A little less than two weeks ago, the day after the NFL Scouting Combine ended, former Cowboys WR Dez Bryant started to live stream on Twitter from a Dallas-area park.
If you follow Bryant on social media, you know there’s nothing unusual about him opening his phone and having casual conversations with fans. But this was different. Bryant was making a very public sales pitch.
While most players choose to communicate messages of importance through the media, the social media savvy Bryant has always shown a preference for cutting out the middle man.
“We’ve got a special guest in the building,” Bryant said, before turning and handing over his phone to Arizona Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins. "I keep hearing y'all say my name around here,” Hopkins said with a smirk. “What's up? Talk to me."
Bryant made a brief pitch for the Cowboys to acquire Hopkins, before closing the stream and setting the NFL rumor mill on fire.
IN SEARCH OF WEAPONS
2022 was largely a successful season for the Cowboys, but one of the team’s biggest failings was in building of the receiving corps.
They traded away Amari Cooper to the Browns after three and a half seasons with the team, and while they were proven correct that CeeDee Lamb was ready to step up and become the team’s #1 receiver, they failed to adequately replace Lamb’s vacated #2 role, a criticism that Stephen Jones recently told ESPN’s Todd Archer is “probably fair.”
Michael Gallup was re-signed to a five-year deal, but he struggled to regain his form after recovery from an ACL tear at the end of the 2021 season. Many within the Cowboys organization believe Gallup’s struggles were due more to mental hurdles than physical ones.
The team drafted Jalen Tolbert out of South Alabama in the third round, but the rookie struggled to learn the nuances of his responsibilities, and was a frequent healthy scratch on gamedays. One of those scratches included the opening game against Tampa, when Dallas opted to start undrafted rookie Dennis Houston over Tolbert. Excluding injured players, Tolbert finished 2022 with the fewest snaps of any top 100 rookie since Will McClay took over the draft in 2014.
They signed James Washington as a free agent, but a broken foot in training camp delayed his debut, and he was released less than a month after finally being activated to the roster.
The lack of weapons behind Lamb led to the Cowboys flirting with free agent Odell Beckham Jr., who was completely unprepared to play from a health standpoint. They ultimately signed T.Y. Hilton in December, who hadn’t played football in almost a year. While Hilton made a couple of key contributions down the stretch, it’s a telling sign that the Cowboys had to pull Hilton off the street just to get by, and even more telling that they’ve shown little interest in bringing him back to this point.
So after all of that turbulence with their receiving corps in 2022, the Cowboys find themselves in essentially the same position they were in at the beginning of last offseason. They know they need to add to their receiver room, and they’re likely to do so with a veteran acquisition and a rookie.
Could a veteran acquisition mean trading for Hopkins, or a similarly disenchanted receiver on the trading block?
Players (and one notable head coach in the Rocky Mountains) have a history of trying to use public interest in the Cowboys as leverage with their current team. Hopkins’ social media flirtation with Dallas is not that, however.
Sources have told 105.3 The Fan that Hopkins would welcome a trade to the Cowboys, and he’s willing to make financial concessions in order to achieve that end. The Cowboys aren’t the only team Hopkins would like to play for, but they are certainly on his shortlist.
But here’s the cold reality of all the Hopkins chatter: the Cowboys haven’t been nearly as invested in a potential marriage as Hopkins or many fans would hope. That’s not to say they couldn’t get involved at some point, but as of right now, there has been zero movement from the Cowboys side.
What about Broncos WR Jerry Jeudy? Broncos insider Benjamin Allbright reported this week that the Cowboys are one of a few teams that have recently inquired about Jeudy.
Team sources have disputed the claim that the Cowboys have inquired about Jeudy this offseason, but they have considered the former first round pick in the past.
During the Cowboys’ identity crisis at receiver last fall, they looked into Jeudy’s availability. They did their homework at the NFL trade deadline, but ultimately balked at the price, and turned their attention to Texans WR Brandin Cooks. Despite their best efforts, the Cowboys backed out of a deal for Cooks due to what they believed were moving goalposts for compensation.
The price for Jeudy is likely to be higher than the Cowboys want to pay again, with league sources indicating it would likely take the 26th pick in next month’s draft for Dallas to pry Jeudy from the Broncos.
If you’re wondering about another Broncos receiver, former SMU standout Courtland Sutton, that would appear to be an unlikely acquisition as well. The asking price is in the same range as Jeudy, and Sutton is in line for a new contract after the 2023 season. Sutton is slated to make $14 million next year, after which his contract becomes non-guaranteed.
In a vacuum, Sutton might be the most intriguing of the three to the Cowboys. Sutton is a physical, big-bodied receiver who excels in traffic. With Dallas’ shift to the West Coast Offense under Mike McCarthy, slants will be even more prominent in the team’s route concepts. Sutton is one of the most efficient route runners in the NFL on slants, posting a 93.3% success rate on the routes in 2021 according to Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception.
But again, when you’re looking for a potential trade partner for the Cowboys, the price is going to be the most important factor when determining if the Joneses will engage. Not just the monetary investment, but the cost of draft capital is going to be a factor as well.
Hopkins, Jeudy, and Sutton are all good players who can help this football team, but it seems unlikely that they would fit into the Cowboys’ idea of a “deal.”
FINDING A BARGAIN
The Cowboys made their first splash of the offseason earlier this week when they acquired veteran CB Stephon Gilmore from the Colts.
Gilmore, a five-time Pro Bowler and former Defensive Player of the Year, turns 33 next season. While Gilmore is getting up there in age, he’s still playing the cornerback position at a very high level. His cap hit is under $10 million in 2023, which is well outside the top 10 at the position for next season. The Cowboys traded the lower of their two comp picks in the 5th round, which means it essentially amounts to a 6th round pick.
When surveying league sources about the Gilmore deal, the Cowboys received universal praise for the deal. Several were surprised at the meager draft pick compensation, and even more were surprised the trade didn’t net Gilmore a new contract and more guaranteed money.
What does all of this have to do with the Cowboys’ search for another weapon on offense?
If Dallas makes a move for a receiver in the trade market, it will have to be a bargain in a similar vein to the Gilmore deal. They want someone to give them a deal like the one they gave to the Browns for Amari Cooper last offseason.
The Cowboys aren’t going to overpay for a receiver on the trade market. They’re not even going to pay market value. If they can’t find a receiver they believe will outplay their current salary in exchange for a day three pick, they’d rather just shop in the bargain bin via free agency, or invest in a draft pick who has their entire career ahead of them.
Assuming the team is unable to find a Stephon Gilmore type of deal for a receiver on the trade market, it’s important to still remember the name Odell Beckham Jr.
The Cowboys didn’t attend his recent workout, and if reports that Beckham wants $20 million per year are accurate, Dallas simply will not pay that. But that shouldn’t count them out of the race. Jerry Jones has an affinity for Beckham unlike one he’s had for any outside free agent in a very long time. He admitted to allowing himself to dream about Beckham making big plays for the team last December.
If Beckham’s price enters a reasonable territory, he is likely going to be the team’s veteran addition at the position. They would then seek a dynamic pass catcher in the draft, whether at receiver or tight end, and hope for growth from Tolbert, and a return to normalcy for Gallup.
Just like Jerry Jones dreamed of Beckham making plays for the Cowboys, there’s no harm in fans dreaming of DeAndre Hopkins, or another wide receiver trade piece, doing the same. Just don’t bank on those dreams becoming reality.