FRISCO, Texas – For James Washington, joining the Dallas Cowboys isn't just a fresh start. It's a homecoming.
"A dream come true, especially growing up two and a half hours from here," the 25-year-old wide receiver said Monday after signing a one-year contract at The Star. "This is like a small-town kid's dream to play for the Dallas Cowboys. I'm living it out, for sure."
Washington is from Stamford, Texas, about 200 miles west of the Dallas area, population 3,037 at the 2020 census. He played his final high school game in 2013 at AT&T Stadium, leading Stamford High to a Class A Division 1 championship win.
"I was like, 'Man, I could get used to this,'" Washington recalled thinking when he played inside the Cowboys' home venue.
Like his friend and mentor, former Cowboys star receiver Dez Bryant, Washington went from Texas high school football to Oklahoma State, where he won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver his senior year in 2017. The Steelers drafted him in the second round the following spring.
After four years with Pittsburgh, Washington entered free agency for the first time. The Cowboys were a fit for multiple reasons.
Not only was North Texas close to home, the Cowboys suddenly had a big need for a veteran wideout after trading Amari Cooper to the Browns for a fifth-round draft pick, saving $16 million on this year's salary cap. Versatile backup Cedrick Wilson also signed a free-agent deal with the Dolphins.
Enter Washington. From 2018-21 with the Steelers, he had 114 catches for 1,629 yards and 11 touchdowns and never consistently cracked the starting lineup. Reports said he wanted more playing time. He finished out his rookie contract with Pittsburgh but actually saw his total snaps dip to 486 in 15 games (32.4 average), according to ESPN. Washington's 44 receiving targets were his lowest since his rookie season.
In Dallas, he'll have a chance to compete for a more consistent role. CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup are now the Cowboys' top two receivers, though Gallup will spend this offseason recovering from knee surgery and says his goal is to be ready for Week 1.
Given the Cooper trade and Gallup's injury, the Cowboys needed to cover themselves at receiver before the draft. Washington has shown he can make plays against NFL defenses, mostly as an outside receiver. The slot is a possibility, too, since Cowboys receivers playing all three positions has been a staple since Mike McCarthy became head coach in 2020.
Washington is ready for the opportunity.
"The mindset I came in with was just working my butt off and earning my spot," he said. "I don't want to come in here and take anything. I want to earn it and earn these guys' respect around here, for sure, and do what I can to help this team win."