There was no debate heading into Week 1 that the Dallas Cowboys had downgraded their WR room, and with injuries to Michael Gallup and James Washington, those expectations were even lower. Still, they somehow played significantly worse than anybody could have expected.
From CeeDee Lamb to former fifth-round pick, Simi Fehoko, nobody played well. The offensive line and quarterback play did not help their case, but the stats from last Sunday are sounding the alarm on the ability of this WR room.
Gallup and Washington are both not expected back for a few more weeks, so it will be on the current crop of receivers to carry the offense through the Cooper Rush experience until their starter returns.
With Dak Prescott out until future notice, and the season still young, the pressure is on the front office to decide if they need more WR depth and ability.
Should they stick with young guys, try rookie Jalen Tolbert out, and wait for Gallup and Washington’s inevitable return? Or, do they search for a new, depth-filling option in free agency or on the trade market?
Should the Cowboys be concerned about their wide receiver depth?
Perhaps the opening week loss to Tampa Bay was just an off night for the receivers. Maybe they bounce back strong against Cincinnati. But the film and statistics are concerning, to say the least.
Lamb, the clear-cut WR1 for Dallas, tallied a grand total of 29 yards and no touchdowns while catching just two passes on 11 targets. That number equates to an 18.2% catch rate, one of the lowest numbers in football in Week 1.
The entire wide receiver group, but Lamb in particular, generated almost no separation on Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Info, rookie Dennis Houston and Lamb finished 67th and 69th in separation, while Fehoko and veteran Noah Brown struggled to crack the top 20 league-wide.
That stat tells another story (aside from the general struggles), and it’s the fact that Lamb is getting consistently double, or triple-teamed on a play-by-play basis. The lack of talented depth is the reason why. Since the Joneses chose to stick with UDFAs and inexperienced depth players, there are virtually no other threats that defenses are worried about, so teams will put full focus on Lamb.
For example, Fehoko, the leader in that statistical category, finished with just two catches for 12 yards on Sunday. He made essentially no impact on the offense and got zero attention from the defense.
The depth, or lack thereof, is not just a problem because the current depth is bad. It’s also affecting the receivers that are actually really good. This is not to say Lamb did not play poorly, because he did and he needs to be better. But the attention of cornerbacks is fully on him until the Cowboys add more viable and dangerous options at receiver.
When you break things down statistically and compare them to other teams, there is no debate over whether Dallas should be concerned. The bigger question is whether they will do something about it.
Will the Cowboys’ front office actually do something about the lack of WR depth?
The answer to this question is largely based on two things: how do the current receivers perform before Gallup and Washington return? And, how do those two guys perform when they eventually come back?
If the weeks start to pass by this season and things continue to look as bad as they did Sunday, I would expect them to search for somebody on the free agent market or acquire someone via trade. There is some recent precedent to suggest they would be interested in that.
Since 2008, the Cowboys have acquired a wide receiver via trade four times, that’s the sixth most in the NFL. The league-wide team average in that same timespan is just barely two trades. Simply put, Dallas trades for receivers a lot more frequently than the rest of the league.
Don’t forget, a mid-season WR trade just a few years ago changed the entire course of the Cowboys’ season.
It doesn’t even have to be a trade for the Cowboys to improve at the position. Since 2015, the team has signed 10 free agent receivers, which again puts them above most of the league in that category.
Dallas is top five in the league in open cap space, so money would not be a problem. They could sign even the most expensive WR free agent, Odell Beckham Jr if they wanted to, but don’t get your hopes up.
If the Cowboys’ front office does decide to make a move, it seems more likely than not that it would be for a veteran, low-cost free agent, or a guy they could acquire in a trade for no more than a late-round draft pick.
While that may not seem like enough for a fanbase reeling, a small, but noticeable improvement in the WR depth could go a long way towards a more complete, fluid, and successful offense in Arlington.