FRISCO, Texas – You’ve had 24 hours to process the news, and the next logical question is: what comes next?
Officially, Cole Beasley can’t even sign his new contract with the Buffalo Bills until Wednesday afternoon. But the Cowboys’ longtime slot receiver confirmed Tuesday that he’d be leaving town, as he’s set to sign a four-year deal that guarantees him $14 million and a $29 million pay day overall.
For that kind of money, no one should blame Beasley for switching sides. He’s just a month away from turning 30, and this may be the last big contract of his NFL career. It’s good business sense.
At the same time, it’s also good business sense for the Cowboys to look to other, less expensive avenues to find production from the slot.
With Beasley off to Buffalo, what exactly are those options? Let’s take a look.
On The Roster
These conversations naturally start with the simplest solutions. The Cowboys employ many other receivers, several of whom have experience playing in the slot.
The most obvious of those possibilities is Allen Hurns, who has already been pegged as a potential replacement by Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones. Speaking at the NFL Combine last month, Jones offered a telling quote of what the future could hold for Hurns.
“When you look at Hurns and what he was at Jacksonville, he was a slot,” he said. “He’s certainly an option if we lose Beasley in terms of filling that role, but we’ll just have to see how that plays out.”
Hurns did put together a 1,000-yard season playing primarily out of the slot for Jacksonville, but there are other factors to consider. Namely, the fact that he dislocated his ankle in a gruesome injury back during the playoffs. Team officials have repeatedly stated that they expect Hurns to be ready for training camp, but his recovery will be something that bears watching in the coming months.
Apart from Hurns, other names come to mind – although they come with caveats.
Amari Cooper has the flexibility to play in the slot, but it’s unlikely he’ll spend a ton of time there. Lance Lenoir has demonstrated his ability inside and outside during two training camps, but he has spent just eight games on the active roster in two years – and he has yet to log an NFL reception.
Cedrick Wilson is a name worth bringing up. The Cowboys drafted the Boise State wide out in the sixth round of last year’s draft, but his rookie season was cut drastically short by a shoulder injury suffered in the very early days of training camp. Wilson didn’t play much in the slot in college, so it will be interesting to see what the coaching staff has planned for him when the offseason program finally arrives.
Another name to watch: Devin Smith. The Cowboys quietly signed the Ohio State star to a futures contract in January, and it’ll be fun to see if they can turn him into another of their highly-regarded reclamation projects.
Smith was a second-round pick all the way back in 2015, going No. 37 overall to the New York Jets. His 4.42 speed made him a weapon in college. He averaged an absurd 28 yards per catch and scored 12 touchdowns during his final season with the Buckeyes.
Unfortunately, injuries have absolutely derailed his career. He tore his ACL in November of his rookie season, and his rehab limited his second season. He reinjured the same ACL in the spring of 2017. He finished his Jets career with 10 catches for 135 yards, and he hasn’t played since 2016.
Only time will tell if Smith can overcome his injuries to rediscover his playmaking ability. The odds don’t sound good. But it’s a no risk, high reward situation for the Cowboys, and for the time being it’s an interesting option to consider.
As has been well-documented, the Cowboys have not yet made any noteworthy moves in this year’s free agency window. They don’t like to spend big money in free agency, and they’ve committed to that strategy again in 2019.
They will add players, though. They always do. Their signings are never headline-grabbers, but they’ll make a handful of calculated signings to help fill out their 90-man roster. Who’s to say a slot receiver won’t be among them? It was only last year that they added Hurns to the mix on a two-year, $12 million deal.
Tavon Austin is a name to watch. The speedster has officially hit free agency after spending this past season with the Cowboys. He’s only two years removed from catching 58 balls for the Rams, but his career average over six seasons is just 34 catches per year.
Austin spent most of last season dealing with a groin injury, and he finished with a grand total of 14 touches – though he did average 14 yards per attempt on those touches. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him return to the roster, although there are valid questions about how big of a role he can handle.
Elsewhere, most of the hot names in this free agency window are accounted for by now. Adam Humphries signed a big-money deal with Tennessee, Jamison Crowder signed with the Jets and obviously Beasley is off to Buffalo.
Among slot guys, there are two intriguing options remaining – both of whom seem like longshots to sign in Dallas. Golden Tate is arguably the best receiver on the market this offseason, having just finished the last year of his contract in Philadelphia.
Tate is 31 and coming off his least-productive season in years, but he still finished with 74 catches for 795 yards and four touchdowns – two of which came at the Cowboys’ expense.
There’s also Randall Cobb, who is turning 29 and coming off the worst season of his career, largely thanks to a rash of injuries.
Neither guy would be a long-term fix at the position, and it seems unlikely the Cowboys would be interested in either, given their preference for youth. If a deal could be had at the right price, though, both veterans could provide Dak Prescott with an intriguing option to work with.
Here’s a guess, though: with Hurns already on the roster, it seems like a bad bet the front office wants to invest in more outside veteran talent.
The Cowboys’ building block of choice – and the one that’s been kindest to them.
With the glaring exception of Amari Cooper, all of this team’s building blocks have been discovered in the NFL draft. It’s the primary reason why the Cowboys are currently faced with the conundrum of re-signing five homegrown Pro Bowlers.
It wouldn’t be remotely surprising to see them address slot receiver in the same way. The Cowboys currently own six picks in this year’s draft, and there are receivers at every level who could help the cause.
With no first round pick, the Cowboys enter the pecking order at No. 58.
There’s a debate to be had about whether they should invest a valuable pick in wide receiver – especially with glaring needs on the defensive line and in the secondary. But there’s no question that there’s talent to be had.
Deebo Samuel, Parris Campbell, Andy Isabella and Penny Hart could all present a massive upgrade – and may all be available in the second or third round of the draft.
If they’d rather address their defense early and look for a receiver late, guys like Mecole Hardman, Hunter Renfrow, Diontae Johnson and Greg Dortch should all last into Day 3 of the draft.
One way or another, the Cowboys could easily upgrade the position in the draft. Depending on how they fill out their roster before then, they just might.