When Dez Bryant tweeted it March 14, James Washington wondered: Did Bryant know something he didn’t?
“James Washington to the Dallas cowboys just know you heard it first right here,” Bryant, a Cowboys receiver for eight seasons, tweeted of his fellow Oklahoma State receiver product.
Washington settled for a brief response: an eyes emoji.
“I hadn’t heard anything from the Cowboys at that point,” he said.
But last Friday, four days after Bryant’s prescient tweet, Washington agreed to a one-year deal with Dallas.
The Steelers’ 2018 second-round selection leaves Pittsburgh to achieve a childhood dream in Dallas, a 2.5-hour drive from his hometown and roughly 3.5 from the ranch he now lives on. He brings to the Cowboys defined goals for his development and contributions. Washington carries no ill will toward the Steelers, he insists, but he’s excited about the change.
“I feel like with everything that transpired at Pittsburgh, I didn’t really get to show my full self,” Washington said Thursday by phone from his ranch. “We had a crowded room at receiver. But nothing against anyone else, I feel like there’s a lot of meat left on the bone. I didn’t really get to fully develop myself and make strides like I wanted to.
“I’m going to take full advantage of this opportunity in Dallas. Do what I can so that they get 110% of me and I can reach my full potential.”
New Cowboys WR James Washington says he “didn’t really get to show my full self” with Steelers.
“Nothing against anyone there but I think there’s a lot of meat left on the bone. I didn’t get to fully develop myself and take strides like I wanted to. I’m going to…give 110%.”
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) March 24, 2022
In four seasons with the Steelers, Washington caught 114 passes for 1,629 yards and 11 total touchdowns. He hit his most productive mark in 2019 with a team-high 735 yards. But he never started more than 10 games, his usage hovering between 44 and 68% of offensive snaps by the year. Fellow receivers Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool found more success in recent years than Washington.
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In Dallas, he wants to redefine his contributions and move forward by turning the clock back.
“I want to grow my game to be who I was in college, because I feel like who I was in college is who I’m meant to be,” Washington said. “I want to be that downfield threat, that physical guy, get involved in the run game. I want to do everything.”
Aggressiveness and physicality, Washington says, will be his calling card. Blocking for running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard? Washington is eager. Muscling for 50-50 balls and competing at the point of attack? Count him in. Washington has already begun studying offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s scheme in hopes he’s mentally ready for a smooth transition in OTAs. He values the Cowboys’ insight on how best to align him relative to fellow receivers CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup, but Washington prides himself in the versatility of routes he can run from the inside.
New #Cowboys WR James Washington (5-11, 213) with a pair of nice grabs against MIN last year, particularly showing off his impressive 39-inch vertical. Washington has primarily been a deep threat throughout his career (15.1 ADOT). pic.twitter.com/wrLr1shKj2
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) March 18, 2022
“It makes guys play it true,” he said. “Sometimes you’ll get guys who play on a defense and just because they think the route tree may be limited, they may play that coverage different. I feel like the guy who can take the top off or sit in zones and make guys play them true can also open up things for the guys outside or guys out back or swingouts.
“I’m definitely cognizant of that and going to do what I can with my time in the slot or wherever they have me.”
Washington has yet to work with Dak Prescott in his six days since agreeing to terms with the Cowboys, but he’s preparing to move his family to Dallas even while maintaining a ranch with the expertise of his Oklahoma State agricultural business degree. The 25 year old who feeds his horses and docks his cattle between two daily offseason workouts considers Dallas’ contract what makes him a “real-life Cowboy,” and he’s eager to build chemistry with quarterback Prescott whose work ethic and personality impress Washington.
“I’m going to work my butt off to do what I need to do and earn the respect of those guys,” Washington said. “The Cowboys offense is like a highlight reel every Sunday. I feel like they have something crazy going on (and) I feel like I can add to it.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Former Steelers WR James Washington gets fresh start with Cowboys