FRISCO, Texas – With so many questions to answer, this series will take a look at each position on the roster, and what choices might face the front office heading into 2021.
Today, we're continuing the evaluation of the Cowboys' receiver corps, and what it might look like going forward.
Making Decisions Down The Depth Chart?
It's been less than a full calendar year since the Cowboys drafted CeeDee Lamb and put together one of the best receiver corps in the league, but it's already time to think about the future. It's a testament to the ever-changing nature of the NFL that two seasons feels like an eternity.
To be clear, not everything is a mystery here. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb have very concrete futures with the Cowboys.
Cooper signed a five-year, $100 million contract extension last spring, and while it's possible for the team to get out from under that contract next year, it's no guarantee that they want to. Despite missing Dak Prescott for much of the season, Cooper turned in one of the best years of his career in 2020, finishing with 1,114 yards and a career-best 92 catches.
Lamb just turned in one of the best rookie seasons in franchise history. He's under contract through at least 2023, and it currently feels like a good bet the front office will eventually pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
What about the rest of the roster, though? The further down the list you look, the more uncertainty there is.
Michael Gallup is the most interesting of the bunch. The former third-round draft pick has blossomed into one of the Cowboys' best success stories of the past few years. Gallup's numbers dipped a bit after losing Prescott to injury, but he still put together an 843-yard, five-touchdown season.
Now, Gallup is headed for his all-important contract year. It's a bit hard to believe, but 2021 will already be Gallup's fourth season since being drafted 81st overall out of Colorado Stat – which means the Cowboys have some choices to make.
Can the front office afford to extend Gallup? It could be financially feasible, but considering that Cooper and Lamb are already under contract, would it be a good use of resources? Could we potentially be heading for a scenario where the front office is forced to choose between Cooper and Gallup? Or, could it be possible that, if he heads into this coming season without a deal, Gallup could play well enough to price himself out of the conversation entirely?
These are tough questions to answer, which is what gives rise to the next part – would now be a smart time to trade Gallup?
Typically, teams try not to get rid of their good players, but this could be a situation that calls for creative thinking. The Cowboys might not be able to keep Gallup beyond this coming season. His trade value also isn't all that much, because he only has one year remaining on his contract.
With all that in mind, it might make sense to deal him now – say, for a Day 2 draft pick. It would eliminate the issue of trying to find a way to pay him, and it would give the front office an added resource to address the rest of the roster.
There's honestly no wrong way to play this. There's nothing wrong with having three good receivers. And even if Gallup leaves in free agency in 2022, the Cowboys would get a compensatory pick for their efforts.
That's all big picture thinking. The rest of the Cowboys' decisions will come in the short term.
Another pair of draft picks, Cedrick Wilson and Noah Brown, are slated to hit free agency next month. Wilson is a restricted free agent, while Brown will be unrestricted. Malik Turner, who was claimed off waivers at the start of last season, is also a restricted free agent.
Keeping restricted free agents is a straightforward process. If the Cowboys want to keep Wilson or Turner, they can simply tender them at the level of their original draft status for a one-year, $1.9 million contract.
This especially makes sense for Wilson, who was a sixth-round draft pick back in 2018. Wilson battled injury issues for the first two years of his career, but he bounced back to show his stuff in a big way in 2020. He had long been noted for his chemistry with Dak Prescott, which was evident when he broke out for 107 yards and two touchdowns in the Week 3 loss to Seattle.
The Cowboys could tender Wilson to keep him in Dallas for another season. If another team wants to offer him a contract, they could secure his services in exchange for that sixth-round draft pick.
Brown, originally a seventh-round pick back in 2017, enjoyed the most productive season of his career last year, but he still finished with just 14 catches for 154 yards. He's free to sign with any team he chooses, though it's fair to guess there won't be a robust market for his services.
With all of that in mind, it shouldn't be too hard to keep this group together if the Cowboys want to. Gallup doesn't have to go anywhere, and the three free agents should all be fairly affordable.
There's just enough uncertainty, though. Is Gallup's long-term future in Dallas? Do the Cowboys want to go back to the draft to fill out their depth chart, rather than re-signing their veterans? Those are all decisions they could make in the next few weeks that would have a lasting impact on the future.