Going into 2016, wide receiver Terrance Williams had plenty to be concerned about. It's the final year of his rookie contract. Brice Butler is getting a lot of attention and there's talk of a battle for Williams' starting job. With unrestricted free agency looming, Williams's market value was in question and in danger of dropping.
Williams has responded with one of his best seasons. He has shown better hands and more polished route running than any time yet in his career. Balls thrown to Williams are being completed 71% of the time compared to just 57% in his first three seasons.
Plus, his toe-tap touchdown this past Thanksgiving was one of the nicest catches you will ever see!
Williams has proven that he can be an efficient and productive player; a quality number-two receiver when playing across from a star. Depending on the price, the Cowboys could feel good about re-signing Williams this offseason based on his 2016 performance.
The problem for Terrance Williams is that these decisions aren't just about one player. You have to look at your receiving corps as a whole, your offensive system, and your team-wide salary cap to know if a move makes sense. It's this broader view that works against Williams' returning to the Cowboys next year.
Perhaps the biggest factor working against Williams is Dez Bryant. After two-straight years of injury problems that have caused Dez to miss either games or have his play occasionally hampered, Dallas has to consider the future. Bryant will turn 29 next year, meaning these health concerns likely aren't going anywhere.
Bryant can still be an elite WR any given week. But on the weeks that his health or opposing defenses are able to take him out of the games, Terrance Williams hasn't shown that he can step into that number-one role. It's been Cole Beasley, not Williams, who has usually picked up the production slack on Bryant's off days.
What's more, Dez's long-term future in Dallas isn't a guarantee. If his play was to really drop off in the next few years, Dallas could reasonably get out from his contract as early as 2018. At that point, having resources tied up in Williams might become a problem. They would need a new top guy at receiver, and Terrance hasn't ever shown that he can be that.
The Witten Factor
For years, being the “number-two receiver” in Dallas has been a flawed label. Jason Witten has occupied that role in terms of productivity and offensive importance for over a decade. It has allowed guys like Terrance Williams or Patrick Crayton to not face nearly as much expectation or responsibility.
Hard as it is to admit, Witten isn't the same receiving threat he used to be. He can still make a big play here and there, but at age 34 and after 13 seasons he can't create separation like he used to.
This is another major consideration in how Dallas proceeds with the number-two receiver spot. Not only is Witten becoming less of a threat but there's no guarantee that his eventual replacement will be the same level of player. If Dallas is facing decreasing production from the tight end position, the importance of that second WR spot is obviously increasing.
The $$$ Factor
As a third-round pick, Williams has made just about $2.9 million in his first four seasons. He has started nearly every game for Dallas in the last three years. You know he's hoping to finally make some real NFL money.
Last year, Marvin Jones got $40 million on a five-year deal with Detroit. His numbers from Cincinnati were similar to what Terrance Williams has done in Dallas. If that's the kind of money that Williams' is targeting in free agency, it's more than Dallas should be willing to pay.
Last year, Jones benefited from a shallow free agent crop at receiver. Williams won't be as fortunate as this year's group will likely feature Alshon Jefferey, Terrelle Pryor, DeSean Jackson, Kenny Britt, and other far flashier names than his.
This could help drive Williams' price down, which in turn could drive him closer to returning the Cowboys. But if Dallas is committed to finding a new number-two who can better help Dez Bryant now and perhaps replace him in a few years, they may not be in the mix.
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Terrance Williams has done his best this year. After a rough start with the wrong-way run in Week One and a bad fumble in Week 3, Williams has put in arguably his most efficient and consistent season. He's earned consideration for a new contract and a starting job in the NFL.
However, given the current and projected state of their offense, Dallas has to be thinking bigger. They need a number-two who help supplement the sporadic potency of Dez Bryant and the declining effectiveness of Jason Witten. They need a guy who could step into the lead role if called upon.
Williams doesn't appear to that guy. I wish him well, but I hope Dallas looks at the big picture.