The 2024 offseason presents many questions for the Cowboys at wide receiver. From CeeDee Lamb on down through the depth chart, Dallas has some big decisions to make regarding contracts, developmental potential, and other factors to shape the WR position for next season and beyond.
Lamb would have a strong case as the Cowboys’ own MVP of 2023. He was the most-targeted receiver in the NFL and led the league with 135 receptions; 16 more than second-place Tyreek Hill. His 1,749 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns were both the second-best totals last season. And these don’t even include the 113 yards and two additional touchdowns he chipped in on running plays.
While Lamb and TE Jake Ferguson dominated much of the passing game, veteran Brandin Cooks still proved a worthy addition. Dallas traded a 2023 fifth-round pick and a 2024 sixth to bolster their WR group, which proved wise with Michael Gallup’s continued struggles. We watched Cooks’ chemistry with QB Dak Prescott grow over the year, with the 30-year-old also needing to get healthier from an early-season knee sprain. He finished with a respectable 54 catches, 657 yards, and eight touchdowns.
As mentioned, Gallup didn’t get back to pre-injury form as hoped. He only had 34 catches for 418 yards and two touchdowns despite playing in all 17 games. While it was reasonable to think he’d be better another year removed from the 2021 knee injury, Gallup still looked a step slower and unable to outduel coverage with physicality as he used to.
With the top three receivers all staying healthy, Jalen Tolbert didn’t get many opportunities to build on an outstanding preseason. We also got some flashes of rookie Jalen Brooks and the occasional KaVontae Turpin sighting, but Dallas mostly stuck to its proven commodities in the passing game.
WRs Under Contract for 2024
- CeeDee Lamb - $17.99m cap hit
- Brandin Cooks - $10.00m cap hit
- Michael Gallup - $13.85m cap hit
- Jalen Tolbert - $1.40m cap hit
- KaVontae Turpin - $985k cap hit
- Jalen Brooks - $936k cap hit
- Martavis Bryant - $985k cap hit
- Jalen Cropper - $795k cap hit
- David Durden - $918k cap hit
- Racey McMath - $985k cap hit
As it stands, the Cowboys could run it back next season with the same crew all under contract. But leaving things untouched would mean having about $42 million of the salary cap tied up in just Lamb, Cooks, and Gallup. That would be about 17% of the projected 2024 cap, which is a huge chunk for one position and especially daunting with Gallup as one of the major space eaters.
First things first; will Dallas let Lamb play on his fifth-year option or work out a long-term deal? They may be content to let things ride and then apply the franchise tag for a year or two after, especially given Lamb’s production last season. But a multi-year contract would give the Cowboys considerably more flexibility to use restructuring and other mechanisms to reduce the cap hits. Given Lamb’s tangible frustrations at times last year with the offense, Dallas may be in for a tough negotiation battle.
It’s hard to imagine Gallup returning after last year, especially at his current cap figure. Due to prior restructuring, Dallas will only get limited relief by parting ways. Cutting him outright provides a paltry $800k in cap relief, while making him a June-1st cut does provide $9.5 million but not until the latter portion of the offseason. Dallas will likely utilize the June-1st provision, giving them cap space for a possible Micah Parsons contract extension and other potential moves.
If the Cowboys are confident that Cooks will maintain his later-season form then he’s a relative steal at just $10 million for the year. The bigger question will be if the team is confident enough in Tolbert to step into a larger role or will look to find a better third option in the WR group.
With Ferguson’s emergence at TE, plus a second-round pick invested in Luke Schoonmaker, there may not be a prevailing need to load up at wide receiver. With Lamb, Ferguson, and Cooks as the clear top-three targets, an offense with Tolbert, Schoonmaker, and your starting running back battling for the rest of the balls has potential. It would be especially viable if Dallas improves its run game enough to take some burden off the pass.
Assuming Gallup’s a goner, that does leave a key position up for grabs. While the Cowboys are unlikely to pursue a marquee free agent, given the cap space tied up in Lamb and Cooks, could they look to a veteran to help provide insurance against Cooks’ age and Tolbert’s inexperience?
For example, Curtis Samuel has versatility as a slot receiver, speed threat on the outside, and even as a running back or return man. He won’t command high dollars in this year’s free agent market but could be valuable in multiple ways. Dallas could also look at guys like D.J. Chark and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, whose production was likely stunted by their teams’ shaky quarterback situations.
Again, Dallas might just roll with Tolbert as the new WR3 and hope for depth from Brooks, Turpin, and others. But if the team is truly “all in” on 2024 as Jerry Jones recently claimed, taking a conservative approach at receiver wouldn’t be consistent. They’ve been burned by that before, prompting the Amari Cooper trade in 2018 and adding Cooks last year.
The most likely offseason strategy is to dump Gallup and make at least one significant addition either in free agency or the draft. It’s still early to say which way they’ll go, especially with so much of the cap picture foggy until Lamb’s, Prescott’s, and other contracts get sorted out. But despite the Cowboys having all of their relevant wide receivers under contract for 2024, don’t expect them to just sit on their hands.