Since Dallas Cowboys veteran wide receiver Miles Austin was designated as a June 1st cut earlier this offseason, the Cowboys have a perceived opening on their depth chart. Young receivers Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley are competing for the third starting wideout slot behind Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams. Well, another name can now be added to that list: LaRon Byrd.
The Cowboys signed Byrd to a two-year deal on Thursday. The former Arizona Cardinal spent his first two NFL seasons in The Grand Canyon State. Signed as a undrafted free agent out of Miami, Byrd recorded only one receptions in his time with the Birds. He played four games in his rookie year, and suffered a concussion during the preseason of his sophomore campaign that landed him on the injured reserve. Byrd was released by Arizona on April 4th.
For all intents, the 24 year old Byrd is an unknown quantity. At 6-4, the native of Louisiana is currently the tallest wideout in Dallas’ receiver corps. That group also features wideouts Lance Lewis, Jamar Newsome and Tim Benford. Interestingly, the Cowboys only had five receivers on their final 53-man roster last year. And it appears four of those slots are already locked down for this season. Will Byrd be the missing piece?
Here’s what you need to know: Byrd has been sitting on the sidelines learning from one of the best wide receivers in the league, Larry Fitzgerald. Here’s what the rookie said about playing under one of the modern day greats in a 2012 article by Josh Weinfuss of azcardinals.com:
“I just try to get advice from him. He’s a future Hall of Famer so I’d be stupid on my behalf not to. I’m just trying to take as much as I can in.”
While at Arizona, Byrd and Fitzgerald called each other often and studied film together after practice. The All-Pro wideout actually thought the young prospect was on a faster track mentally than he was as a rookie:
“I wish I was that tough when I was young. I wish I was that smart when I was young. I relied more on just athleticism. I don’t think I really got it until I was probably in my fourth or fifth year, (when) I started really getting into my book and getting after it like that and he already has that at a younger age than I do. That’s really encouraging to see.”
Byrd’s playing time in Arizona was hurt by the lack of good quarterback play in his rookie season, the emergence of fellow rookie wideout Michael Floyd and, of course, the concussion that ended his 2013 season prematurely. His 2014 run with the Cowboys should give him an opportunity to show if he’s learned anything from Mr. Fitzgerald the last two years. My thinking is, that extra “Larry” time should give Byrd a jump on any other receivers vying for that fifth receiver slot.
The Cowboys have had luck in the past finding hidden gems in free agency. The most recent success story involved wideout Laurent Robinson. In 2011, Robinson signed a one-year deal with Dallas as a free agent after making stops in Atlanta, St. Louis and San Diego. He finished his first and only season with the Cowboys recording 54 receptions for 858 yards. Robinson also led the team in touchdown receptions with 11. The following year, Robinson cashed-in on his one good season by signing a five-year, $32.5 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Unfortunately, his success was short lived as Robinson suffered four concussions later that year and was soon released. And he’s been a free agent ever since.
For more on Byrd, checkout this highlight video from his days at Miami: