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Ranking the top-10 free agent WRs for the Cowboys in 2024

At face value the Cowboys may not appear to be a team in the market for WR talent. CeeDee Lamb led the NFL in receptions in 2023 and has become the workhorse WR through which this offense runs. Behind him is veteran speedster, Brandin Cooks, long-time Cowboy Michael Gallup, and ascending third-round pick, Jalen Tolbert. Factor in the presence of Jake Ferguson at TE, and there are a lot of mouths to feed in this Dallas passing offense.

But things will likely change in 2024. After posting just 34 receptions for 418 yards, the Cowboys may decide Gallup isn’t worth the price of admission. They could save $11,500,000 by designating him as a post-June 1 cut, freeing up money and providing new opportunities to new targets.

The Cowboys could employ a “next man up” approach to the situation. Pushing everyone up one peg in the hierarchy and avoiding outside change as much as possible. Or they could look to free agency to fill the predicted hole, adding a new skillset to the offense and aiming for a positive disruption in a tertiary role.

Chances are a WR brought in from free agency will serve a supportive role on offense. Things run best when Lamb is being fed at a high volume and the rest of the targets are divided out amongst the many playmakers across the ranks. Looking at the list of upcoming free agents it’s important to keep the desired role in mind.

The best options for Dallas won’t be the best options for everyone else because the Cowboys are specifically looking for a low-cost option to work behind Lamb and most likely Cooks. With that said, a big swing at WR isn’t preposterous in this “all in” season. Lamb isn’t making elite money quite yet and Cooks is a relative steal at $4,000,000.

Everything will be considered in this exercise.

WR No. 10: Mecole Hardman, 25

: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

At 5-foot-10, 287-pounds, Hardman is primarily a slot receiver. This is obviously bad news to the Cowboys because Lamb is Dallas’ primary slot guy when in 11 personnel. Still, Hardman is young, fast, and gadget-like making him an intriguing option for any offense wanting to ramp up their creativity.

Considering the Cowboys haven’t even found a way to use their speedster KaVonte Turpin to his potential yet, Dallas probably isn’t a great fit even if he comes with upside.

WR No. 9: Gabe Davis, 24

Davis, 6-foot-3, 225-pounds, is big body capable of playing many of the roles Gallup served in 2023.

He’s a downfield threat. He’s durable and hungry for a bigger role. Which is probably why he’s not a great fit in Dallas. Unless the Cowboys want to make him the WR2, he’s not going to get more action coming to the Cowboys.

WR No. 8: Calvin Ridley, 29

2020. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
2020. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Ridley is a name most fans should be familiar with after a gambling offense landed the former first-round pick a one-year suspension in 2022. Before then, the Alabama product had a reputation as one of the NFL’s best route-runners and biggest game breakers.

Coming off just his second thousand-yard season of his career, it’s unknown exactly what kind of market he’ll bring. Given his technical skills and ability to play outside (826 of his 927 snaps were outside), he’ll be attractive to a lot of teams so even if the Cowboys bring him on to be WR2 in place of Cooks, it might be too costly to justify.

WR No. 7: Laviska Shenault, 25

Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Shenault was an intriguing player from the moment he entered the league. At 6-foot-1, 220-pounds, Shenault is built like a RB. His run after the catch opened up a range of possibilities for this playmaking multitool. Sadly, he never lived up to the billing.

After two modest seasons in Jacksonville, Shenault was traded to the Panthers in 2022. His two seasons combined in Carolina added up to just 37 receptions for 332 yards and two touchdowns.

Playing predominantly out of the slot, Shenault would disrupt some of the good things Lamb has going on the offense so it’s not a perfect fit. But to take a swing at this buy-low situation and possibly jumpstart the play design in the process, may be worth it.

WR No. 6: Marquise Brown, 26

Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

At 5-foot-9, 180-pounds, Brown is a small, big play threat, who hasn’t quite reached the potential of his first-round pick status. With only one 1,000-yard season on his resume, Brown is looking for a great opportunity to post big numbers.

Dallas may not be the ideal spot for what he’s looking for, but since majority of Brown’s snaps are on the outside, the Cowboys aren’t a terrible fit either. His career 4.2 YAC/reception put him in good company and his presence will keep defenses honest against the Cowboys.  He won’t be high priced and could be a bargain if a team plays it patiently.

WR No. 5: Michael Thomas, 30

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Up until 2020, Thomas was considered one of the NFL’s best. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound Ohio State product was a chain mover for the Saints, collecting receptions by the hundreds and doing it from a variety of places on the field.

With only five touchdowns over the past four seasons, those peak years appear to be long gone. Injuries have taken their toll causing Thomas to miss considerable time.

At age 30 and with a sorted injury history, the veteran from New Orleans should be a bargain in free agency. The king of the slant route fits the Cowboys because Mike McCarthy lives and dies with the slant route.

WR No. 4: Michael Pittman Jr, 26

Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

If the Cowboys really decide to upgrade the WR position and therefore devote significant money, Pittman is a good way to go. He’s going to demand big money on the open market which means the Cowboys would presumably be locked into both him and Lamb for the foreseeable future.

At 6-foot-4, 223-pounds, Pittman is a big traditional X receiver capable of making the tough catches, moving the chains and staying out Lamb’s way in the slot. It would make Dallas a tough match-up for anyone and since the Cowboys aren’t locked into any high-priced players at TE or RB, it could be financially justifiable.

WR No. 3: Josh Reynolds, 28

Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

At nearly 29, Reynolds is older than many of the players on this list. And without a single 1,000-yard season on his seven year resume, he’s not as productive as many either.

But that might be something Dallas wants in a WR3 this season. If the Cowboys really are just looking to swap Gallup for a new veteran face at a lower price, they could do worse than Reynolds.

He can line up at multiple spots and his 6-foot-3 frame makes him a big target. He’s played in some of the NFL’s better offenses in LA and Detroit and should be able to hit the ground running. He’s also not going to break the bank.

WR No. 2: Mike Evans, 30

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Evans, 6-foot-5, 230-pounds, is in a league of his own this year. The former first-round pick has been at the top tier of NFL WRs over his career and even in the post-Tom Brady era, found a way to put up 1,255 yards and 13 touchdowns en route to another Pro Bowl in 2023.

If the Cowboys really decide to go all in this season, Evans is a great option. Paring Evans with Lamb would make Dallas arguably the best WR duo in the NFC. Evan’s ability to dominate down the sideline and on slants as the X, would free up room for Lamb to feast in the middle.

The Cowboys would be cash strapped to make it happen since Lamb is due for a new deal as well, but if they stay cheap at RB and TE, it’s perfectly possible.

Evans’ age should give pause and possibly shorten the length of the contract. That should keep Evans out of the Tee Higgins price range even if he still appears to be at the top of his game.

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WR No. 1: Cedrick Wilson Jr, 28

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Wilson, a free-agent casualty back in 2022, has learned the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. His past two seasons combined in Miami couldn’t total his 2021 season with the Cowboys.

Wilson is a cerebral player who can play all three spots and execute assignments reliably. His career year playing WR3 for Dallas so he knows what the demands are and how to succeed. Wilson should be plug-and-play and high character. Best of all, the Cowboys know exactly what they’re getting with Wilson and he’ll likely be affordable.

With Wilson at the No. 1 spot, it’s probably glaringly clear this isn’t a ranking from worst to best. It’s about cost and fit. Wilson checks those boxes and brings a reduced risk, given the club’s familiarity with him.

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire