Shutdown Corner - NFL

After catching 50 passes in 2007, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Patrick Crayton(notes) has seen his totals decrease in each of the last two seasons - from 39 receptions in 2008 to 37 in 2009. Crayton's total yards and touchdowns actually increased in 2009, which would seem to indicate that more targets are in order. But the receiver corps in Dallas is ridiculously overstocked right now. There's Miles Austin(notes), last year's sensation, who led the team in yards and touchdowns.

Of course, there's tight end Jason Witten(notes), Tony Romo's(notes) most reliable target, who grabbed 94 footballs last year. And there's Roy Williams, the subject of the worst trade in Cowboys history, who caught a grand total of 36 passes on 86 targets and will make a base salary of $3.5 million plus a $9.5 million option bonus as part of a six-year, $54 million contract. Now, there's the additional presence of first-round pick Dez Bryant(notes), the former Oklahoma State phenom with amazing physical tools, who's intent on making his mark.

Problem is, there isn't enough room for everyone to get their targets, and you know how underutilized receivers tend to get. Crayton's never been a diva - of course, humility comes with the territory when you're a seventh-round pick in 2004 from Northwestern Oklahoma State. Still, he's made his unhappiness with his current situation very clear - he feels that the Cowboys are burying him in favor of inferior talent, and he wants out. This is what he said in a recent radio appearance:

"If I'm going to be with another team, I need to get used to another city, another franchise, a new coach, a new quarterback, a new coordinator, everything. Just a whole new environment. My wife and kids got to get settled in, got to get in schools and everything.

"I would love to have the opportunity to compete with another team versus [coming] here [to Dallas again] for a numbers thing where they're like, ‘Oh, we're not going to pay you that to be our fourth or fifth guy,' or whatever the situation is and you kept me the whole training camp because you need camp bodies.

"To me, you're messing with people's careers and people's lives."

The Cowboys have said that they are absolutely not going to release or trade Crayton; a team official recently told Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network this in no uncertain terms. Crayton, who signed a four-year, $14 million contract extension in 2007 that will take him through the 2011 season, has said that he will attend mandatory minicamp in June and training camp thereafter. He's going to make $2 million base this year and $2.5 million (with a $1 million escalating bonus) next season, so it isn't as if he's grievously underpaid in proportion to his production.

Still, Crayton has got a legitimate issue. Jerry Jones is desperate to make the Roy Williams trade make sense, so Williams will get all the chances in the world whether he's earned them or not. Bryant, as the mercurially talented first-rounder, will get his own big targets. And there isn't a tight end on the NFL who's earned his targets more than Witten over the last few seasons. So, where does Crayton fit in? In purgatory as a fourth receiver for the next two years (or whenever Jones comes to his senses and drops Williams from the roster)? If Crayton had underperformed, he's have nothing to say about it. But he has performed as expected, and that's why this particular beef will continue to grow legs through the Cowboys' preseason.

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