The Cowboys believe they have addressed their need for a lead receiver with the acquisition of Amari Cooper from the Oakland Raiders this week for a first-round draft pick.
Excuse me for being skeptical.
The Cowboys have thrown a first-round pick out of desperation at a wide receiver issue in the past with little to show for it but regret. And make no mistake about it – the trade for Cooper represents a desperate move to salvage a season and, perhaps, the job of head coach Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys said good-bye to their two Pro Bowl receivers in the offseason. Dez Bryant became a salary-cap casualty and tight end Jason Witten retired to the ESPN Monday Night Football booth. They provided quarterback Dak Prescott his security blanket, finishing 1-2 on the Cowboys in receiving in 2017 with a combined 132 receptions for 1,398 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Cowboys decided to take a receiver-by-committee approach in the passing game in 2018 with holdovers Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams, unrestricted free agent Allen Hurns, draft pick Michael Gallup and trade acquisition Tavon Austin. That group entered the season with 73 career touchdown receptions, which equaled Bryant’s total. The Cowboys were asking Prescott to flourish in the passing game without a lead receiver.
It didn’t happen. In what has become a passing league, the Cowboys took the NFL’s worst set of receivers into the 2018 season. And through seven weeks, the Cowboys ranked 29th in the NFL in passing.
There have been 74 individual 300-yard passing games in the NFL this season. Prescott doesn’t have any of them. There have been 112 individual 100-yard receiving games. The Cowboys have one of them. The team’s leading receiver (Beasley) ranks 47th in the NFL in both catches and yards. Prescott ranks 23rd in the NFL in passing efficiency at 87.4.
After a 20-17 loss to the Redskins that dropped the Cowboys to 3-4, the Jones family paid a visit to Jon Gruden’s fire sale in Oakland and came away with Cooper. Surrendering a first-round pick was a very familiar (and painful) price to pay for the Cowboys.
After Michael Irvin suffered a career-ending neck injury in 1999, the Cowboys were desperate for a lead receiver for quarterback Troy Aikman. So the Cowboys sent two first-round draft picks to the Seattle Seahawks for Joey Galloway in 2000. He was the definition of big-play receiver in Seattle with three 1,000-yard seasons in his five years there, catching 10 TD passes in 1997 and 12 in 1998.
But in four seasons with the Cowboys, Galloway never posted a 1,000-yard season and scored only 12 touchdowns. Dallas went to the playoffs once with Galloway on the roster but was eliminated in its first game.
In 2007, the Cowboys fielded one of the best teams in the NFL riding the arm of Tony Romo and the hands of Hall of Famer Terrell Owens and Witten, finishing 13-3 for the top seed in the NFC playoff bracket. But the Cowboys again lost their only playoff game and were convinced that they were just one more weapon away from a fourth Super Bowl championship of the Jerry Jones era.
So the Cowboys traded a first- and third-round draft pick to the Detroit Lions for Roy Williams at midseason of 2008. Williams caught 28 touchdown passes in his four seasons in Detroit and went to the Pro Bowl in 2006 on the strength of his 82 catches for 1310 yards.
But in his three seasons in Dallas, Williams never posted another 1,000-yard season, never went back to another Pro Bowl and scored only 13 touchdowns. The Cowboys went to the playoffs once with Williams and again suffered first-round elimination.
So now it’s Cooper’s turn to shine…or disappoint.
Is Cooper the receiver who caught eight passes for 128 yards and a touchdown against the Browns Sept. 30? Or the receiver who disappeared the following week with one catch for 10 yards against the Chargers? Is he the receiver who caught 83 passers for 1,153 yards on his way to the Pro Bowl in 2016? Or the receiver whose numbers fell off dramatically the following season – 48 catches for 680 yards?
At 24, are Cooper’s best seasons already behind him? The Cowboys have gambled a first-round draft pick that they are not. And a season now hangs in the balance.