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FRISCO, TX — With the events of Super Bowl 57 now in the rearview, the Kansas City Chiefs having prevented the Philadelphia Eagles from hoisting their franchise's second Lombardi trophy, it's officially time for the Dallas Cowboys to begin preparing for how they'll approach and attack 2023 NFL free agency.
Legal tampering begins on March 13 and the new league year kicks off on March 15, and there are plenty of expiring contracts that will thrust players into the open market for teams to begin making offers and, as it relates the wide receiver position in Dallas, there is no shortage of talent of which the Cowboys should be interested.
As we kick off the inaugural edition of this series — where we'll name notable options for each position in Dallas — let's begin with the most pressing of them all: wide receiver.
T.Y. Hilton: The Ghost appeared in Dallas and wasted no time stealing the show. After all, on third down, find T.Y., as Prescott so eloquently stated following the now legendary reception on third-and-18 that saved the day against the Eagles at AT&T Stadium and announced to the entire NFL that Hilton's wheels were as spry as they've ever been.
He formed an instant chemistry with Prescott and Lamb, mentoring young WRs on the roster on a regular basis, and film shows just how often he got separation even when he went untargeted (spoiler: a whole lot). I understand the interest in Beckham but, in my opinion, Hilton has already shown what he can be in this offense and, for me, that puts him atop higher than OBJ on my wish list.
Noah Brown: There isn't a coach drawing in oxygen who wouldn't give a part of his left lung to have a player with the dedication and grind of Brown on his team, and you can take that to the bank. It's a guy who did whatever was asked of him, which included a ton of dirty work and heavy lifting on special teams over the course of his six-year career with the Cowboys — a former seventh-round pick (2017) who finally got his shot as a starter in 2022, in a role vacated by Cedrick Wilson.
Brown became the star of the show at WR when the Cowboys needed it most: having lost Prescott for five games and with Lamb trying to find his groove as WR1, with Gallup still absent due to injury. Brown put on a show that led many to believe he'd possibly share a free agency arc with Wilson, but he cooled noticeably during the back half of the season. Having already played under more than one prove-it deal in Dallas, it would make sense for both to dance that tango again (given his value to special teams and as a depth/insurance piece on offense).
What's Out There:
Note: Players on this will be unrestricted on March 15, barring a newly-signed deal with their incumbent team prior to that date.
Odell Beckham, Jr.: You knew the Cowboys weren't going to simply walk away from this courtship after throwing their entire weight at trying to woo Beckham to Dallas in December, during multiple visits, before the two failed to come to terms largely because of the receiver's inability to immediately step in and contribute. That led them to hit pause and sign Hilton instead, but as the front office readily admits, they'll re-engage with what should (key word) be a healthy OBJ over the next several weeks.
The last time he suited up, it was for the Rams, where he proved he's still a game-changing talent; but he's returning from his second torn ACL and he's not getting any younger — two key talking points in this conversation, alongside compensation.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: From ousted Steelers wideout to Super Bowl-winning threat for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, Smith-Schuster has had quite a ride these last two seasons. Acquired by the Chiefs in the wake of the blockbuster trade that sent Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, Smith-Schuster went on to have a resurgent season in KC, to the tune of 933 receiving yards (12 yards per catch average) during the regular season, and his seven catches on nine targets for 53 yards against the Eagles in the Super Bowl couldn't have been more timely in helping to pluck the birds in the second half.
His stock is now as high as it's ever been, and with an emotional attachment to what Reid and Mahomes has done for his career, when many thought he would simply fade away, it'll be a challenge for any NFL team to peel him away from the Chiefs, but the Cowboys would be remiss to not have Smith-Schuster as a possible target on their WR free agency board.
Jakobi Meyers: Meyers isn't a name that carries the panache of Beckham, Hilton or Smith-Schuster, but consider he's been one of the most consistent at his position over the past four seasons, and despite a lot of instability at quarterback in New England. The once-undrafted wideout (2019) out of NC State has produced an average of [literally] 800 receiving yards per season over the past three years — available in 45 games during that stretch, which goes to his durability.
Lamb has ascended and Gallup will presumably finally be 100% again, and far removed from his torn ACL, when the regular season gets underway in September, and Meyers could provide another notable weapon on the WR depth chart, and one that would presumably be less expensive than Smith-Schuster, or maybe even a more publicized and decorated (albeit risky) player like Beckham.
Darius Slayton: Two birds, one stone, amirite? Striking a deal with Slayton would not only bolster the Cowboys receiving unit, it would also weaken their division rival's, especially considering how Slayton regained his swagger for the New York Giants over the course of the 2022 season. He broke the 700-yard receiving mark for the third time in his first four seasons, while averaging career highs in both yards per reception (15.7) and catch percentage (64.8%).
These are numbers that could immediately help the Cowboys move the chains on a more regular basis but, more importantly, stretch the field vertically to make it more difficult for opposing teams to key in on the rushing attack and/or the tight ends operating underneath at the second level.
Honorable Mention: D.J. Chark: This might easily be one of the best value grabs if it were to materialize, because Chark hasn't quite done enough recently to warrant a big payday in this year's free agency but he has done enough to prove his potential for impact is still present. His 500+ receiving yards in 2022 helped Jared Goff lead the Detroit Lions offense to a surprising level of production, a complementary role played in tandem with Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond.
It would be a similar dynamic for him in Dallas, complementing Lamb and Gallup, making it a ready-made fit — at least in theory. The former second-round pick is a former 1,000-yard receiver, which is infinitely intriguing when imagining what he might be able to do with Prescott under center, considering what he showed with Goff throwing him the ball.