As much as everyone is focused on defense or quarterback right now for Dallas' first-round pick in April, I'm becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of them taking a wide receiver. The overwhelming favorite right now would be Laquon Treadwell from Ole Miss so I'm not going to spend time debating the value of various prospects. This is more about the merits if the idea that Dallas would add another offensive weapon over their other needs with the fourth-overall pick.
Dallas will go into next year with Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley locked into their positions and the number-one and slot receivers. The number-two spot will likely be Terrance Williams' to lose but he may face good competition from Brice Butler. Some are probably fine with that group and don't think any additions, especially with the fourth pick, are necessary.
No matter who emerges from the Williams-Butler battle, I'm pretty confident that neither of them could step into that number-one spot if Dez were to miss time. Both are adequate second receivers with Dez healthy and active but neither can be trusted yet for more responsibility if needed. We saw that clearly with Williams last year, his third NFL season, and it would take a surprising fourth-year bump in his play to convince me otherwise.
It's also worth noting the importance of the second receiver position has been negated for a long time in Dallas thanks to Jason Witten. He has not only taken care of the volume and production throughout seasons but has been the go-to target on critical plays when Dez is getting double coverage. Sadly, Witten can't play forever and is already slowing down. With his age and mileage, that decline could become pretty sharp at any given point. What's more, Gavin Escobar has yet to prove he can fill even one shoe of Witten's.
An elite talent added to that receiver corps accomplishes several things in just 2016 alone. It's insurance against another injury-filled season for Dez. It's someone who might be able to pick up some slack as Witten's twilight years continue. It's a different wrinkle in your offense that, after several seasons and a lot of game tape with the same key players, would help with strategy against the league's best defenses.
A major reason I'm liking this idea is what it means for the team's financial future. Last year's fourth-overall pick, Amari Cooper, got a four-year deal for about $22.6 million. There is a fifth-year team option that would pay him roughly the same as what a franchise tag would cost, the same option that Dallas declined on Morris Claiborne this year. When you line up what a 2016 rookie's deal (using Cooper's deal for comparison) would be next to the remainder of Dez Bryant's big contract, it makes a lot of sense.
|Dez Bryant||Rookie WR|
|2016||$13 million||$4 million|
|2017||$17 million||$5 million|
|2018||$16.5 million||$6 million|
|2019||$16.5 million||$7 million|
Dez Bryant will have turned 31 years old by the 2020 offseason. If the rookie pans out and is ready to be your new number-one, if he hasn't become it already, you can make a seamless transition from one big money deal to the next. What's more, if Dez body starts breaking down early, you have a decent option 2019 to cut him for $12 million in cap savings (provided they don't restructure between now and then). Having an elite talent ready to take over gives you the leverage to make that move if needed.
Obviously, there are plenty of reasons for Dallas not to do this and to take a defensive player. I'm not sold on any of these quarterbacks yet but maybe one of them will emerge in the next few months, too. None of this is to say that Dallas would be wrong not to take a receiver.
The bottom line is that any draft pick, and especially one in the top five, is about more than just filling your biggest needs. I am a firm believer in the “best player available” philosophy. History has proven that feeling secure at any position in the NFL can go away in a moment; one injury and suddenly you're ineffective. Dallas's receivers did not step up in Dez's absence, or even with Dez active but hobbled, to help make life easier for the backup quarterback carousel in 2015. There's little reason to think they'd be able to do it now.
If they're on the clock that Thursday night and Treadwell, or any other receiver, is the top player on the board then I hope they won't be too worried about the defense to make the pick. As the NFL continue to become a passing league and legislates to help offensive production, more talent in your receiving group can have an exponential benefit to your overall production and success.
After the year we just had, Cowboys fans need to see plenty of both in 2016.