They signed Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson in free agency after their big swing for Sammy Watkins failed to connect. They hoped Terrance Williams could be a factor despite offseason foot surgery. They knew what they had in Cole Beasley. They drafted Michael Gallup in the third round. They traded for Tavon Austin. In season, they brought back Brice Butler for a little bit of a run.
The committee attempt failed and the Cowboys didn’t find any real passing-game traction until they traded with the Raiders for Amari Cooper after six regular-season games.
The Cowboys now have to go about replacing Beasley’s production. Sniff at that if you want, but Beasley, 29, was Dak Prescott‘s favorite receiver, catching 75 passes in 2016 and 65 passes last season. Beasley’s numbers tumbled in 2017 (36 catches) mostly because the Cowboys’ entire passing game struggled.
There are free-agency options available, such as Golden Tate, who is older than Beasley but has been productive and has made plays in big games. While the Cowboys re-signed Austin to a one-year deal on Thursday, he still has not been as productive as Beasley over the years.
There is always the draft, with players such as Deebo Samuel and Andy Isabella expected to be available when the Cowboys make their first pick in the second round, No. 58 overall. (Quick aside — early reviews are the Cowboys don’t seem completely enamored with Isabella, but there is a long way to go in the draft process.)
Then there are the players on the roster.
The Cowboys want to move Cooper all around the formation, including using him in the slot, and that will be first-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s task.
“Our coaches have had a chance to sit back and see what he can do, how he can improve in many areas of his game because he’s going to be multifaceted for us,” Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said from the NFL scouting combine. “He can have a lot of position flex for us. There are some things that he does, his ability to run routes, his ability to get out of routes, his size, his difficulty in bringing down. When you look at all that, what we’re doing — just to give you a heads-up — is we’re looking at him all over the field. And that is the trick.”
The Cowboys recently picked up Hurns’ 2019 contract option but it did not come with any guaranteed money, and the Cowboys could look to lower Hurns’ $4 million base salary at some point.
Hurns caught 20 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns last season after four years with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and he suffered a gruesome dislocated ankle in the wild-card win against the Seattle Seahawks.
“When you look at Hurns and what he was at Jacksonville, he was a slot [receiver],” executive vice president Stephen Jones said at the combine. “He’s certainly an option if we lose Beasley in terms of filling that role, but we’ll just have to see how that plays out.”
Coach Jason Garrett said Hurns should be ready to go for training camp, but there is no telling how Hurns will look coming off that injury. Hurns could not be more different from Beasley in terms of size and quickness, so that would have to lead to some adjustments in how the Cowboys operate from the slot.
Gallup is not a slot player. He is an outside receiver. Noah Brown is not a slot player, either. The coaches and personnel folks like Lance Lenoir, but he has not caught a pass in a regular-season game. The Cowboys signed Devin Smith, a 2015 second-round pick of the New York Jets, to a futures contract in January, but he has not caught a pass in a game in two years.
The Cowboys took Cedrick Wilson in the sixth round of last year’s draft, but his rookie season ended a couple of days into training camp because of a shoulder injury. Banking on an untested sixth-rounder who faced an uphill battle to make the roster in 2018 to be a regular contributor in 2019 seems a bit much.
After making the team in 2012 as an undrafted free agent, Beasley found himself as a regular contributor from 2013 through 2018. He was quarterback friendly for Tony Romo and Prescott. In his past six seasons, he averaged 51 catches for 524 yards and four touchdowns a season in an offense that had, at times, Witten, Bryant and league-leading rushers in DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott.
For the Cowboys to have success going the committee route in replacing Beasley, it’ll have to work better than it did in the first six games last season.