(Editor's Note: This is the 10th of an 11-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2015 season. Today we examine the wide receivers.)
Pressing Matters: It doesn't get any more pressing than having your franchise receiver – one of the very best in the NFL – with a contract that expires in March. Usually, great players such as Dez Bryant don't get this far into contract negotiations without a deal. But then again, as we've seen for five years – nothing is usual with Dez. Don't expect Bryant to get to the start of free agency without either a new contract or at least a franchise tag. The latter seems to be a more likely scenario at this point. Let's not forget, Cole Beasley is a restricted free agent and Dwayne Harris is unrestricted. Both have a valuable role and even though they will be overshadowed by the Dez and DeMarco Murray contract tackles, getting them re-signed seems to be a high priority around Valley Ranch.
2014 Evaluation:Bryant scored more receiving touchdowns than any player in franchise history. He made several monster plays throughout the year that won games, such as the overtime catch against Houston, or the game-winner against the Giants. Of course, instant replay said he didn't come up with a catch in Green Bay, but that display of athleticism could've and probably should've given the Cowboys a go-ahead lead in the playoffs. Bryant showed why the Cowboys have no intention of letting him go. As for Terrance Williams, he also had some big moments in 2014. Anyone realize this caught 11 touchdowns, including three in the playoffs? And one of his biggest plays all year was the catch he made on the sideline, dragging his toes to stay inbounds on the Cowboys' game-winning drive to beat Seattle. Cole Beasley came on strong late in the year, catching all four of his touchdown passes in the final two months. That trio, coupled with Jason Witten at tight end and the NFL's rushing leader in DeMarco Murray is a reason why Tony Romo and the Cowboys were so potent on offense in 2014.
Need More From …It's not easy to criticize any player who scored eight touchdowns in the regular season and three in the playoffs, including a game-winner to give the franchise its first postseason win in five years. But if there is any knock on Terrance Williams, it would be his consistency in the middle of the season. He had 12 games with just two catches or less. In the last eight games of the year, Williams had just 12 receptions and only two touchdowns – both coming in a 42-7 win over the Colts. Then again, with DeMarco Murray rushing for 1,845 yards, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten still remaining the two favorite targets for Romo and Beasley emerging down the stretch, the lack of production for Williams isn't all his fault. Moving forward, the double-teams for Bryant won't go away so Williams does need a little more consistent production next year.
Upgrades Needed: This team doesn't exactly need upgrade at the position, other than depth. But Bryant is arguably one of the more dynamic players in all of football, especially at receiver. Williams is one of the best No. 2 receivers in the league and Beasley can make a case as a top slot receiver as well. Depending on the contract situation with Harris, who is unrestricted, the Cowboys could use another receiver in the fourth spot, but it's very likely Devin Street would slide up into that role. Street had only two catches as a rookie but he was active for every game and was used more in a blocking role. But if the Cowboys keep all of their receivers in free agency, it doesn't seem likely this will be a position of need in the draft.
By The Numbers: If the Cowboys can bring back all of their top receivers in 2015, none of them will be older than 27 when the season begins. With 1,320 receiving yards in 2014, it marked Bryant's third 1,000-yard season of his career and the eighth-highest in franchise history. Bryant now has three of the Cowboys' Top 10 receiving seasons. Bryant's 50th career touchdown catch occurred in game-winning fashion to beat the Giants in the Meadowlands. Bryant became the second-fastest player in Cowboys history to reach 50 TD catches in just 70 games, behind only Bob Hayes, who hit 50 in 66 games. Bryant is also the seventh-fastest player in NFL history to reach that milestone.
Williams became just seventh player in Cowboys history to record multiple TD catches and first since Michael Irvin's two in the 1995 NFC Championship Game. Williams' 76-yard TD catch was the fourth-longest in franchise playoff history.
Nick Eatman is the author of the recently published ****If These Walls Could Talk: Dallas Cowboys***, a collection of stories from the Cowboys' locker room, sideline and press box, with a foreword written by Darren Woodson.*