On March 12, 2022, Jerry Jones did something magical. He was able to unite the Cowboys fanbase. Unfortunately for Jones, the unity arose out of disdain for his decision to trade Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns for a fifth-round pick. Over the next 10 months, it became incredibly clear that Dallas needed a receiver like Cooper opposite CeeDee Lamb.
Well, as Dallas prepares for the 2023 offseason, Jerry can correct the mistake he made nearly a year ago. In doing so, he would not only have to admit he was wrong, but also push his chips in on winning it all next season. A tall ask if you are familiar with the way Jones prefers to operate. But let’s entertain this improbable scenario for a minute. If Dallas was to trade for a big-name wide receiver, who should they consider?
Three big-name wide receivers the Cowboys should consider trading for
A quick discussion on the Dallas Cowboys’ cap situation is warranted before diving into the names. They currently sit $7.6 million above (edited from previous version of article) the cap, which doesn’t sound encouraging. However, between a short list of “must-resign” free agents, paired with decent flexibility in contract restructures and possible cuts, they could end up in a fairly decent situation.
For example, if they restructure all available contracts (not even considering the possibility of cutting Elliott), they would be $33 million below (edit) the cap. They could still bring on a big contract, and in this hypothetical, Dallas is finally pushing their chips in.
Mike Evans, the 29-year-old wide receiver who has posted 1,000+ yards in every season since entering the league, could be moving teams this offseason. After Tom Brady’s retirement following playoff humiliation by the Cowboys, the Buccaneers are in one of two camps:
- Give Todd Bowles enough weapons to succeed and see if he is the answer at head coach
- Enter rebuild mode following three successful years with Tom Brady and tear it all down
If Tampa Bay decides they are in the latter, then Evans will be one of the first places they start. 2023 is the last year on his contract. Meaning that if the Buccaneers do not intend to re-sign him, and if the team isn’t going to be competitive, there is no point in keeping him around, especially not at his $24 million cap hit (the cap hit to Dallas would be $14 million if they trade for him).
And Mike Evans is still among the best at his position. Following a Pro Bowl campaign in 2021, he put up more yards, receptions, yards per reception, and yards per game in 2022. There were two main differences between this season and last:
- The Buccaneers' offense was significantly worse, so he saw fewer red zone targets and scored fewer touchdowns
- Tom Brady was not airing it out as much, so his receptions were coming closer to the line of scrimmage
So, while it might not have looked as pretty as in 2021, neither of those aspects is his fault. Evans is still an elite receiver.
Thus, the only question Dallas fans should be wondering about regarding a potential trade is the price tag. Remember, whoever trades for Evans will have to be content with one year of production if they do not want to re-sign him. That should be enough to drive the trade value down to a level the Cowboys, who are contenders, should be willing to pay.
And adding a speedy wide receiver who can stretch the field, leaving the middle open for CeeDee Lamb to tear apart, is a match made in heaven. Evans also adds a big target for Dak in the red zone, and while Lamb can make contested catches, it isn’t his specialty. If you long for the days of Dez Bryant, Evans is as close as you can get.
Keenan Allen is the player that would make the most sense if Dallas were to go after one big-name WR. Let’s start off by making one thing clear: Allen has not lost a step. After five straight Pro Bowl seasons from 2017 to 2021, this season was his first year missing out on that honor.
But the only reason he didn’t make it was due to injury. In 2022, Allen ripped off 75.2 yards per game (his highest since 2017), hauled in 74% of his targets (highest since 2016), and managed 8.4 yards per target (highest since 2018). Keep in mind he was a Pro Bowler in 2019, 2020, and 2021. And this was the first year in a while he dealt with injuries. From 2017 to 2021, he only missed two games.
You might be afraid of Allen’s 2023 cap hit of $19 million this year and $23.1 million next year if they were to trade for him. Don’t be. He only carries a dead cap hit of $9.6 million over the next two years, meaning that if it doesn’t work out, it will not cost Dallas a lot of money. Plus, his contract can be restructured this year to save $4.5 million.
The only real concern with Allen is how he would fit into the offense. Because he does play a similar style at WR as Lamb. However, adding a reliable pass-catcher, who can move the chains on third and intermediate will, at the very least, take the focus off Lamb. With the Cowboys having only one respectable weapon at WR, beggars can’t be choosers, and Allen is still an incredible player.
So, if he hasn’t lost a step, he has stayed relatively healthy in recent seasons, and there is incredible flexibility in his contract, surely, he is impossible to trade for, right? Well, not according to the media in Los Angeles, who reported that Keenan Allen could be cut due to his contract. If the Chargers are serious about cutting him, Dallas needs to pick up the phone and make the call to try and trade for him at a discount before he hits the open market. It is a move that almost makes too much sense.
Keep in mind, for the purposes of this article, Cowboys fans have to suspend reality for a second. This is the least likely trade among the three, but also represents the highest upside. It would be a trade akin to the Eagles bringing in A.J. Brown last season, where you push your chips in on one player who is in an unstable situation.
The key is “unstable.” Unlike Brown, Higgins has been used correctly in the Bengals' offense. Unlike the 2021 Titans, the Bengals' offense revolves around their passing attack and elite weapons. But Higgins' situation is “unstable” because it does not seem like Cincinnati will be able to pay Higgins once his rookie deal expires in 2023.
The Bengals currently sit at $35 million below (edit) the cap, which is favorable. However, Cincinnati will have to make Joe Burrow one of the highest-paid QBs in the league, somewhere in the ballpark of $50 million per year. Plus, sooner rather than later, Ja’Maar Chase will become one of the highest-paid WRs in the league. Additionally, the Bengals invested a lot of resources into their offensive line this past offseason. Are they willing to make Higgins the deal he deserves and invest all those resources into their offense? Maybe, but that is why his situation is “unstable.” And others have noticed this too.
If Cincinnati has already resigned itself to forgoing a second Higgins contract, even though they are contenders, they at least have to listen to offers. In this situation, the Cowboys would have to be willing to pay Higgins a second contract at the same time as CeeDee Lamb. If the Bengals aren’t willing to do that, then the Cowboys should. Because if you can lock in four years of Prescott, Lamb, and Higgins, you guarantee a four-year contention window. They also would not need to address the WR position until 2027 at least. If you are licking your lips, you should be.
There is not much of a need to discuss fit or proof of performance. Higgins is young, talented, and can play anywhere he is asked. The only question is if Dallas is willing to trade enough to take him off a Super Bowl-contending roster and then pay him enough to lock in Lamb and Higgins simultaneously. This is the most unlikely of the three scenarios, but it also holds the greatest upside. So, maybe Jerry is willing to pull one last rabbit out of his hat as owner/general manager.
The most likely situation is the Cowboys add a small-name WR in free agency and address the position through the draft. That is the “Cowboys way,” after all. The Cowboys are contenders, but they will not win it all until they decide it is time to push their chips in. And they can start with one of these three names.