The Dallas Cowboys wide receivers corps has talent, but they could use a steady veteran to support elite matchup nightmare Dez Bryant, vertical threat Terrance Williams, diamond-in-the-rough slot guy Cole Beasley, and special teams ace Dwayne Harris. ESPN Dallas’s Calvin Watkins writes that the Cowboys could look for a veteran wide receiver, and he reports that there “have been talks about” the possibility of signing Nate Burleson. Watkins mentions a few other veteran receivers on the open market that could make sense for the Cowboys, but none of them make nearly as much sense as adding Burleson.
First of all, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan worked closely with Burleson when they were both on the Detroit Lions, and Burleson could greatly benefit from the attention Dez Bryant draws. As we saw in Week 1 against the New York Giants, Bryant can clear the way for a possession receiver at the “Z” to rack up receptions, and Burleson did that himself in the first four weeks of the regular season (before his injury), benefiting from the attention Calvin Johnson drew. In those four games, Burleson caught 26 passes for 316 yards, and that’s definitely a solid return.
But make no mistake, Burleson is a limited player at the age of 32 and is ideally a WR3 at best. He isn’t fast at all, so he struggles to gain separation. Burleson gets open with savvy route-running, and he does a nice job of creating a little bit of space to make the catch. He also has reliable hands, so that’s another big plus for the Cowboys. With Williams locked in as the talented WR2 looking to burn defenses deep or draw coverage over-the-top, Burleson makes sense as another underneath option.
Although the Cowboys already have Cole Beasley moving the chains in the slot, the Cowboys could use another possession guy in combination with the rising 24-year-old. Beasley is solid, but adding Burleson would give the Cowboys another WR who can play in the slot and, more importantly, be a steady presence on the outside. Not only are Burlesons’s experience and familiarity with Linehan nice intangibles, but his inside-outside ability is also attractive.
There’s no doubt that Burleson isn’t a very good receiver at this stage of his career, and he would be the fourth option at best (maybe even fifth) behind Bryant, star TE Jason Witten, and Williams. However, he would be a solid fourth option, and there isn’t any risk to signing Burleson. Not only would he come cheap, but the Cowboys wouldn’t have to spend any guaranteed money on a veteran wideout just looking to latch on somewhere and prove that he still has something left in the tank. I think Burleson still does have something left in the tank, and the fact that he could be cut if he disappoints enough in training camp is a huge selling point for a team with chronic salary cap issues. He has pretty big injury questions, but so do most of the other free agent wideouts. And unlike those guys, Burleson has great intangibles.
Kenny Britt: I’ll be the first guy to tell you just how talented Britt is, and he has elite physical tools. Yes, elite. Unfortunately, he might be the biggest headcase in the NFL and was as deep in Mike Munchak‘s doghouse as it gets. Britt dogs it out there by not blocking, not running clean routes, and committing frustrating drops. He makes weird comments on Twitter, and he’s such an incredibly frustrating player due to how inconsistent he is. There’s no doubt that he has fantastic tools, but the fact that he also has major injury questions seals the fact that the Cowboys don’t need him; they need someone a lot more reliable and consistent than Britt.
Santonio Holmes: Basically a better version of Britt, Holmes also has a myriad of character and injury concerns that have prevented him from fulfilling his potential. Like Britt, Holmes also unquestionably has elite tools, but it isn’t worth banking on his potential. The Cowboys already have a playmaker in Terrance Williams, and signing Holmes wouldn’t be a good decision. Even if he does somehow come as cheap as Burleson, he’s also more of a locker room concern and has more injury issues. Burleson doesn’t have the cleanest bill of health either, but he has a much cleaner locker room record.
Robert Meachem: He’s been incredibly unproductive over the past couple of seasons, and I don’t see how he’s better than Burleson in any way. The Cowboys would want someone who can produce, and Meachem just hasn’t done that lately.
Jason Avant: If you think Burleson is slow, then wait until you see Avant. However, Avant is also one of the classiest players in the NFL, an incredibly relentless blocker, possesses terrific hands, and he is also a savvy route-runner. There are a lot of things to like about Avant, but I’d take Burleson instead due to the former Lions receiver’s versatility. Avant is less injury-prone and does some things better, but he can’t play on the outside like Burleson; that’s what makes him not as good of a fit.