Cowboys Urged to Sign Ex-Lions WR in Free Agency: ‘Downfield Threat’

DJ Chark

Getty Former Detroit Lions wide receiver DJ Chark celebrates after a play.

The Dallas Cowboys have made several huge decisions in the past week, but they have yet to add a sorely-needed wide receiver in free agency.

Dallas cut running back Ezekiel Elliott, traded for cornerback Stephon Gilmore and restructured multiple contracts. And while the team can add a new receiver through the NFL draft, getting a proven player in free agency feels like a safer bet.

That’s where former Detroit Lions wide receiver D.J. Chark comes in. The 26-year-old is a free agent after the conclusion of his one-year deal with the Lions and looks likely to move on as he has already made an official visit with the Carolina Panthers.

Chark isn’t a household name, but has shown that he is one of the most dangerous downfield threats when healthy. His 2019 and 2020 seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars were breakout campaigns and the former LSU Tiger earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2019.

Compared to the potential cost of Odell Beckham Jr. or other high-profile receivers, Dallas may be able to get a great price for a receiver who has proven quality, but also feels like a long-term investment thanks to his age.

Chark’s Bet with Lions

After being drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL draft by Jacksonville, there were high expectations for Chark. Interestingly enough, there wasn’t much initial return on the Jaguars’ selection.

According to Pro Football Reference, Chark played just 11 games in 2018 and totaled just 174 yards as a rookie. Injuries have been a consistent concern with the Louisiana native since his rookie year.

However, Chark found his way the following fall. Averaging 13.8 yards per catch, Chark racked up 1008 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, earning him Pro Bowl honors.

2020 wasn’t bad either, although injuries again played a factor. Chark started 12 games, but still amassed 706 receiving yards and five touchdowns. That set up 2021 to be an important contract year for Chark, but an ankle issue derailed his season after just four appearances.

Rather than look for a long-term deal, Chark bet on himself with the Lions by signing a one-year, $10 million deal. But like his final year with the Jaguars, an ankle issue limited him to 10 starts, 502 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

Cowboys Open the Reserves

With the release of Elliott and the restructuring of deals for quarterback Dak Prescott, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and others, Dallas has set itself up for a free agency splash.

Spotrac estimates that the Cowboys now have just under $25 million in cap space. The sports finance website also estimates that Chark’s market value is around $9.5 million a year, despite his recent struggles to stay healthy.

It’s his durability that is the biggest red flag, but Dallas will be hard-pressed to find a receiver of Chark’s quality and upside. In many ways, it feels like the 26-year-old has gotten the short end of the stick with his injuries but also the carousel of quarterbacks he’s played with since getting in the league.

With Dallas, Chark can focus on making high-point catches downfield, creating more space for the likes of WR CeeDee Lamb and RB Tony Pollard to make big plays underneath. There is certainly risk involved, but the Cowboys can “buy low, sell high” with a move for Chark.