboys Nation in another chapter of “We like our guys”. The disappointment is driven further by teams that appear to be in postseason contention making moves to bolster their roster. Those teams would include the San Francisco 49ers (Christian McCaffrey), the Minnesota Vikings (T.J. Hockenson), and their bitter rival, Philadelphia Eagles (Robert Quinn).
For those that have been (blissfully) unaware or haven’t been paying attention, the Cowboys are no longer the headline hunters of old from a personnel perspective and opt for more frugal and thrifty player acquisitions. This approach, along with a solid track record in the draft, has helped the team avoid the dreaded “cap hell” and keep the team competitive. Yet, watching other teams improve while standing idly by may leave them scrambling as we inch closer to the postseason.
As it currently stands, the team’s top wide receiver options are CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup. Lamb is rebounding well after some early struggles. Meanwhile, Gallup has been coming along gradually since returning from a torn ACL last season. After those two options, wide receiver is a bit of a coin flip and frankly concerning if Gallup or Lamb were to miss significant time. While some might be encouraged by the performance of Noah Brown before Gallup’s return, he also is nursing injuries.
The more pressing concern that remains is what the Cowboys do once they face an opponent that can play solid man coverage underneath and have two safeties over the top of the defense. This was an area the team struggled mightily with last year even with a trio of Lamb, Gallup, and now Cleveland Brown, Amari Cooper. Simply put, after not making a trade for additional help, the Cowboys have to look from within and as we get deeper into the season, the options in place are mostly unproven.
By most accounts, the team is placing their faith largely in free agent acquisition James Washington. Washington’s best season came in 2019 when had 44 receptions for 735 yards. That said, when you consider his pedigree as a first-round pick, that’s largely underwhelming. Washington has not played this season, having been placed on injured reserve and gradually making his way back on the active roster.
A New Hope
Then you must also consider the younger options the team has to offer in Jalen Tolbert and Simi Fehoko. Tolbert was selected in the third round of this past year’s draft, but quickly found himself falling behind on the depth chart and struggling to be active on game days. It’s a far cry from the expectation that Tolbert would step in as a day-one WR3 and contribute right away.
As it pertains to Fehoko, he’s also currently on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. On the surface, Fehoko has traits that make him an appealing option if he were to be given significant snaps. First, he’s a big body. At 6’4” and 220lbs, Fehoko has the size to tower over smaller defensive backs with his frame and be a threat in the red zone. Fehoko also would bring an element of speed, having run a 4.43 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in 2021. Also, he’s got the versatility to play inside the slot and outside the numbers which would allow him and CeeDee Lamb to move around in formations interchangeably.
There is one more option the Cowboys could explore, and that is utilizing KaVontae Turpin more as a wide receiver. Turpin has been as good as advertised when it comes to being a return specialist. Among players with at least nine kick returns, Turpin has the NFL’s second-best average per return at 24.2 yards, while also third in punt return average at 14.7 yards. The Cowboys could get creative and find a way to get former XFL MVP more opportunities. So far Turpin has been used to carry the ball on jet sweeps but has only been targeted once in the passing game. It’s a long shot, still one could argue Turpin is the most explosive player on the roster.
Cowboys rookie WR KaVontae Turpin nearly became the first NFL player to return a punt for a touchdown in 2022. He just missed Sunday vs. Lions on a 52-yarder. LB Luke Gifford: "Turp is always a spark." pic.twitter.com/7U55y1Odn2— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) October 24, 2022
If this feels like déjà vu, it should because this is a very similar conversation that was discussed during the offseason and throughout training camp. The receiving questions have come full circle once again. The Cowboys were fortunate enough to have their defense carry the load when their offense was struggling and among the lesser offenses in the NFL without Dak Prescott. As we saw last year during the postseason, the offense at some point will be asked to pick up the slack if the defense is unable to hold its own. As we survey the landscape in the NFC, we can only that the front office’s faith in their guys is well-placed.
The Road ahead
If only on paper, the Eagles appear to be the only NFC team that has the personnel to give the Cowboys the most trouble given their current receiving corps. They have two Pro Bowl cornerbacks in James Bradberry and Darius Slay and philosophically will provide help over the top to their cornerbacks, forcing someone besides Lamb and Gallup to emerge as an alternative option.
Maybe it was meant to play out this way, with both teams seemingly on a collision course toward the end of the regular season and likely beyond that given their two contrasting ideologies. The Cowboys, who are meticulous in building their roster, and the Eagles, that are aggressive and truly in the business of talent acquisition 24/7. As far as Dallas is concerned, the potential is there as is the hope. Now, Cowboys Nation hopes that their outstretched palms for help at wide receiver don’t resort to putting their hands together in a prayer that goes unanswered.