The Cowboys had traded Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns in part because of his $20 million salary and in part because they believed Lamb was ready to be their next No. 88 to assume the No. 1 receiver role, like Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant.
Lamb had a strong season in 2022, catching 107 passes for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns. He was voted a second-team All Pro and was named to the Pro Bowl for the second straight year. But he wants more.
“I know that I didn’t put my best foot forward,” Lamb said. “I didn’t put my best out there yet.”
In Cowboys history, only Irvin and tight end Jason Witten have recorded 100 catches in a season. Only Irvin and Bryant have had more receiving yards than Lamb in a season in team history.
Irvin was 25 when he had his breakout season in 1991 with 1,523 yards. Bryant was 24 when he had 1,382 yards in 2012. Lamb turned 24 in April.
“CeeDee’s a guy, I’ll say it, I believe it, I think he’ll be the best receiver in this league honestly,” quarterback Dak Prescott said earlier in the offseason. “Him just saying he wants to be more available is him saying he wants the ball and he’s going to go make plays when he can. Confident guy, very smart. He’s really only scratched the surface in what he’s capable of doing.”
Lamb sees more ahead because of what he and Prescott have not been able to do yet.
“Listen, I ain’t have Dak a whole season,” Lamb said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”
In three years, they have played just 32 games together because of injuries. Prescott missed 11 games in 2020, Lamb’s rookie year, because of a dislocated and fractured right ankle. They each missed a game in 2021 because of a right calf strain (Prescott) and a concussion (Lamb). Last year, Prescott missed five games because of a broken thumb on his right hand.
In those 32 games, they have combined for 176 catches, 2,395 yards and 15 touchdowns. Nine of Lamb’s 10 regular-season games with 100 yards receiving have come with Prescott starting. He has started games with Cooper Rush, Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, since the start of 2020, there have been 99 quarterback-receiver duos that have played at least 25 games together. Prescott-Lamb’s 74.8 yards per game together rank ninth.
Among the active duos, Prescott and Lamb trail only Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams, Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings, Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengalss and Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs.
To end a two-minute drill Saturday, Prescott and Lamb connected perfectly on a pass to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Lined up in the slot, Lamb was able to use traffic to separate from the defender and give him room to drag his feet for the score.
“Dak and CeeDee definitely have established an excellent foundation,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s not only what they do on the field but what they do off the field. I think you’re seeing CeeDee has really grown in our locker room as a leader. Dak’s obviously a leader. So their connection, football wise, is very strong.”
The Cowboys and Lamb are currently in negotiations on a long-term deal. While he is under contract through 2024 with the team picking up his fifth-year option worth $17.99 million, they would like to sign him the way they signed Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs through 2028 at the start of training camp.
Six wide receivers make at least $24 million per season, led by Miami’s Tyreek Hill, who averages $30 million a year. Lamb is letting his agent, Tory Dandy, handle the business.
“I told him he has full range,” Lamb said. “I just want the best of the best as far as the best for me and make sure everything is right and when it’s right just come let me know something. Other than that I’m just going to keep working, keep being in this moment with my guys, and when it’s time to come September, we trying to start if off right.”
More importantly to Diggs and Prescott, they want to finish it right as well with a full 17-game season.
With another 1,000-yard season, Lamb would be the Cowboys’ first receiver with three straight 1,000-yard seasons since Bryant (2012-14). Irvin holds the team mark with five straight 1,000-yard seasons (1991-95).
With at least 100 receptions, Lamb would be the first receiver in team history to post consecutive 100-catch seasons.
“Man, looking to exceed definitely. So whatever you’ve seen, I’m looking to -- I would say double it, but I’ll be more realistic -- I’m looking to be better,” Lamb said. “Catches to yards and touchdowns. So expect a lot.”