CeeDee Lamb couldn't help but notice receiver contracts blowing up this offseason. The Dallas Cowboys probably also connected some dots between those deals and their third-year receiver.
Lamb is in a huge spot, for the Cowboys and himself too. He's the unquestioned No. 1 receiver on the Cowboys. Just about everyone has predicted a big breakout for him. And with the market for elite receivers in the $25 million to $30 million a year neighborhood, there's plenty of incentive.
"I’m most definitely taking note of it," Lamb said of receiver contracts to the "Open Mike Podcast," via On3 in Dallas. "I’m watching it. But I’m not really too focused on it at the moment. But it is crazy to see these numbers go up."
It's all aligned for Lamb. Now he just has to come through. The Cowboys would be in a lot of trouble if he doesn't.
CeeDee Lamb on verge of stardom
Lamb stepped into a great offense his first two seasons. Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup were the other two receivers. The Cowboys had Ezekiel Elliott and a stellar offensive line. Lamb was a first-round draft pick but just had to do his part.
The attrition rate is high in the NFL. Cooper was traded for nearly nothing to the Cleveland Browns. Gallup is still coming back from a torn ACL. Elliott is in a troubling decline. The offensive line has been taking hits, most notably a leg injury to left tackle Tyron Smith that could keep him out all season. Lamb has no choice but to take on a much bigger role.
Lamb has been good for the Cowboys. In two seasons he has 153 catches, 2,037 yards and 11 touchdowns. There's nothing wrong with that, but the Cowboys need a lot more from him this season.
“I don’t think it’s a shock that he’s going to get a lot of targets,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said, via SI.com. “He’s going to have a great opportunity here."
There were the stories about Lamb's preparation for his big season, including him putting on 10 pounds. The Cowboys didn't do anything that would diminish Lamb's target share in the offense, which should be massive.
"I've been ready," Lamb said, according to the Cowboys' website. "That's just me and my competitiveness. That's in my nature. It's kind of how we grew up playing football. I'm always ready for my name to be called."
His path to true stardom starts Sunday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a big prime-time spotlight. Will he deliver?
Lamb could get next huge WR contract
This past offseason, Davante Adams got $140 million over five years. Tyreek Hill got $120 million over four years. A.J. Brown, whose career production through three seasons looks a lot like Lamb's, got $100 million over four years. Wide receivers' value took off, and just at the right time for Lamb.
Lamb is 23 years old. He has a first-round draft pedigree and one Pro Bowl. He also plays for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who takes odd satisfaction in paying his stars huge contracts. If Lamb does have the big leap this season that many forecast, the Cowboys will be in a tricky spot, resetting the market that has already exploded to keep a young star happy. If Lamb becomes a top-five receiver this season, he's not going to be asking for just the $25 million per year that Brown will earn. Lamb's rookie deal goes through the 2024 season but it's a good bet that if he posts a 100-catch season he'll want an extension before next season.
It's just whether Lamb graduates from being a good receiver to an elite one. The targets will be there, and he has a capable quarterback in Dak Prescott. Being among the league leaders in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns is well within the range of his outcomes this season. If Dallas is going to repeat as NFC East champs, they need him to be the centerpiece of an offense that is suddenly a lot thinner.
If that happens, the payday will come. Not many players have more on the line this season than Lamb.