How will Cowboys, CeeDee Lamb be impacted by exploding WR market?

To borrow Jerry Jones’ own metaphor, we’re skipping straight past summer and into autumn with all the leaves that are starting to hit the ground.

It’s only been one month since the Cowboys owner and general manager made headlines with his contract strategy. Asked why there was so little movement in the effort to re-sign his Big 3 of Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb and Micah Parsons, Jones chose foliage as his metaphor.

“We’d like to see more leaves fall,” Jones said at the time. “We’d like to see more action. It’s called option quarterback. I’ve spent my life [playing] option quarterback. I want to see some more cards played.”

As far as Lamb and the wide receiver market, we have our latest reminder that the cards are flying furiously. On Thursday morning, the Dolphins signed star receiver Jaylen Waddle to a three-year, $84.75 million extension with an impressive $76 million of that guaranteed.

Waddle is now the fourth receiver from the 2021 NFL Draft class, along with Amon-Ra St. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Nico Collins, to sign a mega extension. It’s an eyebrow-raising amount of movement considering these players all have a year remaining on their rookie contracts, not to mention the franchise and transition tags that are often applied in these situations. Throw in the early $96 million extension that A.J. Brown signed last month, and it feels like a downright shocking level of activity.

But it becomes a lot more understandable when framed against what’s still to come — or rather, who is still to sign.

We’ve talked endlessly at this point about the deals coming down the pipe for Lamb, as well as Vikings All-Pro Justin Jefferson. With each passing deal, it starts to feel like other receivers are slotting themselves in under a couple of paydays that are about to blow the roof off the market.

The final numbers are tough to guess, but you can see where this is heading. Three receivers now average $30 million or more per year, and six receivers are playing on deals valued at $100 million or more, with Davante Adams and St. Brown topping the market at $140 million and $120 million, respectively. Even more important than the value of the deal, guys like Brown and Waddle have secured as much as 85-90% of their deals guaranteed.

With all of that in mind, it should not be a surprise if Jefferson winds up as the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback, topping Nick Bosa’s figures of a $170 million contract and a $34 million salary.

We have the context clues to guess this about Jefferson, but what does it all mean for Lamb?

Should the Cowboys be WORRIED about CeeDee Lamb?

Should the Cowboys be WORRIED about CeeDee Lamb?

That negotiation is a lot murkier, given the seeming lack of communication between Lamb and the Cowboys. To this point, all we know for sure is that Lamb is absent from the team’s voluntary offseason workouts while he waits for a new deal. And obviously, we know the Cowboys front office’s desire to see more leaves fall.

It feels hard to believe it’s gotten to this point. After all, Lamb was a first-team All-Pro in 2023 and averaged 87 catches and 1,132 receiving yards over the three years prior to that. It’s easy to imagine a world where the Cowboys extend him for $25 million a year ahead of time — similar to what we’re seeing right now with St. Brown, Smith and Waddle. Instead, the fifth-year option on Lamb’s contract is costing the Cowboys $17 million on this year’s salary cap, hindering their ability to sign outside free agents. And of course, his eventual deal should easily exceed $30 million per year.

Proactive behavior hasn’t often been the Cowboys’ strong suit when it comes to top-of-the-market players, though. Lamb can ask Prescott about that, as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback is in the middle of the second contract standoff of his career.

And to be fair to the Cowboys, perhaps this was all part of the plan. It’s worth noting that Lamb and Jefferson are both represented by the agency CAA, which is one of the game’s biggest power brokers. Maybe it’s the players, just as much as the teams waiting to see how these cards get dealt.

Whatever posturing that might be taking place feels irrelevant at this point. Each passing deal that gets signed is a reminder that, eventually, Lamb and Jefferson are going to blow the receiver market sky-high. The only question now is how many more leaves are left to fall.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports and hosts the NFL on FOX podcast. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.


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