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Offseason | 2022

Spagnola: The Guy They Just Can't Do Without


FRISCO, Texas – Time to reestablish this designation from a few years back.

Mr. Indispensable.

You guys might remember several years back that it was about this time, before the start of training camp, to pick the one guy the Cowboys absolutely could not do without, though usually excluding the quarterback because that is a given year in and year out. Likely the running back and even more likely a DeMarcus Ware, and that was proven out when the Cowboys set him free.

So, for the past several seasons instead of Mr. Indispensable, the designation became Mr. Relevant, a player on the cusp whose time was needed desperately to step up, to be the guy to promote Cowboys success for the season.

Well, this year with the Cowboys needing so many of those types to become relevant, it became too difficult to pick just one. The candidates would be many, such as Dorance Armstrong and Neville Gallimore and newcomer James Washington and Terence Steele and Malik Hooker and Dante Fowler and kicker TBD – to be determined. One and all needing to emerge.

See there, so decided to turn back the clock to Mr. Indispensable, and we'll assume the Cowboys simply can't do without Dak Prescott or DeMarcus Lawrence or Tyron Smith or Zack Martin or Micah Parsons or Ezekiel Elliott. That's a too obvious given.

But there is one guy lurking on the edge of greatness with the Cowboys heading to training camp in Oxnard, Calif., a week from this Monday that this team simply needs more than ever because of extenuating circumstances.

Shake hands with CeeDee Lamb.

Guarantee you head coach Mike McCarthy would spend many a sleepless night if No. 88 is not on the field for at least 16 of the 17 games he played last year and far more than the 13 starts. And my guess is for far more than the 71.6 percent of the snaps he played in 2021.

You get me?

If not, here is the proof.

Remember, there is no more Amari Cooper, sent on his way to Cleveland.

There is no more Cedrick Wilson. Took the money and ran all the way to South Beach.

For the time being, and likely at least for the first month of the season, there will be no Michael Gallup available. He's still rehabbing from his February surgery to repair the ACL he tore in Game 16 last year while making a remarkable touchdown grab against Arizona.

By process of elimination, Lamb then is the only healthy receiver on the Cowboys roster to start more than two NFL games last year – free-agent pickup Washington started two for Pittsburgh – and frankly the only one in the past two seasons with as many as 27 starts, Washington coming in second with all of nine.

Next up would be Noah Brown, with but five during all five of his seasons with the Cowboys.

That's it until Gallup returns.

Yeah, CeeDee is the man.

Look, CeeDee has to be the man. And the Cowboys know it. Because by that same process of elimination if nothing else, he has been elevated to No. 1 receiver status, a pedestal befitting the No. 88s before him: Hall of Famer Drew Pearson, Hall of Famer Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant.

McCarthy knows it, too.

"We understand his rise in Year 3 that he's going to get a lot more attention from the defenses," McCarthy says. "But he's doing all of the little things that are needed to get him ready to be the No. 1 guy."

Dak knows it, making sure the third-year receiver's locker has been moved right next to him at The Star.

"Obviously just being young, knowing that hopefully he's my receiver until I'm done playing, just being able to bring him closer, more conversations since he's right there, accessible to talk, and just communicate (with)," Dak says of the not-so subtle move.

Oh, and the Cowboys brass know it. Otherwise, they would not have traded away the veteran Cooper, the erstwhile No. 1 receiver, for a mere fifth-round pick and swapping places in the sixth with Cleveland if not convinced Lamb is capable of being the go-to guy, thus shedding that $20 million Cooper base salary.

Maybe most important, now Lambs knows it, too.

"I've been ready," Lamb says of his No. 1 status. "That's just me and my competitiveness. That's in my nature. It's kind of how we grew up playing football. I'm always ready for my name to be called."

Oh, it's going to be called. Time and time again.

Now honestly, if you had asked me about Lamb becoming the No. 1 receiver the day the Cowboys traded away Cooper, thought the Cowboys had become far too salary-cap conscious, thinking of Lamb as no more than a slot receiver. Then did some investigating.

First of all, Lamb led the Cowboys in 2021 with 79 receptions, his second consecutive 70-catch season (snared 74 in his COVID-limited rookie season). That means 153 catches in his first two NFL seasons. Guess what? That's the most receptions ever by a Cowboys player in his first two seasons. More than them other 88s and far more than that other Hall of Fame receiver, Bob Hayes (110). Lamb also became the first receiver in franchise history to exceed 1,000 yards from scrimmage in his first two seasons, joining a group of five running backs (Emmitt Smith, Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker and the late Don Perkins).

No college-to-NFL-transition struggle here.

Then there is that Lamb nine-minute, internet highlight video catching my attention. Sometimes you forget the things this kid did, the types of catches, the critical catches, his runs after catches, the six TD grabs – none better than the overtime, walk-off 35-yarder to beat the Patriots. Spectacular.

Yep, do think he's ready for this, CeeDee much more than a slot receiver, especially considering of his 582 snaps last season, 42.4 percent came out of the slot, but 56.4 percent lining up out wide.

Best of all, CeeDee is accepting this increased role in just his third season.

"If I don't get going, nothing gets going," says Lamb, his five 100-yard receiving games his first two seasons the third most in franchise history, behind only Hayes (8) and Pearson (6), if historical context is needed. "Honestly, that's how I feel. It's a dream that I've always wanted to live and now that I'm actually living it, I feel like it's my opportunity to fulfill it. So, I'm looking at it as an opportunity.

"Most importantly just stepping up regardless of any situation – first down, second down, just always being that guy that everyone can count on. By everyone, that means everyone in this locker room. I want to be that guy."

Everyone also includes the head coach, Jerry and Stephen Jones, Will McClay and now, for sure, you guys, too.

That's about as Indispensable as it gets.

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