Jan 1, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris (17) returns a kick against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. New York Giants defeat the Dallas Cowboys 31-14. Mandatory Credit: Jim O

Who Will Replace Laurent Robinson?

The Dallas Cowboys’ offense lost a key contributor to the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Laurent Robinson led all Dallas receivers with 11 TD’s last season.  More importantly, there were times when QB Tony Romo looked more comfortable with the 3rd WR (Robsinson) than either Miles Austin or Dez Bryant.

Dec 24, 2011; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris (17) returns a punt against the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium. The Eagles beat the Cowboys 20-7. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

Robsinson signed a 5 year, 32.5 million dollar contract with the Jaguars.  Not surprisingly, the Cowboys were not interested in paying that much for a receiver who would only be #3 on the depth chart.

The Cowboys have been looking for a reliable 3rd wide-out for several years.  Now that Robinson is gone, that search will continue.

Remember that the 3rd WR position is an extremely important position in today’s NFL.  The Cowboys offense is based on the passing game. In order to have an effective aerial attack, the team needs 3 capable receivers.  Having a 3rd receiver who Romo trusts allows him to take advantage of defensive coverages that double Austin and/or Bryant.

The 3rd WR must also be capable of assuming a larger role in the offense; both Dez Bryant and Miles Austin have missed games in recent years due to injury.  This means that the #3 WR could very well be the #2 receiver for at least part of the season.

The Cowboys could sign a WR in free agency, but given their salary cap restrictions, it seems more likely that they will look for a replacement in the draft or in the stable of young inexperienced receivers already on the roster.

It is unlikely that the Cowboys will spend a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd round pick on a WR because they have too many other holes to fill, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.  Similarly, they have two top-tier WR’s already in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, so it is unlikely that they can afford to pay for another top-notch receiving prospect.

If they do draft a WR in the 4th round or later, it is very unlikely that the player would be ready to start in September 2012.  It is therefore possible that the Dallas Cowboys 3rd WR may already be on the roster.

Remember that Jerry Jones decided not too tender a contract offer to restricted free agents Kevin Ogletree or Jesse Holley.  Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones had to have known that Laurent Robinson might leave in free agency, but they still decided not to extend an offer to Holley or Ogletree.  This suggests that they believe that they can fill Robinson’s spot with someone better than either Ogletree or Holley. Jerry Jones was quoted as saying that he believes the “next Laurent Robinson is already on the roster.”

When asked about whether the Cowboys would try to sign a free agent WR, Jerry Jones said:

“You never rule out getting better. I will say this: We’re very comfortable with the young players we have coming. Andre Holmes, Radway, Harris, those are guys who have a bright future with us. Yet, we still have other ways we can acquire talent.”  (from dallascowboys.com)


All of that begs the question: which WR on the current roster is most likely to become the 3rd WR?

The Cowboys currently have 4 very young and inexperienced (none of them have a reception in a regular season NFL game) receivers under contract:

Andre Holmes, 6-5, 208 lbs, Hillsdale.  Current contract: Signed a three-year $1.395 million deal on Dec. 9, 2011 . 2012: $465,000, 2013: $555,000, 2014: Restricted Free Agent

Holmes has at least two things going for him: he is 6 foot 5, and Jerry Jones has publicly stated several times that he “really likes” Holmes potential.  The idea of the Cowboys having a receiver that tall for Tony Romo to look for in the endzone has many fans excited.  Holmes is also pretty fast for a man his size; he ran a 4.43 in the 40 yard dash.  He also has a 35 inch vertical jump.

His records at Hillsdale (103 catches, 11TDs, and 1, 368 yards as a senior) need to be assessed knowing that he was at a small school in a Division that is not exactly full of football powerhouses.  Most of the scouting reports had him ranked as around the 30th top receiver in last year’s Draft class.

As with most receivers from small schools, Holmes may take a few seasons before he is ready.  (Don’t forget that Miles Austin had only 18 catches in 3 seasons before his breakout year in 2009). He still needs to improve in many areas, but polishing his route running will be the primary focus in camp; in college he was able to use his size and height to beat defenders to the ball.

The Cowboys Coaching staff would surely love for Holmes to progress enough that he could be the 3rd WR this season, but even if he doesn’t, expect him to be given at least this season and one more offseason to prove that he can contribute.

Raymond Radway, 6-3, 193 lbs., Abilene Christian.  Raymond only played two years of college football in which he had 40 catches for 634 yards and 10 touchdowns.  He has sprinter speed and a 38 inch vertical.

May 24, 2008; Walnut, CA, USA; Raymond Radway of Abilene Christian (left) celebrates after holding off Josh Scott of St. Augustine

He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cowboys before the 2011 season.  Raymond had a disappointing Dallas Day (annual workout at Valley Ranch for local area prospects) that was memorable for the dropped passes and Radway confessing afterwards that he was extremely “nervous”.  He was still invited to training camp, and he made the most of it.  His leaping grabs and diving catches caused more than one onlooker to question whether stickum was making a comeback with WR’s.  Unfortunately for Radway and the Cowboys, he broke his leg at the end of camp and subsequently missed the entire season. Radway did not have the benefit of working with the practice squad last year, so he will essentially be a rookie again this season.

Aug 15, 2010; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys rookie cornerback Teddy Williams (29) at training camp at River Ridge Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Teddy Williams, 6-3, 200lbs., Texas, San Antonio.  Current contract: signed a reserve/future contract on January 2, 2012.

Teddy is probably the biggest project of them all.  It seems very unlikley that he will be ready to contribute in 2012, although the Cowboys will probably try to keep him on the practice squad because of his potential.

Teddy was a sprinter in college; he has officially broken the 10 second barrier. But, he didn’t play college football at all.  The Cowboys signed him to the practice squad last season and tried him at CB.  That didn’t work, so he was moved to WR.

Williams has the size and speed to be an NFL WR, but it is far from certain that he has the rest of the skills required.

Dwayne Harris, 5-10, 208 lbs, from East Carolina.Current contract: signed a four-year contract in 2011 for $2.040 million contract. 2012: $465,000, 2013: $555,000, 2014: $645,000, 2015: Free Agent.

He was selected in the sixth round (176th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys.  Despite his lack of height, Harris is a physical receiver who plays special teams and returns kicks.  He caught 101 receptions as a Senior in college.

Dwayne Harris was active for 7 games last season, though he was used mainly on special teams.  He did not record a catch in the regular season.  He did return 8 kickoffs for around a 30 yard average.  He also returned 15 punts for a 5.4 yard average (long of 14 yards).

Harris is best known for his huge performance against the Denver Broncos in the 2011 pre-season.  He had 5 catches for 127 yards including a memorable 76 yard catch-and-run for a TD.

Harris has shown brief flashes of brilliance, but it is far from certain that he is capable of being an effective 3rd WR on a regular basis.  That being said, he is likely to be given some time to develop because he can return kicks, and the Cowboys do not have an established return man on the roster.

So, if the Cowboys don’t sign a WR in free agency and they don’t draft one in the early rounds, who is most likely to emerge as the 3rd WR?

It will be an exciting camp if all four of these young guys are competing and fighting it out for a roster spot.  The early advantage going into camp (which can be lost in a couple days based on performance) has to go to Dwayne Harris.  He is the only one with any experience at the NFL level. The Cowboys have more invested in Harris than any of the other receivers. Harris’ experience returning kick-off and punts also adds value to his potential roster spot. Nevertheless, if Harris struggles in camp, or fails to show he is making progress, or one of the other young receivers outplays him, his stellar performance against Denver will be an almost forgotten distant memory.

The next in line after Harris, just based on their experience at this level, would have to be Raymond Radway.  He was impressing everyone last year in camp before he got injured.  He has proven that he has the basic raw skills to be successful in the NFL, but only time will tell whether he will be able to refine his raw talents enough to contribute in 2012 or whether he needs more time to develop.

After Radway, comes the dark horse Andre Holmes, and because of his height and size, many fans (and probably some of the coaching staff) will be hoping that he can surprise everyone by coming to camp and establishing himself as the 3rd, or even 4trh, WR on the depth-chart.  If Holmes can improve his route running, his understanding of the offense, and his ability to read defensive coverages, he has the other skills (speed, jumping, catching, run after the catch) to be a potent weapon in Jason’s Garrett’s offensive arsenal.

In the quote from Jerry Jones mentioned above, Jones listed Homes, Radway, and Harris, but not Williams. The chances of Teddy Williams being able to contribute in the 2012 season are very small, but his potential should buy him some time to develop, likely on the practice squad.  The decision to sign Williams would surely have been accompanied by the knowledge that it would best 2 or 3 seasons, at best, before he would be ready to play in an NFL game.

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Since this article was written, the Cowboys have re-signed Kevin Ogletree.

Tags: 2012 NFL Draft 2012 NFL Free Agency Dallas Cowboys Dez Bryant Jacksonville Jaguars Jason Garrett Jerry Jones Jesse Holley Kevin Ogletree Laurent Robinson Miles Austin Tony Romo

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