Noah Brown is currently preparing for a sixth season with the Cowboys, having recently re-signed with the team on a new one-year contract. But given the changed landscape of the WR position in Dallas in 2022, could Brown's return wind up being short-lived?
A 7th-round pick in 2017, Noah keeps finding work with the Cowboys as a willing blocker and special teamer. He's only had 66 targets on offense his entire career and has never scored a touchdown, but Brown's provided enough value in other ways that Dallas has allowed him to play out his rookie contract and given him two one-year deals to stick around.
Last season Noah returned as a core special teamer but only received a slight uptick in offensive usage. While Brown was only one spot below Cedrick Wilson on Dallas' WR depth chart, the divide between them was much bigger in how they were utilized and their offseason fortunes.
While Cedrick got a multi-year deal to join the Miami Dolphins in March, Brown is back on just a $1.1 million contract with only $137k of guaranteed money. His 2022 roster spot is far from certain and there's a conceivable scenario where he may not have one at all, or at least not for long.
Once again the Cowboys seem to have a fairly clear top four at receiver: CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, James Washington, and Jalen Tolbert. Though he'll have a better chance at competing with Washington and Tolbert than he did with last year's group, Brown will still be in an uphill battle for playing time.
The big issue facing Noah now is the potential second-year development of Simi Fehoko. A 5th-round pick in 2021, Fehoko was carried on last year's roster and only dressed for five games. But if the young prospect is now ready to start contributing more, that could be real trouble for Brown.
While keeping six receivers on the official roster isn't abnormal, having them all active for gamedays would be difficult given the 46-man limit. If Brown doesn't push his way into the top four, and if Dallas is committed to giving Fehoko some playing time, he might not get to suit up at all.
At this point there's not much developmental juice left to squeeze in Brown. He's 26 and a finished product by general NFL standards. Noah has his ways to contribute and has earned new contracts based on that, but he's probably not a guy who you're going to protect on the 53-man roster if he's not dressing for games.
One factor that could help Brown make the roster, at least temporarily, is the projected absence of Michael Gallup early in the season. If Gallup's recovery from ACL surgery does continue into September, Noah could hang onto his spot for a month or so until Michael's ready to play.
Even then, though, the NFL's new practice squad rules could work against Brown. Dallas could release him at final cuts, avoiding his contract becoming fully guaranteed, and then try to sign him to the practice squad and call him up for a few games during Gallup's absence.
Once again, special teams is where Noah may have to make himself too valuable to lose. That's often what decides those last spots on the roster and where Brown has survived the last five years. Making John Fassel pound the table for him could be his clearest path.
The fact that Noah Brown is even still here fighting for a sixth season with the Cowboys is remarkable; a testament to his hard work and underrated value. But despite the departures of Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson this offseason, Brown may have an even harder time making the team in 2022 than ever before.