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The Dallas Cowboys wide receiver group went from top of the league to full of questions in a hurry

Time moves fast in the NFL.

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

For so long it has felt like the Dallas Cowboys offensive line has been the best unit on the team. Clearly that reputation has been challenged in recent years, but generally speaking throughout the era that we are in they have held the top spot.

Three years ago when we were coming off of the 2018 season (the last in which this team won a playoff game) it felt like linebacker might be readying to take the mantle from the offensive line on the heels of Leighton Vander Esch’s rookie season and Jaylon Smith’s emergence. As you are fully aware, that was a rather short-lived ride.

Just one year later it felt like wide receiver had every reason to knock the o-line off thanks to Amari Cooper’s continued growth in the offense, Michael Gallup’s assimilation in it, and CeeDee Lamb joining the team. It has always been understood that every run of greatness in the NFL has an expiration date, but given that we have only gotten 12 games of Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb together (with Dak Prescott at quarterback that is) has sort of made time fly by faster.

The Dallas Cowboys wide receiver group went from top of the league to full of questions in a hurry

When the Cowboys drafted CeeDee Lamb two years ago, there were some fans confused as to why they would take a wide receiver given the presence of Cooper and Gallup at the time. Receiver was a need then, because a plan was suddenly put in motion to re-evaluate things in 2022 when the team could get out of Cooper’s then-recently signed new deal. The time has come and decisions have to be made.

In less than a month the Cowboys could feasibly watch Gallup walk away and send Cooper off into free agency themselves leaving only Lamb to work with as far as top-tier talent is concerned. NFL.com recently profiled receiver positions around the league and put them in the “add a piece or two or three” category along with the Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Top WRs under contract for 2022: CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper

Key free agents: Michael Gallup (UFA), Cedrick Wilson (UFA), Noah Brown (UFA), Malik Turner (UFA)

Lamb and Cooper represent a dynamic duo. Beyond that, there are loads of questions. Gallup was on his way to a big payday before tearing his ACL. Could the Cowboys bring him back on a short-term deal if his market doesn’t pan out following the injury? Financial issues likely put Dallas in a spot to fill out the depth chart with cheaper deals. Wilson may price him out of a return. There are also percolating talks that the Cowboys could move on from Cooper, who is due a $20 million base salary, which isn’t guaranteed. Dallas could decide to cut bait after a down season but would need to replace Cooper with another top-shelf receiver to make the offense go. With Jerry Jones searching for that elusive return to the Super Bowl, cutting Cooper would be tough to swallow.

Obviously it is difficult to fully evaluate what the Cowboys’ receiving situation looks like given that they are facing a fork in the road with Cooper. Should they move on then the position vaults to the top of their overall needs even if they do bring back some combination of Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, and/or Malik Turner.

However the position group shakes out for Dallas, it stands to reason that their group will not be as talented on paper as what they have had for the last two years. As noted, the Cowboys have only gotten 12 games from their top trio with their starting quarterback under center, and the results from those games aren’t exactly what we expected when it first came together.

Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb together with Dak Prescott under center

Receptions/Yards/Touchdowns Amari Cooper Michael Gallup CeeDee Lamb
Receptions/Yards/Touchdowns Amari Cooper Michael Gallup CeeDee Lamb
2020 Week 1 (at Rams) 10/81/0 3/50/0 5/59/0
2020 Week 2 (Falcons) 6/100/0 2/58/0 6/106/0
2020 Week 3 (at Seahawks) 9/86/0 6/138/1 5/65/0
2020 Week 4 (Browns) 12/134/1 2/29/0 5/79/2
2020 Week 5 (Giants) 2/23/0 4/73/0 8/124/0
2021 Week 1 (at Buccaneers) 13/139/2 4/36/0 7/104/1
2021 Week 10 (Falcons) 4/51/0 3/42/0 6/94/2
2021 Week 13 (at Saints) 2/41/0 5/44/0 7/89/0
2021 Week 14 (at Commanders) 5/51/1 5/106/0 7/61/0
2021 Week 15 (at Giants) 2/8/0 5/36/1 6/50/0
2021 Week 16 (Commanders) 7/85/1 5/60/0 4/66/0
2021 Week 17 (Cardinals) 3/18/1 3/36/1 3/51/0
Wins by the team are bolded.

Two years ago the talk about this trifecta was all about how they could each potentially go for 1,000 yards receiving. While they had to deal with the loss of their starting quarterback for most of their first season while dealing with injuries themselves, and had to navigate all of this in the NFL era of COVID-19, there are only two 1,000-yard seasons among the three of them across two years. Amari Cooper topped four digits in 2020 and CeeDee Lamb did it in 2021.

What these three receivers did from a box score standpoint is not totally indicative of the success of the team, especially given how Dallas has shown a desire to run the ball. But it is not an exaggeration to say that the offense overall failed to live up to our expectations with this particular set of talent (however outlandish the expectations were). The fact that they only have one playoff appearance and zero wins is another point of frustration, although Gallup did not play in the playoff game given that he was injured two weeks prior.

Even if the Cowboys somehow managed to bring Gallup back and kept Cooper, there would be a ton of questions about this group entering 2022 which goes to show how far they have fallen in just two years. Obviously the likelihood of that is extremely low which means there are going to be some serious questions surrounding the wide receiver corps as a whole.

It is time for the Cowboys to find some answers.

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