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Dallas Cowboys Full of Questions, Concerns at Wide Receiver

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys WR Position

Leading up to the March 9th start of NFL free agency, we will be looking at all Dallas Cowboys players under contract for 2017 and how much of the salary cap each position is taking up.

Previous Articles: SPECIAL TEAMS | RUNNING BACKS | SAFETIES | TIGHT ENDS | LINEBACKERS | GUARDS & CENTERS | DEFENSIVE TACKLES | OFFENSIVE TACKLES | DEFENSIVE ENDS | QUARTERBACKS | CORNERBACKS

Cowboys Capology: Receivers

The receiver group is arguably the toughest for the Cowboy's 2017 salary cap. Dez Bryant alone counts $17 million; the highest cap hit after Tony Romo of any player. They are also about to lose Terrance Williams and Brice Butler, creating holes that have to be filled. That's even more money Dallas will need to spend at an already expensive position.

Before we dive into the specifics, let's look at the NFL's 2017 salary cap. The league announced that the cap would be set at $167 million for the upcoming season. Even though this is still a $10 million increase from last year, it's a few million short of what many were projecting.

Confirmed 2017 Salary Cap = $167 million
Cowboys 2016 Cap Rollover = $2.4 million

Dallas Cowboys 2017 Salary Cap = $169.4 million

Now, using that number as our foundation, let's look at how much the Cowboys' receivers are scheduled to cost against the 2017 salary cap.

Dez Bryant, Lions

WR Dez Bryant (Tim Heitman - USA TODAY Sports)

Dez Bryant

2017 Cap Hit: $17 million

With the biggest cap hit in the entire NFL for his position, Dez has a lot to live up to on the field. 2016 was overall a down year for the franchise receiver; a mix of big and quiet games. The big change at quarterback certainly contributed, but seven NFL seasons have clearly taken a physical toll on Bryant as well.

Dallas could free up a lot of cap space by restructuring Bryant's contract. However, as I wrote about last month, there is tremendous risk in modifying Dez's deal based on his slowly declining play and injury issues. Even with about $12 million to potentially gain from restructuring Dez, the Cowboys need to strongly consider preserving their future flexibility to move on from Bryant if needed.

For now, the Cowboys have to hope for the best with Dez.  They will hope that better health and a full offseason with Dak Prescott as the starting quarterback will allow Bryant to return to franchise form next year.

Cole Beasley

2017 Cap Hit: $4 million

After leading the Cowboys in catches and yards last year, Beasley has emerged as one of the best salary cap bargains on the roster. He has replaced Jason Witten as the team's "security blanket" receiver, showing a great chemistry with Dak Prescott in 2016 in critical moments.

Not only does Beasley' own modest contract help our cap, but his big role in the passing game relieves any pressure to spend big on free agent Terrance Williams or his replacement. Dallas can afford to wait for a bargain, or perhaps use a draft pick, because that player will not have heavy expectations right away.

Lucky Whitehead

WR Lucky Whitehead

Lucky Whitehead

2017 Cap Hit: $618k

Is trouble brewing for the Cowboys' current return man? When Dallas signed a return specialist in January, we speculated as to what this meant for Whitehead's future. He is certainly not guaranteed to return.

Still, Whitehead has a minimal cap hit, versatility, and experience. With other holes to worry about in their receiving group, I expect Dallas will retain Lucky at least through the preseason. He will likely be fighting for his job, though.

Andy Jones

WR Andy Jones (Paul Spinelli via AP)

Andy Jones

2017 Cap Hit: $465k

The undrafted free agent was one of the stars of Cowboys training camp but failed to live up to that hype in the preseason. Jones had a few drops and did nothing to challenge for a roster spot. After a year on the practice squad, he returns and has at least one Cowboys insider projecting that he will be a factor in 2017.

Bryan Broaddus on Twitter

I believe drafting and Andy Jones are a priority. https://t.co/A1E4mVHcDA

While counting on Jones to be one of your top three receivers isn't realistic, hopefully he's developed enough to replace Brice Butler at the fourth man.

Shaquelle Evans

2017 Cap Hit: $540k

A 4th-round pick by the Jets in 2014, Evans missed his rookie year with a shoulder injury. He was waived at final cuts the following season and then spent the year on the Jaguars' practice squad. He did not make final cuts with Jacksonvile either, eventually spending about a week with the Patriots.

It's unknown what's stopped Evans from impressing teams so far in his career. The Cowboys will hope that he can gain some traction in their training camp this year, as roster spots are definitely available in Dallas.

Quincy McDuffie

2017 Cap Hit: $465k

As was said when Dallas signed McDuffie several weeks ago, his experience as a returner could be trouble for Lucky Whitehead. He led the nation in kickoff return average as a senior in college and led the Canadian Football League in kickoffs last year. Given his limited projected upside as a receiver, special teams appears to be the focus in his joining the Cowboys.

Uzoma Nwachukwu

2017 Cap Hit: $540k

Undrafted in 2013, "E.Z." spent two years on the Texans' practice squad. He has since bounced from the Dolphins to the CFL to the Seahawks. Dallas signed Nwachukwu, a Texas native and former Aggie, to a futures deal last January.

Brice Butler, Packers

WR Brice Butler

Free Agents

Brice Butler - Some thought that Butler would have a breakout year, especially once Dak Prescott became the starting quarterback. However, Butler's production dropped steadily and he was barely a factor in the offense. There is no reason to think that he'll return.

Terrance Williams - I wrote last week about how this year's crowded free agent market at WR might keep Terrance with the Cowboys. I think Dallas would be fine with him to keep the same place in the offense going forward, but only if his salary is commensurate with his supporting role. They are certainly not going to get into bidding war to keep Williams around.

2017 Salary Cap Impact

Total Receiver Cap Hit = $23.6 million
Percentage of 2017 Salary Cap = 13.95%

Whether or not the Cowboys do anything with Dez Bryant's contract is the biggest question. They could free up close to $12 million by restructuring him but have to think about the future as well. Right now, with only about $9 million cap space, Dallas may not have any option but to restructure Dez.

The next question is how much they will spend to replace Terrance Williams. While he was only the fourth option in the offense last season, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant are both on the decline. The next receiver we add may need to be able to step into a bigger role, especially if Bryant has one of his routine injury issues.

Coming off rookie deals, neither Williams or Brice Butler cost the Cowboys much more than the league minimum last year. Re-signing Williams or replacing him will mean a significant salary increase at the WR2 position.

The good news is that there will be plenty of options out there in free agency, which should help to keep the market price low. Dallas may be able to get a veteran like Kenny Britt or Torrey Smith for about $3-4 million per year.

The rest of the WR depth chart will likely be filled out with rookies or guys like Andy Jones. Dallas might bring in one more veteran on a minimum contract for insurance, but he would be competing with the young guys for a roster spot.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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2 Comments
  • Travis Diggs

    I think it’s time to get faster in the receiving core and that includes the tight ends(especially the te’s). We have to let Terrance Williams, Brice Butler, and Whitehead ALL walk There are Alot of options in the draft and Free agency. I seen a rumor mill talking the cowboys are interested in Desean Jackson and Kenny Britt, Jackson isn’t even close to our price range and Britt is probably a upgrade over Williams but I’m looking at Zay Jones in the second round We could definitely use a upgrade in the receiving core and I hope its coming

    • Jess Haynie

      “We gotta get speed. Demon speed. Speed’s what we need. We need greasy, fast SPEED!”

Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Prescott’s Legs Give Offense a Much Needed Spark

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Takeaway Tuesday: Prescott's Legs Give Offense a Much Needed Spark

When the Dallas Cowboys took the field last Sunday against the New York Giants, they did so very differently than last week, starting with a 64-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to connect with WR Tavon Austin in the third play of the game. Although there are still many things this team must continue to work on, they looked like a very improved unit in week 2.

Here are my main takeaways from the Dallas Cowboys' first win of the year. Let me know what yours are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL and let's talk football!

Cowboys' Secondary Capable of Holding Top WR

If there was one player who could've changed the outcome for the New York Giants, it was WR Odell Beckham Jr. Widely recognized as one of the best wideouts in the nation, Beckham was the biggest challenge the cornerbacks, led by Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie, have had in the first two weeks.

None of them followed Beckham all over the field, each stayed on their side of the field and still managed to limit him to four receptions for 51 yards in nine targets. The Giant's offense is not known for being one of the best in the league, but it's the fact that this defense was able to limit exactly the player they needed to. They did their job.

Also, props to the defensive line for keeping the pressure on Eli Manning.

Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Bounce Back Against Giants

Taco Charlton Was Dominant VS Nate Solder

With Randy Gregory ruled out for the game, Taco Charlton had a golden opportunity to stay on the field for more snaps. He took advantage of this, as he finished the night with three tackles, one for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.

Charlton still has a long way to go in order to prove he was worthy of a first round pick, but we can't deny he hasn't stopped developing. It will be interesting to see how he does now that Gregory is expected to return for week 3.

Dak Prescott's Legs Give Offense a Needed Spark

One of the things I liked the most about the Cowboys' game versus the Giants was how Dak Prescott was utilized. Criticized after a poor performance in Carolina, Prescott came out with a chip on his shoulder.

We've been talking a lot about how Scott Linehan must play Prescott to his strengths and that's precisely what he did by letting Dak run for 45 yards in seven carries. It's completely understandable if the Cowboys don't want to run him as much as the Panthers do with Cam Newton, but the truth is, if #4 hurts defenses with his leg, Ezekiel Elliott won't receiver all of the defense's attention.

Also, shoutout to how they used Tavon Austin. With Elliott, Prescott and Austin being a threat on option plays, this offense could take a step on the right direction.

If Activated, Where Does Rico Gathers Fit Offensively?

Rico Gathers Will Be Used

The Cowboys' Rico Gathers project is moving in the right direction. The 2016 sixth-round pick was active for the first time in his career last Sunday. The first question that popped into our heads was whether or not he'd be actually used in the game. He was.

He even managed to get open in the end zone in a play that could've been TD but Prescott didn't throw a good pass. However, the mere fact that he was able to get open and that the coaches actually put him on the field told us a lot about his future. Cowboys Nation should be excited to see him involved.

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Prescott’s Legs Give Offense a Much Needed Spark" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Game Notes

Dallas Cowboys vs the New York Giants: Stock Up and Stock Down

John Williams

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The Jaylon Smith We've Been Expecting Is Finally Here

The Dallas Cowboys bounced back in a big way against the New York Giants in week two. Several players bounced back as well after struggling a bit in week one against the Carolina Panthers. Other players continued to struggle or saw a drop in play from week one to week two.

Here are the Dallas Cowboys who saw their stock rise and some who saw their stock fall this week.

Stock Up

Jaylon Smith, Linebacker

Jaylon Smith has been really good to start the season and had an excellent game against the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football. Every day Smith is removed from the devastating knee injury he suffered in his final game at Notre Dame is a day closer to realizing the elite play that many expected of him before the injury.

Pro Football Reference credited the starting middle linebacker with seven solo tackles and three assists. Pro Football Focus had Jaylon Smith with 3 stops -- plays that were a "loss" for the offense -- while becoming a stabilizing force for the linebacker position.

Byron Jones, Cornerback

The fourth year player who has made a successful move from safety to cornerback, Byron Jones has been everything the Dallas Cowboys hoped he'd be when they made him their first round pick back in 2015.

Shame that it took so long to get him to cornerback.

Against a potent New York Giants receiving corp, Jones only allowed one reception on five targets on Sunday night. He also had six solo tackles and three stops, per Pro Football Focus.

The one reception that Pro Football Focus credited to Byron Jones was by Running Back Saquon Barkley and that catch went for zero yards.

So on the night, Byron Jones allowed zero yards into his coverage areas. He's really good at cornerback and is taking to Kris Richard's coaching quite nicely.

Dak Prescott, Quarterback

After much gnashing of teeth after the week one loss to the Carolina Panthers, Dak Prescott rebounded with a strong, confident performance in the Dallas Cowboys week two win over the Giants.

He completed 64% of his passes for 160 yards and ran for 45 yards on seven carries. The passing yardage isn't huge, but on a night in which the defense was absolutely dominant, Dak Prescott made the plays that needed to be made for the Dallas Cowboys to win the game.

He was great in the read-option on Sunday night, perfectly executing it for several really good runs.

The throw to Tavon Austin on the third offensive play from scrimmage was a great throw that set the tone for the Dallas Cowboys the rest of the night. His yards per attempt and passer rating were both improved from week one and he just looked better.

If Dak Prescott can continue to put together performances like this, the Dallas Cowboys will win a lot of games this season.

Connor Williams, Left Guard

After getting pushed around for much of last week's game by Kawann Short, rookie Connor Williams rebounded with a really nice game.

Williams didn't allow a pressure all night and the offensive line was much better as a whole. The unit didn't allow a sack against the New York Giants.

According to Pro Football Focus, Elliott's biggest run of the night came behind Connor Williams at left guard.

Williams is an important piece to the puzzle and if he's playing well, it will provide better pockets for Dak Prescott.

Tavon Austin, Wide Receiver

After seeing only 10 snaps in week one, Tavon Austin was on the field for nearly twice as many and made them count as he ended with two receptions for 79 yards and had one rush for 15 yards.

That's 94 total yards on three touches. The "Tavon Effect" was in full force last night as the team used his speed to their advantage. Even when the ball didn't go his direction he had an effect on the game.

Damien Wilson, Linebacker

Seemingly the odd man out after the Dallas Cowboys selected Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Damien Wilson had an excellent game in his limited playing time.

Wilson played 17 defensive snaps and 22 snaps on special teams and was credited with three solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He's was excellent on Sunday night in the snaps he was given.

It's unlikely that we'll see a big snap increase for him with the talent ahead of him on the depth chart, but he provided very valuable snaps when given the opportunity.

Stock Down

Terrance Williams, Wide Receiver

Terrance Williams who has been a starter for several years now with the Dallas Cowboys, and even started week one, saw his snap count drop from week one to week two. After seeing 19 snaps against the Carolina Panthers, he was onlyon the field for 10 snaps in week two.

There's been speculation as the Dallas Cowboys have resigned former Wide Receiver Brice Butler that Terrance Williams could be the odd man out of the wide receiver room. That snap count is either an indication of his status on the team or the game plan they had against the New York Giants.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Williams moving forward.

La'el Collins, Right Tackle

A week after allowing four pressures, most along the offensive line, La'el Collins allowed three more pressures on Sunday night against the New York Giants. He was the only offensive lineman to allow multiple pressures and appeared to struggle with the Giants blitz and stunt schemes.

The New York Giants had rushers go unblocked at times on Sunday night.

Dak Prescott wasn't sacked against the Giants, but he had to avoid some pressure on that side to throw the ball away.

Collins has to be better against the pass rush going forward to keep Dak Prescott clean and able to play better.

Dallas Cowboys Tight Ends

The Dallas Cowboys' tight end group of Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Rico Gathers did not have a single catch to their name on Sunday night. There were opportunities that were missed, like the Dak Prescott overthrow to Rico Gathers in the end zone. However, not being able to come up with a single catch against the Giants is a bit surprising.

Speaking frankly, their isn't a receiving threat on the TE depth chart. They need to become a factor at some point to help take pressure of Dak Prescott and give him another option in the passing game. The Dallas Cowboys prefer to run most of their formations with a tight end on the field. They need to be a factor

The Cowboys Nation Twitter account asked David Helman from DallasCowboys.com to look up when the last time the Dallas Cowboys tight ends finished a game without a reception.

Mark Lane from WFAA.com and the Texans Wire found the information.

Mark Lane on Twitter

@HelmanDC @CowboysNation @SullyBaldHead @Marcus_Mosher @CHQ_Jordan @FO_ScottKacsmar When you do, Dave, tell them that Mark Lane found it at 1:15 a.m. Central Time. It was Dec. 1, 2016 at the #Vikings. https://t.co/XS3FVrWhT8

It's unbelievable that there was a game played in which Jason Witten was around for that he didn't have a reception, and yet, there it is.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Were there any players that moved the needle in either direction for you?

Let us know in the comment section. 

 



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Dallas Cowboys

Will Cowboys Safety Xavier Woods Return This Week?

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Have Their Version of Tryann Mathieu in Xavier Woods?

The Dallas Cowboys have been without one of their defensive starters for the first two weeks of 2018; safety Xavier Woods. A preseason hamstring injury has kept him in street clothes so far, but Woods could make his season debut this week against the Seattle Seahawks.

The positive update on Woods' status was provided by Owner Jerry Jones in his regular radio appearance this morning.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Jerry Jones on @1053thefan said it appears Randy Gregory (concussion) will be available to play Sunday at Seattle. Jones also thinks Xavier Woods (hamstring) has a chance to play this week after missing the first two games

Gregory has already played this year, suffering his concussion and leaving the season opener against the Carolina Panthers. Even in his absence last week, the Cowboys got six sacks on Eli Manning in their victory over the Giants.

That's not to say getting Randy back isn't noteworthy, but the real news here is the potential for Xavier Woods to take his place as the team's starting free safety.

While Woods has been out, Jeff Heath has been the free safety while Kavon Frazier has started at strong. The plan going into 2018 was for Heath to play strong safety, putting him closer to the line of scrimmage where his skills are best suited.

Xavier was one of the team's most exciting rookies last year, flashing the potential to be a game-changing presence.

Woods' upside is one of the reasons some fans haven't been as desperate about the Earl Thomas situation. While Thomas would be an upgrade in almost any defense, including the Cowboys, the chance to see what Xavier has mitigated disappointment over not acquiring the All-Pro safety.

Xavier Woods

Dallas Cowboys Safety Xavier Woods

If Woods can provide what the team hopes for at free safety, it has a positive ripple effect for the roster. Not only do you upgrade at FS, but Heath moving to his ideal role at SS is another improvement.

It also moves Frazier, who's been solid in his playing time, into a valuable bench role. It gives Dallas depth at safety which, up til now, they've lacked in Xavier's absence.

The loser in this deal would likely be either veteran backup Ibraheim Campbell, who Dallas signed two weeks ago to deal with their depth issues, or undrafted rookie Tyree Robinson. Robinson has been with the team since they signed him immediately after the 2018 NFL Draft.

With talk that the Cowboys are looking to bring back WR Brice Butler, a roster spot will be needed. Xavier Woods' return could allow for that spot to come from safety rather than receiver, where Dallas is hesitant to part with any of its current players.

In the end, all we have right now is a "maybe" about Woods' status. But with Dallas' defense already performing well this year, the thought of getting even better is enticing. With the tough road environment of Seattle and Russell Wilson coming up this Sunday, getting Xavier back could be timely.



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