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Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup may be ready for a slot comeback

Gallup put up productive seasons in the slot and has been playing there more this season.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup was well on his way toward a lucrative free-agent deal last year. A 2018 third-round pick, Gallup had been successful in a variety of roles with the Cowboys, posting a 1,100-yard season in his second year.

Unfortunately, a calf injury landed him on injured reserve for a portion of the 2021 season. He was solid when he returned, but a torn ACL in the Cowboys’ Week 17 game ended his quest to test the open market.

He still got a fairly good deal from the Cowboys, but it was far less than what he likely would have earned on the open market had he been healthy. He received just $10 million as a signing bonus and has no guaranteed money in his deal after 2023, meaning he’ll likely be a former Cowboy at that point.

His contract isn’t the reason I wanted to highlight Gallup this week, though. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound receiver presents an interesting matchup conundrum for the Packers this week, and how they cover (or attempt to cover) him could be revealing.

During his most productive seasons, Gallup spent a noteworthy amount of time in the slot. In 2018 and 2019, his best statistical years, he played 11.9 and 13.5 percent of his snaps in the slot, respectively.

But his slot usage dropped precipitously the next two seasons. He played just 6.3 percent of his snaps in the slot in 2020 and played 8 percent of his snaps there in 2020.

As he works his way back from injury, Gallup has played a role more in line with his best statistical seasons. Inactive for the first few weeks of 2022, the Cowboys have used him in the slot for 11.9 percent of their offensive snaps since his return, and Gallup has been fairly effective there. He’s recorded 12 catches for 135 yards and one touchdown — hardly game-breaking numbers, but good enough for a second or third option finding his feet after a significant injury.

Even if Gallup is merely “solid” from the slot, though, that gives the Packers a bit of a conundrum. Rasul Douglas has played inside a lot this year, but Eric Stokes’ injury might have him on the outside more than usual. That would leave Keisean Nixon to man the slot, a good enough solution if nothing else in the secondary changes. But the Packers’ addition of Johnathan Abram this week has Joe Barry and others talking about trying Darnell Savage as a slot defender.

If that ends up happening — or if some experimentation leads to uncertainty there — the Packers could leave themselves open to exploitation by a player who was once (and could be again) a very good slot receiver. Given the way the rest of the Packers’ season has gone, a Gallup breakout game almost feels likely. If it does come, at least we won’t be surprised when we see where it happens.