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The best indicator for how the Cowboys 2023 season will go

The Cowboys will make a lot of moves this offseason, but what they do in one particular area could say a lot about 2023.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys
Here’s a hint.
Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

For the next six months, we are going to be mining every bit of news about the Dallas Cowboys for indications of how the 2023 season might go. We are already deep in the hiring cycle for coaches. Contract restructures and other cap related moves will take place in the next three weeks, free agency follows that, and then it’s draft season. Once the 90-man roster is assembled, then we will be following every scrap of information about how practices are going.

This is a reoccurring cycle every year but it is a complex thing, One move or signing does not make or break a team. But there is one thing that will tell us whether this team has a chance to take a step forward in 2023 or, at best, just have the same desultory end in January after our hopes are built during the regular season. It is not a disaster should this not go well, but the chances for failure definitely will increase if it goes wrong.

And it is the same thing that presaged how 2022 would go. Many read the signs a year ago and foresaw where they would take this team.

Now that you’ve been teased like some internet ad for a miracle cure that goes on and on, here is the indicator: What will they do about wide receiver?

The position was mishandled last year. Badly. It started with the not-so-subtle scapegoating of Amari Cooper in what is easily interpreted as setting up his eventual trade. The shibboleth of how players with big cap hits hold the team back was trotted out, complaints about his work ethic and influence in the locker room were fed to us, and then the team’s leading receiver for 2021 was shipped out via trade for draft peanuts.

The ensuing approach to the position saw no budging from the foolishly stingy approach Dallas takes to free agency, and the only steps to address it after the Cooper departure were to sign James Washington to a typical bargain-basement deal and spend a third-round draft pick on Jalen Tolbert. Washington barely saw the field due to injury before being released and Tolbert was a non-factor all season.

There also was a bit of scapegoating of Dak Prescott. He was expected to elevate the receivers not named CeeDee Lamb and took a lot of heat during the latter stages of the season when his interceptions went up. That is another story, though. The Cowboys expected more of Michael Gallup who was signed to a new deal despite coming off a season-ending injury, and relied too much on Noah Brown to step up.

Now we face a very similar situation as the hole left by Cooper is still there. Gallup made some strides in the late season but has not demonstrated that he can return to pre-injury form. The only wide receivers currently under contract are Lamb, Gallup, Tolbert, and Simi Fehoko. KaVontae Turpin could be a part of the mix, but he is currently in a bit of a social media campaign to convince the coaching staff to see him that way. That still is one very good WR1, a maybe at WR2, and who knows beyond them. Jerry Jones seems infatuated with Odell Beckham, who missed all of last season due to injury. T.Y. Hilton may also be a possible target to re-sign.

Those are not exactly exciting options. There are certainly possible solutions entering free agency this year. Some are pipe dreams, but others could be conceivable. However, “conceivable” is not necessarily the way the team management, aka Stephen Jones, guardian of the cap pie, sees them. It may be best to brace yourself for another low-rent signing instead with the same risks Washington had.

A trade is also a possibility. That is, after all, how Cooper originally joined the team. His was a bit of an extreme case as the team was desperate to save the season and saw fit to use a first-round pick to acquire him. The Cowboys still had twelve wins last season with their Lamb plus a committee approach, so it is very questionable they would be willing to part ways with much draft capital this year. It may be possible, but it is very doubtful they use this route to address the situation.

That leaves the draft, which is always the preferred way to build the roster for the Cowboys. The jury is still deliberating whether the 2023 crop is a good one or not, but there do appear to be some good candidates who will be available when the Cowboys are scheduled pick in both the first and second rounds. They certainly hit with Lamb three years ago, All picks come with a measure of risk, of course, as Tolbert indicates, especially when you are depending on them to come in and be immediate contributors. And if the team waits until after the second round to address the position, the level of worry increases.

While the wide receiver position is a big indicator of how things could go, it is not guaranteed to be the real key. Mike McCarthy may be able to get more out of the receiving corps than Kellen Moore did, Prescott could just go off this year, the running game might actually help carry the offensive load, or Dan Quinn’s defense could truly terrorize opponents this fall. Still, things are just too similar to how they were last season. It needs to change, and change is not exactly embraced wholeheartedly in Dallas. It would be truly encouraging for the team to make some strong moves to improve the receiving corps. We will let you know how that goes in the coming weeks.

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