Heading into this offseason, the general consensus was that Laurent Robinson would be sticking around in Dallas. With Robinson locked in as the No. 3 receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, their rotation would be set and there wouldn't be any need to agonize over who would be replacing him in this offense.
But enough dwelling on Robinson and how, with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, that combination could've been considered a top-five trio. Robinson elected to take his breakout season and his talents to Jacksonville in exchange for a bloated contract. Can you blame him?
Having Robinson back would've been the cherry on top of this offseason outside of signing Mario Williams, but you can't have everything. Just ask Jerry Jones how he feels about the salary-cap penalty that was deftly doled out by Roger Goodell and his sidekick John Mara.
Management can say all they want about that not being a factor in their offseason plans, but I feel that it had an adverse impact on bringing back Robinson.
So now the Cowboys are faced with the dilemma of figuring out how best this position stacks up in relation to the candidates on their roster. It's hard to have any sort of concrete answer after minicamp, OTAs and what's transpired in the last few day, but they need to figure it out quickly.
Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are firmly entrenched as the starters, but beyond that is anybody's guess. Austin had a 2011 season to forget and will be looking to bounce back to the player he was when he burst onto the scene. Bryant, who is entering a crucial phase in his development, is primed for a breakout year but must focus more on football and less on drama.
It is quite possible that Bryant still could face suspension if Goodell feels that he tarnished the shield. Either way, it makes finding Robinson's replacement and rounding out the rest of the unit that much more important. Depending on how the receiving corps progresses as training camp transpires, I feel the Cowboys should have their eyes wide open for any and all contingency plans. Perhaps Mike Wallace? Braylon Edwards? Plaxico Burress?
But let's put all of that aside for a moment and focus on the in-house candidates that are looking to replace Robinson and how they rank from a preliminary point of view.
Coale, a fifth-round draft pick, was the early favorite everyone believed would have the best chance to replace Robinson. However, after sustaining a fractured foot, his main focus is just getting healthy enough to return to the field so he can compete.
Although he's behind in the process, I still expect him to make the roster, barring any setbacks, and have a legitimate shot to replace Robinson.
All Beasley has done is make plays. Whether it be in the OTA sessions, minicamp and even in recent days. It's obvious that he doesn't possess ideal size, but I think people are starting to draw the Wes Welker comparisons just a little bit more. His quickness and ability to work in the slot and outside makes for a very enticing prospect.
The Cowboys will not be able to sneak him through waivers unless he has a dreadful camp or gets injured. A star may be born, but for now, I'll take him as a replacement for Robinson. His chances are that good.
Last year's fifth-round pick will have an uphill battle if he doesn't come ready to play. For Harris, the margin for error is slim. Physically, I like his build and hopefully he can now fully grasp Jason Garrett's offense enough to be a contributor. He will need to show improvement from last season as a receiver or be able to grab hold of the return-game duties to make this team.
I don't see him as a replacement for Robinson as of yet, but that's up to him.
An undrafted rookie who will have no choice but to be consistent every day to have a chance. He won't replace Robinson and like Harris, there is little margin for error. He's a solid route-runner, has deceptive quickness and will need to show something that separates himself from the rest of the group to make the team.
A favorite of Jerry Jones, Holmes has tremendous size and he's intriguing because of that. As long as he doesn't disappoint during camp or look lost in game action, he has a roster spot. I see Holmes as a definite possibility to replace Robinson, especially because of Coale's injury.
If he can use that size to his advantage in conjunction with grasping the offense, then this can be a dangerous weapon.
The Cowboys brought him back probably because of his familiarity with Garrett's offense, but his performance last year was an embarrassment. Dallas had nothing to lose by signing him, but at this point he's not even performing better than Beasley.
Probably more of a candidate for the No. 5 or No. 6 spot if they elect to go that route. Ogletree has shown flashes of his talent at times, but I can remember times last year when he ran incorrect routes and missed some opportunities to gain Tony Romo's trust.
He needs to seize the moment.
Az Hakim's little brother definitely has the raw ability and track-star speed, but while Benford is a better route-runner, Hakim needs more polish in that department. Could be a candidate in the return game, but the Cowboys can't afford to carry any specialists that offer little else on their roster.
He could turn some heads, but it looks like he's practice-squad bound.
Raymond Radway/Donovan Kemp
It was sad to see Radway go down last year because I thought he had a chance to contribute. Now I'd say his chances aren't that great and it's a shame. He's not a replacement for Robinson but still could be in the mix if he can make plays as he did a year ago.
Kemp is merely a camp player who can take reps to preserve the starters and may be worth a spot on the practice squad.
Is there another Laurent Robinson out there? Highly unlikely, but the Cowboys must keep their eyes peeled on available candidates as they monitor the situation in front of them. As I mentioned, they could get glamorous and go all out for Wallace or take a chance on veterans such as Edwards or Burress. I don't think they'll go for a high-profile name, but anything is possible.
With the 2012 season approaching rapidly, the Cowboys need to adjust the lenses on their microscopes and put the wide receiver situation more into focus. Finding the right replacement for Robinson won't be easy, but training camp and the preseason will ultimately dictate the outcome. Let's just hope it doesn't take too much time to figure it out.
The dawn of an NFL season waits for no one.