The Cowboys are currently unable to count on Wide Receiver Michael Gallup to be ready for the 2022 season opener. That makes veteran James Washington, one of Dallas' free agent additions this offseason, potentially crucial to the team's success in September and perhaps beyond.
Washington played out his rookie contract in Pittsburgh after being a 2018 2nd-round pick. While he never enjoyed consistent success with the Steelers, James did lead the team in receiving yards in 2019 and had started 25 games over the last four years.
While not the kind of production you'd want from a 2nd-rounder, Washington's experience is still far greater than other Cowboys WR backups like Jalen Tolbert, Noah Brown, or Simi Fehoko. In fact, James' one big season with Pittsburgh gives him more statistically than all of these others' careers combined.
While we're all currently enamored with the rookie Tolbert or still curious what Fehoko has to offer, the odds favor Washington getting the bulk of Gallup's reps early this season. His experience could give him the edge over the younger prospects and hopefully make him a preferred target for Dak Prescott quickly.
Dallas may be especially keen on the veteran given their early-season schedule. With their first two games against Tampa Bay and Cincinnati, followed by divisional matchups with New York and Washington, the Cowboys can't afford much on-the-job training for their younger players in September.
Michael Gallup's current return timetable is set around the first quarter of the season but without concrete expectations. The receiver's recovery from ACL surgery could allow him to play in the season opener but it sounds more like he'll be eased in at some point after the regular season's begun.
Of course, surprises are never far away in training camp. Jalen Tolbert may hit the ground running as an immediate contributor or Simi Fehoko could make a big leap from his rookie year. For all we know, Noah Brown's five seasons in Dallas' offense could make him unexpectedly competitive for playing time.
But while James Washington did sign a meager one-year deal for just $1.2 million to become a Cowboy that money was nearly all guaranteed. Dallas clearly didn't anticipate him not making the roster and, before they knew what the draft would bring, likely saw him as WR3 behind CeeDee Lamb and Gallup if there were no other additions.
It's perfectly reasonable that Tolbert will need more than one summer to progress into a trusted offensive role. That's where Washington, especially with some crucial early games, can give the rookie some breathing room. He can also give Dallas some comfort with his big-game experience coming from Pittsburgh.
While it may not be this way in future years or even by the end of 2022, James Washington should be a significant factor for the Cowboys early this year. Even once Michael Gallup returns, Washington could easily remain more impactful than Jalen Tolbert and any other backup WR this season.