On Friday, the Cowboys finally got on the board in terms of signing a free agent that wasn’t already on their team. Wide receiver James Washington, who’s spent all four years of his NFL career with the Steelers, is coming to Dallas. Notably, Dez Bryant predicted this signing days prior:
James Washington to the Dallas cowboys just know you heard it first right here….— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) March 15, 2022
Like Bryant, Washington played his college ball at Oklahoma State, making this his second time being a Cowboy. Washington also grew up in Stamford, Texas, making this a homecoming of sorts for the receiver.
Coming out of college, Washington was a prospect banking on his upside. Oklahoma State had largely used him as a deep threat, and it had worked well. Washington tallied at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of his final three seasons in Stillwater and averaged an absurd 20.3 yards per catch during that time. But at 5’11” and 213 pounds, scouts questioned whether Washington could replicate that kind of success against NFL defensive backs and not Big 12 defensive backs.
Those concerns seem to have been proven right thus far. The Steelers selected Washington in the second round, making him the seventh receiver drafted in 2018, going 21 spots ahead of new teammate Michael Gallup.
Washington never became a fixture of the Steelers’ passing attack, only playing on more than half of the team’s offensive snaps in a year in the 2019 season. That was also his most productive year in Pittsburgh, catching 44 balls for 735 yards and three touchdowns. Also of note, 31 of his 44 catches that year went for first downs.
It may not be entirely his fault, though. Washington’s best feature coming out of the draft - his ability to stretch the field vertically - was initially showing. In his first two seasons, Washington averaged 11.4 yards before the catch. However, the Steelers adopted much more of a quick, short passing game the last two years to accommodate the aging Ben Roethlisberger. That resulted in Washington averaging 8.5 yards before the catch those two years.
So how does Washington fit in Dallas? Well, the wide receiver position is obviously a need right now after the Cowboys traded Amari Cooper to Cleveland and Cedrick Wilson signed with the Dolphins in free agency. Gallup also may not return in time for the start of the season, adding even more importance to Washington’s signing. Gallup, of course, has been largely used as a deep threat in Dallas, so Washington may be seen as a placeholder for Gallup while he recovers.
Beyond that, though, Washington offers some versatility. With his size, he can play out of the slot on occasion; Pittsburgh only lined him up there on a third of their plays this past season. With CeeDee Lamb in Dallas, though, it’s likely that Washington sees most of his playing time on the outside. Assuming Washington remains on the field when Gallup gets healthy enough to play, it would be nice for the Cowboys to have two receivers who are considered deep threats, thus opening things up more in the middle for Lamb and Dalton Schultz.
Overall, this is a classic Cowboys free agent signing. Washington wasn’t commanding a lot of interest on the open market, and his one-year deal with the Cowboys indicates that this isn’t necessarily a long-term signing either. In other words, Washington’s addition doesn’t preclude Dallas from drafting a receiver next month should someone the team really likes be available at one of their picks. But this move also prevents the team from feeling pressured to draft a receiver earlier than they’re ready to do so.
In a way, this move feels reminiscent of the Cowboys’ addition of Allen Hurns after (well, technically before) cutting Bryant prior to the 2018 season. The team addressed a need without taking it out of the realm of possibility for them to still address the need later on. The hope, of course, is that this time around doesn’t result in the Cowboys having to trade another premium pick for a receiver several months later.
We discussed the additions of both James Washington and Dante Fowler in our latest video on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel! Make sure to subscribe to our channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss any of our videos.