The Cowboys now have a clearer idea of what their offense is going to look like in 2023 from a conceptual standpoint after the news that Brian Schottenheimer will serve as the offensive coordinator with Mike McCarthy calling plays. But there is still work to be done with the roster on that side of the ball, particularly at the wide receiver position.
CeeDee Lamb is firmly established as the top dog here, but there are questions after him. Michael Gallup never looked like himself while he recovering from a torn ACL, and he received surgery for two different injuries on his other leg shortly after the season ended. T.Y. Hilton is a pending free agent, as is Noah Brown, and the team saw almost nothing from either Jalen Tolbert or Simi Fehoko on which to evaluate them.
The Cowboys will surely look to add bodies at the position, and Jerry Jones has already promised he’ll revisit the Odell Beckham, Jr. sweepstakes. What the Cowboys need at receiver more than anything right now is speed. With that in mind, here are three pending free agents not named OBJ that could significantly upgrade this passing attack.
Lions DJ Chark
There is an awful lot to like about DJ Chark. At just 26-years-old, Chark still offers a ton of upside and has yet to really hit his peak. After four seasons at LSU, where he earned the nickname The Flash, Chark was drafted in the second round by the Jaguars.
Turmoil at the quarterback position severely limited Chark’s production, and he bolted the organization soon after the Urban Meyer era. His 2019 season saw him post 1,008 yards and earn a Pro Bowl nod.
Chark joined the Lions in free agency last year and helped that offense turn into one of the most explosive units in the league. Injuries limited Chark to just 11 games, but he finished with 502 yards and three touchdowns on just 30 catches. Chark proved productive but ultimately fell behind in the pecking order, as Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, and Kalif Raymond saw more opportunities in the passing game.
Now, set to be a free agent again, Chark has spoken highly of his time in Detroit and could opt to re-sign with the Lions. But the injury prevented him from entrenching himself as a key starter, and the midseason debut of first round rookie Jameson Williams should only decrease Chark’s opportunities going forward.
If he does hit the market, Chark seems like an ideal target for the Cowboys. Detroit signed him to a one-year deal worth $10 million just this past year, and Chark shouldn’t cost much more than that now. Plus, he’s exactly the type of receiver Dallas needs right now.
At 6’4”, Chark is a legitimate deep threat who can win contested catch scenarios with ease; he averaged 12.3 yards before the catch per reception this past year with an average depth of target of 15.2 yards. More than that, though, Chark is a burner. He ran the 40-yard dash in just 4.34 seconds, and those wheels have helped him become a reliable deep threat throughout his career.
Chark’s speed also makes him a potential value in yards after the catch situations - something that will be more important with Mike McCarthy calling plays - although he hasn’t been set up for YAC opportunities much throughout his career. Still, Chark averaged 0.8 YAC over expected this past season, higher than anyone on the Cowboys.
For Dallas, Chark represents a speedy, big-bodied receiver who can threaten defenses vertically at all times, as well as having the potential to put up career best numbers after the catch in McCarthy’s offense. His is the type of skill set teams usually have to pay a premium for, but Chark should be relatively affordable if he does indeed hit the open market.
Giants Darius Slayton
Darius Slayton has quietly been the Giants’ best receiver the last four years, and the Cowboys likely know that, having gone against this team twice a year every year. A fifth-round pick out of Auburn back in 2019, Slayton came to the Giants at the same time as Daniel Jones.
He quickly emerged as a favorite of Jones, especially due to his deep threat ability. As a rookie, Slayton played in 14 games and totaled 740 yards and eight touchdowns on just 48 catches. In three of his four seasons with New York, Slayton has crossed the 700 yard mark and averaged at least 15 yards per catch. His 2021 season was the only down year, though everyone had a down year for the Giants that year.
Like Chark, Slayton is a burner. He posted a 4.39 40-yard dash time and translated that to an early utilization as a deep ball maestro. He’s averaged at least 10 yards before the catch per reception every one of his four seasons while averaging at least 12.5 yards on average depth of target each year.
Unlike Chark, Slayton was given an expanded role in the Giants offense this past season, seeing more opportunities for YAC work. He responded by averaging 5.7 YAC per reception (he averaged 3.2 over his first three years), which is more than any Cowboys receiver averaged this season. Slayton also finished 10th among all receivers in YAC over expected this season, making the Giants look smart for getting him more YAC chances.
Slayton doesn’t have the size of Chark, standing at 6’1” and roughly 195 pounds, but he has a very similar game. The Giants aren’t necessarily guaranteed to re-sign him, and if he hits the open market he could end up being a diamond in the rough type of signing. Slayton isn’t likely to command top dollar, but his skill set could lead to an explosion in production in Dallas.
Colts Parris Campbell
If the Cowboys are truly looking to get faster on offense - and they should be - then it’s hard to do better than Parris Campbell. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash at the 2019 Combine, which ranked in the 99th percentile of receivers that year. Campbell then doubled down on that speed showcase once he reached the NFL, and he led all ball carriers in speed from this season after clocking in at 22.11 mph on a 26-yard run.
Campbell turned heads with regularity when playing for Ohio State, though he was ultimately overshadowed by the likes of Curtis Samuel and Terry McLaurin. Still, Campbell’s blazing speed highlighted his great potential, and the Colts selected him in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Injuries hampered Campbell’s career early on, and he played in just 15 games over his first three seasons with the team. Campbell finally found some health this past season, suiting up for every game. Unfortunately, it ended up being a miserable year for the Colts, in which there were changes at head coach, offensive coordinator, offensive play-caller, and quarterback. Still, Campbell ended up totaling 623 yards and three touchdowns on 63 catches. He also added 58 rushing yards on five carries.
It’s hard to really get a sense for where Campbell is right now as a player, as his only year with real experience was one marred by instability around every corner. But Campbell’s speed and elusiveness in the open field was on full display when given the opportunity.
Campbell has yet to live up to his pre-draft expectations, though it’s hard to fault him for that. Still, it likely limits his market if the young receiver does reach free agency, making him the perfect low risk, high reward type that the Cowboys tend to go after. Campbell requires a little more projection than Chark or Slayton, but he definitely has the traits to thrive in this offense.