IRVING, Texas -- Laurent Robinson never wanted to leave the Cowboys. The Cowboys never wanted Robinson to leave. But the relationship couldn't last because of league rules regarding the "minimum salary benefit."
If the Cowboys had been allowed to negotiate with Robinson, they probably would have signed him to a nice extension in the $3 million-a-year area before the 2011 season ended.
Instead, Robinson is in Jacksonville with a five-year, $32.5 million contract and hopefully a lifetime of financial security, while the Cowboys are left with who exactly as their No. 3 wide receiver in 2012?
It has some Cowboys fans afraid their team won't be as fortunate this season as it was last season when Robinson dropped in from out of nowhere to lead the team with 11 touchdowns on 54 catches for 858 yards.
You don't really need to bury your head under the covers in fear.
The Cowboys did not dial up a ton of plays specifically for Robinson last year.
His biggest plays came when coverage filtered to the other wideouts or to Witten (hello, 70-yard touchdown versus Philadelphia) or plays broke down. This isn't meant as a knock on Robinson, because he was terrific last year. He and Romo were simpatico when plays went haywire, and that takes skill, not time.
Just ask Roy Williams that.
The Cowboys don't need to replace Robinson's numbers with one guy.
Robinson wasn't really the team's No. 3 wide receiver last year. He was more like a No. 2.25, considering the time Austin missed with a hamstring injury. He produced in a way similar to how Patrick Crayton produced in 2007 when thrust into the lineup because of an injury to Terry Glenn. Crayton caught 50 passes for 697 yards and had seven touchdowns.
When Crayton was in a No. 3 role, his per-year averages were 33.5 catches, 507.3 yards and 3.8 touchdowns.
That's more what the Cowboys have to find.
Ah, but what about the injury worries regarding Austin and Dez Bryant, you ask? Well, teams can't hold their breath on that. Coach Jason Garrett trusts his system, Romo and receivers you think you know (Kevin Ogletree) and those you don't (Andre Holmes, Danny Coale, Dwayne Harris, Raymond Radway).
He also trusts that Austin and Bryant will be better served with a year in strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik's offseason program.
Not only did a lack of salary-cap room keep the Cowboys from talking to Jacoby Jones, who is reportedly headed to Baltimore, but so did a lack of, say, interest. Other available and more veteran wide receivers have done little to excite the Cowboys. Now if a Donald Driver becomes available somehow, some way, the Cowboys would be well served to reunite him with assistant head coach Jimmy Robinson, who coached him in Green Bay.
"You probably always prefer to have a guy emerge because that means he's playing well enough to say, 'Hey, I'm the guy,'" Garrett said. "But look at the wide receivers the last couple of years [and] we've played a number of different guys."
The Ogletree-Harris-Holmes-Radway-Coale receiving tree has produced just 25 NFL catches for 294 yards, and they all belong to Ogletree.
Ogletree appeared on the outs in February when the team told him they would not tender him a deal as a restricted free agent, but he came back with a one-year deal worth about $640,000 and allegedly a better attitude.
"If you remember before we drafted Dez Bryant, Kevin was starting to emerge at the end of his rookie year as a guy we threw to a lot at times, quick-screen types of plays, run after the catch, and he did positive things," Garrett said. "Then we drafted Dez and his opportunities became much more limited. But I think he did a good job the last couple of years trying to stay with it, fight through it and take advantage of the opportunities he did get."
If Ogletree has favored-nation status with Garrett, then Holmes has it with owner and general manager Jerry Jones. Earlier in the offseason, Holmes was the first name Jones mentioned as a possible replacement for Robinson, which raised eyebrows since Holmes spent most of 2011 on the practice squad and was hurt once called up to the active roster.
Garrett called Holmes "quarterback friendly."
"He's really a big guy with long arms and he just showed a real tenacity playing on the scout team against the defensive starters, to run good routes, to be aggressive to the ball," Jimmy Robinson said. "He showed that he can measure up physically in this league, so now it's about learning our system and doing things the way we do them ... instead of running them off cards."
The way the Cowboys talked of Harris last year as a fifth-rounder is how they're talking now about Coale, this year's fifth-rounder. Radway would have made the team as an undrafted free agent last summer if not for a broken ankle suffered in the final seconds of the final preseason game. He is just now rounding back into shape.
"I'm hopeful that we have that guy here now," Jimmy Robinson said, "but time will tell."
They aren't exactly household names, but neither was Laurent Robinson.