The Dallas Cowboys made a bold move last offseason when they traded away veteran wide receiver Amari Cooper for a fifth-round pick. While many complained about the low draft capital they got in exchange, the important part of the deal was that the Cowboys were not going to continue to spend $20 million a year for Cooper’s services.
The team in turn gave Michael Gallup a five-year deal and signed free agent James Washington for next to nothing. Additionally, they used a third-round draft pick on wide receiver Jalen Tolbert. They also had some returning players like Noah Brown and Simi Fehoko who they felt could contribute in some manner.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned as Washington got hurt in training camp and the rookie Tolbert couldn’t get on the field. And when he could, he couldn’t stay on the right side of the line of scrimmage. The team toyed with going after some proven receivers at the trade deadline and was involved in the Odell Beckham Jr. drama, but in the end, they just went back to their frugal ways and signed veteran receiver T.Y. Hilton.
The Cowboys need to find ways to improve their receiving group. CeeDee Lamb had another great season and solidified himself as the team’s new no. 1 guy and Gallup should perform better this upcoming season after another year removed from knee surgery, but these guys alone are not enough. The Cowboys need a little more help.
Earlier this week, we started a series where we looked at each position group to figure out what the Cowboys should do to improve their team. So far we have...
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at quarterback
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at running back
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do on the offensive line
Today, we’ll take a close look at the wide receiver position.
WHAT WE KNOW
The Cowboys have a strong core. Lamb is entering the final year of his rookie contract, but the front office will almost certainly exercise his fifth-year option in April. Lamb’s cap hit has been super affordable during his rookie deal averaging just $3.5 million annually, but that price is going to go up after this season. Lamb is eligible for the max fifth-year option salary of $19.7 million as he meets the highest payment class, the multiple Pro bowls tier. This will allow the Cowboys more time to work a long-term second contract as they would have player control through the 2024 season.
Gallup is in year two of his five-year deal and his 2023 salary is fully guaranteed. If the team has any apprehensions about what Gallup has to offer after the upcoming season, they could get out of his contract next offseason with a more affordable dead money hit.
But for now, these two will make up the meat and potatoes of the Cowboys' receiving group.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
The front office is going to do something to improve their wide receivers. Odell Beckham Jr. is a name that won’t die as Jerry Jones contemplates whether or not he is the answer they are looking for. Last year, he was passed over due to concerns about his knee as he never stepped on the field for anyone. This year, that won’t present quite the same concerns, and the deciding factor could be his price.
But whether it’s a big splash like OBJ or something calmer, the Cowboys will do something. It could be one of the more established separators in the league that we outlined here (expensive) and here (low cost), or it could be another skill specific wideout the team wishes to add to the team.
Another unknown is the development of Jalen Tolbert. Why was he such a non-factor in his rookie season? Sure, nobody expected him to come out and set the world on fire, but for a third-round investment, the Cowboys were heavily short-changed. Will he make strides in year two or will the “B” word start circulating again?
WHAT THE COWBOYS SHOULD DO
The answer to the question lies with the answer to another question, and that is, how much help do you think Dak Prescott needs? Recently, I ran this poll on Twitter...
I believe the Dak Prescott trichotomy falls into these groups...— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) February 19, 2023
1. Those who believe he is fantastic.
2. Those who believe he needs a lot more help.
3. Those who are done with him and want to move on.
Which one are you?
If you believe Prescott is a great quarterback, then the Cowboys shouldn’t have to add top-tier resources to give him the help he needs. And considering we saw Dak play well at times last year with the hand he was dealt, this proves he can do it. Should the Cowboys' front office try to make things easier for him? Absolutely. Should they pony up pricy cap resources in free agency to do it? No. It’s certainly within reason to expect your high-priced quarterback to play at a high level.
The Cowboys can achieve this upgrade by finding a complementary receiver who specializes in separating. They can throw a low-cost dart in free agency and package that with one of the many good treats the upcoming draft has to offer (14 wide receivers ranked inside the top 100 draft prospects).
We know this is basically asking the team to do exactly what they did a year ago, but just because it didn’t work last time doesn’t mean it won’t work this time. Find a better free-agent receiver this time. Maybe spend a little more than $1 million? Draft a better wide receiver. Maybe take one a little earlier this time? And keep developing Tolbert, Fehoko, and Dennis Houston. That may amount to nothing, but who knows?
With just a tweak here and there, the Cowboys' receivers can be very impactful if their quarterback is playing well, and let’s face it, Dak playing well is a prerequisite if this team is going to do anything meaningful.