When Jalen Tolbert was selected by the Dallas Cowboys there was some excitement and also some relief. After the team traded away Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns, they needed to take steps to fill his absence and Tolbert was thought to be a good building block. Tolbert already had a familiarity with quarterback Dak Prescott before he was selected, and it seemed like the two would be a good fit for one another.
Unfortunately, that didn’t translate once the season started. Tolbert struggled to produce, let alone get on the field at all. He only played in eight games last year and totaled two catches for twelve yards. Overall, a disappointing rookie campaign, with the highlight being a penalty against Green Bay that came at the worst possible time.
It was unfortunate too, because the team was devoid of able bodies at wide receiver and was asked to rely on the likes of Noah Brown and a 33-year-old T.Y. Hilton off the street down the stretch of last season. Thankfully, Dallas has done well to remedy the situation and added veteran Brandin Cooks. Also, given the interest they have had in wide recivers with their pre-draft visits, it appears the position is a point of focus for the Cowboys, many of whom have first-round projections. So is Jalen Tolbert facing a make or break year in just his second season?
Looking at the contextual clues, the answer is yes. When Jalen Tolbert was taken out of South Alabama in the third round in 2022, it was believed the Cowboys may have gotten a steal with that selection. By outward appearances, Tolbert seemed like a player who was both mentally and physically mature to step in and contribute right away.
His prior relationship with Dak Prescott was a talking point throughout the early stages of the offseason. However, Dennis Houston had a better connection with Prescott on the field and quickly surpassed Tolbert on the depth chart. Neither made much of an impact, but it was telling that an undrafted free agent had already jumped ahead of him.
Tolbert is already 24 years old, and his development can’t take much more time to bear fruit. Usually, players drafted that are older have higher floors and capped ceilings, and some are exceptional out of the gate, Commanders’ receiver Terry McLaurin is an example of that. When it comes to Tolbert, if he is indeed a late bloomer the team may not be in the position to find out.
The team has invested heavily already in wide receivers, financially and with draft capital. Michael Gallup is being paid 62.5M over five years and CeeDee is a highly prized first-round pick with two Pro Bowls under his belt. Consider this, the team has a very good track record of making instant contributors of wide receivers taken in the third round as of late. Terrance Williams stepped in as a rookie and provided at least modest production. Ditto for Gallup. It has to be at the least concerning for a team that needs playmaking that their wide receiver pick from last year practically redshirted.
Having added Cooks to the equation at wide receiver, and there being uncertainty with the job security of head coach Mike McCarthy, patience must be wearing thin. Not only with Tolbert but in general. There seems to be a sense of urgency with the head coach, the front office, and quite frankly, Prescott, that things have to be different entering this season. For Tolbert, the time is now.