Of all the penalties CeeDee Lamb absorbed in a game in the Dallas Cowboys season, perhaps the most significant blow was delivered from inside the property suite. Twice, no less.
Just days after director of player personnel Stephen Jones made a pointed remark about Lamb’s performance in the team’s 19-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, owner Jerry Jones doubled his reviews. The message? Dallas needs Lamb to live up to its ownership expectations, which presented him as a true No. 1. 1 receiver after the Cowboys unplugged Amari Cooper in the offseason. Lamb catching just two of 11 passes thrown his way for 29 yards against Tampa certainly didn’t fit the bill — nor did it fit the brain trust well.
“We definitely have to step up and do better,” Stephen Jones said on Monday, speaking to the team’s flagship 105.3 radio station The Fan. “The passing game goes hand in hand, the quarterback and the receivers. Certainly we have to be better there. CeeDee has to improve and work his way up to be the No. 1 receiver we think he can [be].”
On Friday, Jerry Jones backed up that idea with the same radio station, including some bit more biting commentary.
“People cover your best receiver. It happens,” Jerry Jones said. “What do you do? You have to play covered. You have to catch covered balls. … What I mean is that every team in the league is facing the same thing. They’re going to have their best receiver double cover What the best receiver should do is play through that cover.
For a team that was selling the idea that Lamb was a definite upgrade from Cooper just a few months ago, it was a critically eyebrow-raising moment at a remarkably early stage in the season. Especially after ownership spent months showing how unhappy it was with Cooper’s combination of salary, production and availability last season. Not only did this trio of factors cause a fire sale of a good young player – dumping Cooper to the Cleveland Browns for a 5th round pick – but it led Jerry Jones to essentially suggest that Dallas would be better off in 2022 with Lamb at the top of the depth chart.
That makes early reviews a little surprising, given that few offensive players have played particularly well and head coach Mike McCarthy is already asking about offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s call-up. Now, Lamb’s gambling talk is likely to raise further doubts about Cooper’s trade, which has already been a hotly debated issue among the fanbase for months.
But Lamb’s rapid and critical move towards performance also raises more problematic questions. Did Dallas see anything he doesn’t like about Lamb’s acting now that he’s been working in the No. 1 big role for the past few months? Is there more to it than a bad game? And if the answers to those questions are “no,” then why doesn’t the property feel like Lamb deserves a one-game mulligan before leaning into the critique of his performance?
Whatever the reasoning, Lamb’s play will now be a priority moving forward, measured against Cooper’s performance in Cleveland – which was good on film in Week 1 despite some errors from the quarterback Jacoby Brissett Browns. Not to mention a brewing comparison to Michael Gallup, who has also been celebrated in the past by Cowboys ownership as a player worthy of being considered a No. 1. 1 wide.
Add to that the calling dynamics of McCarthy and Moore and it’s a lot of drama early in the Dallas offense. And none if he’s likely to improve before the return of star quarterback Dak Prescott and his broken thumb.