The three most perceived weaknesses going into the 2012 season for the Dallas Cowboys are on the interior offensive line, at safety, and at the 3rd wide receiver position. The open wideout slot is what I want to take a closer look at today, as it is an important position on any NFL football team. The player in this position rotates in when one of the top two wideouts are tired, substitutes when a starter is injured, and is of course on the field when the team goes into three and four wide packages. An ideal situation is when the drop off in talent isn’t huge from the second to third guy. The Cowboys just need to find that third guy.
For Dallas, this position hasn’t been as important because they’ve had a future hall of fame tight end to mix into these sets for the past nine years in Jason Witten. However, with the Cowboys top two receivers, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, showing some susceptibility to injuries the past few seasons, the third receiver is having to step in more and more. And hence, the position has become more important.
Laurent Robinson was a huge find by the Cowboys early on in the 2011 season. When all were healthy, defenses just had too much to worry about trying to cover Bryant, Austin, Witten, and Robinson. Especially if there was a viable running back in the offensive backfield to think about as well. It was because of all of these options, that Robinson had his breakout year. He was the “perfect” replacement for when either Bryant or Austin were out of the line-up, as the talent drop-off didn’t appear to be too severe. Robinson had an interest in staying a Cowboy when the 2012 free agency period began. But due to Dallas’ cap concerns, the team could not commit the type of resources that the Jacksonville Jaguars were able to. The Jags snagged Robinson in mid-March to the tune of a five year, $32.5 million contract.
Now over a week into training camp, and with Austin already having complications with the same hamstring that plagued his entire 2011 season, this position is coming to the forefront again. The Cowboys have resisted going to the free agent marketplace to bring in a veteran wideout so far. They want to see if someone already on their current roster can step up. If none of the receivers on the team can, the Cowboys will wait to see who is released when rosters are trimmed to 53 in early September to see if they can find a “diamond in the rough” like they did last year with Robinson. If they can’t find anyone at that time, I think then you could see them make a move on a veteran if the problem remains unsolved. Of course, that could change if more injuries were to occur prior to that.
I want to touch on whom from the current roster could fill this void, and who is a free agent currently that I feel could fit in nicely as well. As of early August, while reviewing the current 90 man roster, I believe the Cowboys will keep six receivers at cut down day on September 2. These six will be in the following; Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Danny Coale, Andre Holmes, Dwayne Harris/Cole Beasley, and Raymond Radway. Besides the top two, thoughts on the next four are the following:
1) Danny Coale – While I have yet to see him play, things I’ve read, seen, and being selected in round five of the 2012 draft will have him on the opening day roster. This occurs unless he show’s absolutely nothing in preseason.
2) Andre Holmes – At 6’5” and 208 lbs, while also being just 24 with good speed, he seems a lock. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard any positive news coming out of camp on him yet ;only negative as being one of a group of three (along with Felix Jones & Brodney Pool) to fail the initial fitness test. The Cowboys will be patient with him, just as they were with Miles Austin and Sam Hurd.
3) Dwayne Harris/Cole Beasley – Despite their diminutive size, they seem to have a certain knack to get open and make plays. Unless they falter during the preseason, I think the better player of the two sticks. To use one of the most “overused” analogies, “Wes Welker lite lite”.
4) Raymond Radway – This is “my choice” for the 3rd wide receiver; if the 3rd receiver is on the team now. With good size at 6’3” and great speed, I felt he had a fantastic preseason in 2011 and would have made the 53 opening day roster had he not got hurt in the last minute of the last preseason game in Miami. He may have also “forced” himself into that role last year, but given the opportunity this season, this is the guy.
For veteran guys not signed at the time this article was written, here are the best options:
1) Plaxico Burress – While he doesn’t have the speed and quickness he had earlier in career, he can still contribute positively to a football team. He excels in the red zone, which is an area the Cowboys struggle at. Their ranking was 20th overall in red zone scoring % in 2011. The Cowboys attempted 37 FG attempts in 2011, and Plaxico would be a great option to have at this part of the field and reduce FG attempts and increase TDs
2) Roy Williams – Although a long shot, I could see this happening. The first time around the Cowboys gave up way too much in trade, and paid way too much in terms of a contract extension. There was just too much pressure on everyone involved to “try” to make the trade look good. Williams, who is without a job, could be coming to the realization that his NFL career could be over. He knows he’s not a one or two option at wide receiver, and could come back to Texas where he belongs and be the third option at wide receiver for the Cowboys offense.
With the first preseason game against the Oakland Raiders on August 13th, and the season opener on September 5th against the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants both rapidly approaching, this is an exciting time for all Cowboys fans. And no matter whom Dallas chooses to become their third wideout, this promises to be a great season of football. But at the end of the day, my choice is Raymond Radway. And I look forward to seeing what he can bring to the team when given the opportunity.