(Editor's Note: April is here, which means the first wave of free agency has passed and the NFL Draft is just around the corner. DallasCowboys.com's 11-part series analyzes every position on the Cowboys' roster at this point in the offseason: free-agent additions and subtractions, draft possibilities, returning players and question marks. The series continues with wide receiver.)
Roster Holdovers: It's pretty rare to see this much continuity for this many years at one position group, but that's exactly what the Cowboys have achieved with their receivers. Since trading for Brice Butler in 2015, the Cowboys have been working with the same five receivers in their offense – and the results have been pretty solid.
Dez Bryant is obviously the focal point, as the All-Pro signed a five-year deal to make him one of the best-paid receivers in the game back in 2015. He had some rough patches, but Bryant battled back from injuries to piece together a Pro Bowl season last fall, keeping him among the upper echelon of NFL wide outs.
Cole Beasley has improved in each of his two seasons since signing a four-year contract in 2015, highlighted by the best year of his career last fall. He led the Cowboys with 75 catches, tallying 835 total yards and five touchdowns, further establishing himself as one of the better slot receivers in football.
With Beasley's improved role – not to mention the arrival of Ezekiel Elliott – Terrance Williams saw his numbers dip a bit in a run-oriented offense. That said, his average of 13 yards per catch came in handy when defenses focused their attention on the likes of Elliott, Bryant and Jason Witten.
That leaves the two newcomers in Butler and Lucky Whitehead. Both players joined the roster in 2015 – Whitehead as an undrafted free agent and Butler in a trade from Oakland. It's fair to say both have functioned more as role players. Butler has served as the occasional fill-in for Bryant, making a smattering of plays – and missed plays – down the field. Whitehead has seen the bulk of his touches come both on special teams and as a runner through two seasons.
Throw in Andy Jones, a promising young rookie who spent last season on the practice squad, and the Cowboys have all six of their top contributors from 2016 back on the roster this spring. That's rare continuity in the world of non-stop NFL roster shuffling.
Free Agency Overview: Having just written 350 words about the Cowboys' continuity at receiver, let's look back and remember how unlikely that looked.
Both Williams and Butler entered the offseason as free agents, with Williams in particular expected to earn himself a large payday. Given his production during his four seasons with the Cowboys, it was a good guess that the Dallas native would ink a lucrative contract elsewhere.
That suspicion seemed confirmed on the first day of the league year, when the Cowboys re-signed Butler to a one-year contract. With Butler being the easier of the two players to afford, it seemed that the writing was on the wall to move forward without Williams.
Of course, that didn't happen. Williams opted with loyalty over more lucrative offers, and he signed a four-year, $17.5 million contract to remain a Cowboy. Not only did the decision keep the Cowboys' receiver corps intact – it came at a much more team-friendly cost than many expected.
Draft Outlook:One month ago, wide receiver looked like it might be one of this team's biggest draft needs. Had Williams or Butler left in free agency, the Cowboys would have been without a true No. 2 receiver – given that Beasley and Whitehead both play in the slot, while Jones has never played an NFL snap.
Instead, the band is all back together, and it's hard to imagine receiver being a high priority in this year's draft. Perhaps the Cowboys will draft a return specialist to compete with Whitehead, but it'd be a true surprise to see them select a receiver in the first three rounds.
Time To Shine: This team is set at receiver, and there's no shortage of talent in the room – but every single receiver on the roster could stand to improve.
Bryant was solid in 2016, and it's true that he missed three games with an injured knee. But his 50 receptions for 796 yards fell well short of the lofty expectations he set from 2012-14.
The Cowboys clearly value Williams' locker room presence and all-around ability enough to re-sign him, but his career has been marked by inconsistencies – all of which he'll be hoping to improve during his second contract.
But perhaps more so than anyone, it'll be interesting to see what 2017 brings for the back end of the depth chart. Whitehead is entering Year 3 and has flashed ability with the ball in his hands, but the Cowboys will be hoping to see improvement across the board as he hopes to retain his spot as the No. 5 receiver.
Jones is as intriguing a young player as the Cowboys have on their roster, weighing in at 6-1, 214 pounds and working on the practice squad throughout his rookie season. It'll be intriguing to see how he progresses in his second go-around.