The upcoming season will be a unique test for the Dallas Cowboys. We will find out if their unyielding faith in their own guys can produce favorable results after losing some keep players this offseason. One of their biggest moves this year was trading away Amari Cooper and getting out of the final three seasons of his five-year, $100 million contract he signed in 2020.
With no Cooper, the Cowboys are going a different route when it comes to how they want to construct their wide receiving position group. For example, instead of continuing to pay Amari Cooper $20 million per season, they prefer to roll with:
- 2020 first-round draft pick CeeDee Lamb entering his third season
- 26-year-old Michael Gallup on a five-year, $57.5 million extension
- South Alabama receiving star Jalen Tolbert with their 2022 third-round pick
- Veteran James Washington on a one-year, $1.2 million free agent deal
On paper, this is not a bad group of receivers. However, what they can deliver on the field brings about a lot of questions. The biggest one is how long will the team be without the services of Gallup? Without him, the depth chart sees a shift and the group looks a little less desirable. On top of that, we’ve never seen Lamb play as the team’s no. 1 wideout as he’s always had Cooper there to attract attention from the defense. Add the typical learning curve accompanying rookie receivers, and Tolbert’s expectations should be tempered a bit. Finally, it’s hard to assess what they’re getting with Washington because his last two seasons have been quiet despite a good performance in 2019. Whether you’re filled with optimism or concern, all we can really say is that there seems to be a large range of potential outcomes when it comes to how the Cowboys receivers will do in 2022.
It’s easy to get caught up in the pre-Amari days back in 2018 when the receiving group was just terrible. They started the year with Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Deonte Thompson, and a first-year Gallup. Despite what the organization believed, this group could not create enough separation and spread the field well enough to make the passing game work. Since the addition of Cooper, the Cowboys' passing game took off in remarkable fashion as Dak Prescott suddenly started averaging nearly 100 yards more per game than he had before.
Cooper is gone now, but that doesn’t mean things will revert back to the stagnant old offense that once existed. Here are a few things to help calm our nerves as we once again enter an Cooper-less era.
CeeDee Lamb is here
Lamb’s numbers are very comparable to Cooper’s over their first two years in the league. And let’s not forget that even Cooper had a veteran/former first-round pick helping him out as Michael Crabtree had very good seasons during Cooper’s first couple of years in the league.
The Lamb factor alone will not allow this current cast to be comparable to the dreaded 2018 season as that group had zero no. 1 wide receivers on the roster. You could even make a compelling case that it was full of no. 3 wideouts. CeeDee Lamb is here and that’s a nice start.
Kellen Moore is also here
The Cowboys' offensive coordinator is heavily scrutinized, so this one isn’t going to sway many, but it should be noted that the shift in offensive success doesn’t just follow the Cooper timeline. Moore was just the quarterback coach in 2018 and moved up to OC the following season. Even with injuries to both the quarterback and offensive line in recent years, the offense has been moving up and down the field. They are the top-ranked scoring and yards-gained offense from a year ago so something good must’ve been going on there.
Schultz is a key ingredient
While this article is mostly about the wide receiver position group, we can’t discount what Dalton Schultz brings to the Cowboys' receiving game. He’s heavily targeted and a proven chain-mover. In 2018, the team started the year with Geoff Swaim as their starting tight end, so clearly, the tight end spot has been significantly upgraded. Schutz had just as many targets as Cooper did last year and was only surpassed by Lamb. That says a lot about how Prescott trusts him, especially considering how stacked the team was at wide receiver last year.
Gallup is coming back
We don’t know when it’s happening, but the return of Gallup will give this offense a big boost. Let’s not forget that Gallup had 1,107 receiving yards as the Cowboys' no. 2 wideout in 2019 and he’s proven he’s more than capable of making big plays for this offense. Barring a health setback or the team somehow burying themselves early in the year, all things are pointing to a very explosive finish for this Cowboys' offense.
A viable no. 3
Rookie Jalen Tolbert is coming off two great college seasons and enters the perfect environment to keep things going. James Washington is a 26-year-old former second-round pick who produced 735 yards receiving before the Pittsburgh Steelers WR group suddenly became crowded. Both these guys will get opportunities to shine early due to Gallup being out, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see one of them take full advantage.
The Pollard factor
Do you know who led the Cowboys in receptions during that dreaded 2018 offensive season? Ezekiel Elliott. That was before Tony Pollard showed up, but he’s here now and he’s in a contract year. The team pinky promises they’ll get him more involved and that will extend to the passing game. Like Schultz, he’s not an actual wide receiver, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a huge weapon in the passing game.
Wild card guys
Simi Fehoko. T.J. Vasher. Brandon Smith. Those are meaningless names right now, but one of them might not be later. There is no reason to get excited about any of these young receivers, so we won’t, but if one of them does step up, suddenly the Cowboys will have some bonus contribution further down the depth chart.
If you believe that Prescott needs optimal conditions to perform, then, by all means, be concerned. But if you believe in Dak, then they should be just fine because there are a lot of different pieces on this roster to keep this offense humming.