Laurent Robinson broke out with the Dallas Cowboys in 2011. Now, after that one season, Robinson is headed towards free agency. Jerry Jones must weigh how much Robinson is worth to the Cowboys as he decides whether to re-sign Robinson.
Robinson had quite the season for the Cowboys in 2011. He was third in receiving yards (858) and receptions (54), while leading the team in yards per catch (15.9) and touchdowns. All of these were career highs for Robinson, a fifth-year pro. He placed fourth in the NFL in touchdowns.
This season was Robinson's first as an impact receiver. He had never had 40 receptions in a season or more than 30 yards per game in a full season. His 11 touchdowns in 2011 were almost three times more than his career touchdown total entering the season. Also, Robinson had only one 100-yard game before 2011 and one other game with 70 yards.
November 13 was Robinson's first multi-touchdown game.
Now, Robinson became a big-impact receiver for the Cowboys. He had touchdowns in eight games and multiple touchdowns in three games. His three 100-yard games were the most among Cowboys receivers.
Tony Romo loved throwing the deep ball to Robinson. Robinson caught two-thirds of his passes for first downs. Twelve of Robinson's receptions went for 20 yards or more and five went for 40 yards or more.
After Robinson went silent against the New York Jets in Week 1, the Cowboys released him. Upon being signed again before Week 3, Robinson made right and didn't look back. He became a valuable receiver while Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Miles Austin suffered injuries. Romo could count on Robinson being there week after week to help stretch the field.
How much should the Cowboys offer Laurent Robinson per year?
Now, Jones must consider that Robinson was up and down this season. Robinson had six games with 70 yards or more, as well as six games with fewer than 40 yards. Only once did Robinson have consecutive 70-yard games (Weeks 12-14).
With Robinson breaking out with the Cowboys at age 25, the former Illinois State Redbird found himself on the right team at the right time. Two of his first four seasons saw him playing with decent quarterbacks, Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan, both of whom were rookies when he played with them. Bradford was decent last season, and Ryan was solid.
However, Romo is head and shoulders above both. Romo has solidified himself as a professional and has become accurate and polished.
This should also be considered by Jones as he evaluates Robinson. Romo is the first real franchise quarterback from whom Robinson has caught passes.
Further, Jones must weigh how the receiving corps would fit together if he decides to re-sign Robinson. Witten is more of a possession receiver than a deep threat. Bryant can work intermediate- to long-range passes. Austin established himself as a deep threat in 2009 and 2010.
Perhaps Robinson could pair with Austin to cause confusion about to whom Romo will throw deep passes. Another way Robinson could be used is the intermediate and deep route mix for which Bryant is used.
Jones might want to consult with Jason Garrett about how he might configure the receiving corps if Robinson were to be re-signed. Garrett would know better than Jones how Robinson would fit into the system.
Robinson has expressed a desire to stay with the Cowboys. While wearing a Cowboys jersey at a charity event on Tuesday, Robinson told the Dallas Morning News, "I love wearing this jersey. I'm hoping to stay here as a Cowboy. But we'll see on March 13 when free agency starts. Hopefully, my dream can come true and I can remain a Cowboy."
Meanwhile, Bryan Broaddus of ESPNDallas said he wouldn't be surprised if the Cowboys let him sign elsewhere since Broaddus sees Austin and Bryant to be certain starters at wide receiver.
However, Jones is prone to excess. He probably wouldn't frown upon offering Robinson $3 or $4 million per year to stay with the Cowboys. If Robinson, whose wife discussed the idea of house shopping and settling down in Dallas, is serious about his love for Dallas, he'd take the offer instead of better offers he might receive elsewhere.
The aforementioned figure, averaged for four years, would be a realistic deal. Robinson wouldn't be worth the escalating deal Austin has. Also, he might not receive as much as Jason Witten, who makes between $3.5 and $4 million for the next three years.
Robinson could become a good fit in Dallas if Garrett works him in right. The issue for Jones is deciding if he's worth the money.