T.Y. Hilton isn’t OBJ. But he’s healthy and could absolutely help Cowboys

The Cowboys have always known what they wanted for Christmas: A receiver who can help them make a Super Bowl run. It’s why they had spent so much time the last month shopping for Odell Beckham. 

Ultimately, they’re better off with T.Y. Hilton instead. 

Maybe a fully healthy, still-in-his-prime Beckham would have been a better option, but that guy just isn’t available right now — not with Beckham still recovering from a torn ACL, and unlikely to play until the postseason, if then. Hilton may be 33 and was out of football for the past year, but he’s healthy, ready to play now and according to Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who watched his workout, Hilton “definitely can still run.” 

“Got a lot of speed,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in his weekly spot on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. “Runs really well. And, of course, he’s ready to go.”

That readiness might have been the most important factor, because there is no doubt the Cowboys would have preferred the 30-year-old Beckham if they thought he was able to play. In fact, Jones made it clear he still has interest in adding Beckham, possibly right before or even during the playoffs, if at some point he is healthy enough to help.

In the meantime, their need at receiver wasn’t going away. They seemingly have everything on offense — a powerful running game, a strong offensive line, a very good quarterback — but they’ve long needed someone to take some of the pressure off No. 1 receiver CeeDee Lamb (74 catches, 961 yards, 6 touchdowns). Michael Gallup (30-337-3) is playing better lately as he continues to recover from a January ACL tear of his own and tight end Dalton Schultz (41-430-3) is a weapon when healthy. And that helps.

But to really hang with teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and — if they can get to Super Bowl LVII — the Buffalo BillsCincinnati Bengals or Kansas City Chiefs, the Cowboys knew they’d need more. They’re scoring 35.7 points and gaining 410 yards per game in the seven games since quarterback Dak Prescott returned from his thumb injury, but one more weapon might make their offense unstoppable. And they just weren’t getting enough out of receivers like Noah Brown and rookie Jalen Tolbert.

“Great players make great plays. Great ones make exceptional plays,” Jones told reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Dallas on Wednesday. “And so I hope we advance here where a handful of great plays — if I may be arm-waving about it — could be the difference in a world championship.”

Could the 5-10, 183-pound Hilton be the one who makes that difference? Surely, he isn’t what he was during his prime, when he had five 1,000-yard seasons in a six-year span for the Indianapolis Colts (2013-18). There’s no telling what’s really left in his body after a disc injury in his neck and a quad injury and a concussion limited him to just 10 games — and only 23 catches for 331 yards — last year. 

NFL Wishlist: OBJ to Cowboys? Raiders need a reset? Can the Ravens get healthy?

NFL Wishlist: OBJ to Cowboys? Raiders need a reset? Can the Ravens get healthy?

The ‘FOX NFL Kickoff’ discuss whether the Dallas Cowboys can land Odell Beckham Jr., the Las Vegas Raiders needing a reset and if can the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson can get healthy.

Expectations should be tempered. But the Cowboys don’t need Hilton to be a star, or even that big-play player. There are a lot of other things he brings that, in theory, can help push them over the top. It’s not just the speed that made him a four-time Pro Bowler. It’s his experience, his intelligence and his leadership skills, too.

“He’s really one of the smartest receivers that I can remember,” Jones said. “He also brings a ton of experience. That’s big, real big because we want him to step in immediately. He’s seen the kind of routes that we’re going to run. I think he’s a real pick-up for us that will frankly hit the ground running and immediately give us some help.”

Since Hilton is “fit and ready to go,” as Jones said, he might even get a few snaps on Sunday in Jacksonville, but his real chance to make an impact figures to come on Christmas Eve in Dallas in the Cowboys’ showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly has one of the NFL’s best secondaries, with corners Darius SlayJames Bradberry and Avonte Maddox. It would be much easier for them to clamp down on Lamb and Gallup if they had no one else to really worry about.

The presence of Hilton might just make them think twice about how to cover them. And the way the Cowboys offense is clicking right now, it could make a huge difference if there was a little less attention paid to Lamb even for an extra play or two.

Of course, that’s only a theory until Hilton steps on the field and proves that he really hasn’t lost anything at his age and with so much time away from the game. But for just $600,000 guaranteed — plus another $1.2 million in incentives the Cowboys would gladly pay if he helps them reach the Super Bowl — it’s totally worth the risk.

Remember, Beckham was looking for a long-term deal with significant guaranteed money. His fantasy was a deal that paid him an average of $20 million per year. The value on Hilton is much better. And he’s almost certainly better than anyone else the Cowboys could’ve found this late in the season. 

“He’s an excellent addition, especially this time of year,” said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy. “I’ve never had the experience of adding the quality of a player like T.Y. Hilton to your roster in December. It’s very unique.” 

It could be the difference between the Cowboys having another disappointing January and being a true Super Bowl contender, too. And if it doesn’t work out … well, Jones made it clear he might not be done shopping. 

There’s still that other, more high-profile receiver option looming, too.

“I don’t want to talk about that but stand by,” Jones said on Wednesday. “This thing could break.”

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Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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