The Dallas Cowboys are preparing to enter a wildly unpredictable and possibly tumultuous offseason. The Cowboys are currently slated to be $21 million over the 2022 salary cap and must get creative while trying to create financial breathing room. Several key Cowboys players are also set to reach free agency, including Michael Gallup, Dalton Schultz, Keanu Neal, among various others. If the Cowboys hope to retain any of their key free agents, sacrifices will have to be made elsewhere.
Dallas' offseason will likely include contract restructures, releases, and possibly a blockbuster trade or two that could help create the necessary cap space to field a competitive roster in 2022 and beyond. Star wide receiver Amari Cooper qualifies as an intriguing candidate to play elsewhere next season.
Cooper's abilities as a No. 1 receiver are not in question, but Dallas' ability to afford his hefty salary very much is. Cooper is set to account for $22 million toward the salary cap, via Spotrac. Releasing or trading Cooper would free up and create a significant amount of financial freedom for the cash-strapped Cowboys.
Dallas is unlikely to consider trading Cooper within the NFC, so we've identified three AFC teams that may attempt to trade for Cooper this offseason.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
The Las Vegas Raiders immediately come to mind when attempting to forecast which NFL franchises may consider acquiring Cooper this offseason via a blockbuster trade, despite his previous tenure with the franchise going poorly. The Raiders will usher in a new era of football in 2022 with the recent hires of general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels.
McDaniels is an offensive-minded coach and play-caller that will undeniably look to improve the Raiders' offense this offseason. The Raiders already possess some intriguing weapons on that side of the ball, including elite tight end Darren Waller and elusive slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. The Raiders are lacking a true alpha No. 1 receiver on the outside, however, and that's where Ziegler may get aggressive in an attempt to upgrade Vegas' passing game.
The unfortunate situation involving Henry Ruggs III unexpectedly downgraded Vegas' pass-catching corps. The Raiders have committed to Derek Carr as their quarterback of the future. As a franchise, their attention must shift to surrounding Carr with an elite pass catcher on the outside.
Owner Mark Davis is one of the most aggressive chief decision-makers in football and will allow Ziegler and McDaniels the rope and freedom necessary to improve their team in all areas. Cooper once departed the franchise on sour terms but that regime is no longer in place, and the Raiders aren't even in the same city anymore. Cooper to Vegas makes so much sense.
General manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich find themselves at a crossroads. They're seemingly unhappy with Carson Wentz's performance as their starting quarterback, but Wentz's contract paired with the draft capital they recently parted with to acquire his services means the Colts may be locked into giving Wentz at least one more opportunity to prove he's capable of serving as their quarterback of the future.
Ballard's plan may shift to surrounding Wentz with more weapons on the offensive side of the ball in hopes of making the passer’s job easier. Jonathan Taylor is a legitimate superstar at the running back position and Michael Pittman Jr. is a quality starting receiver on the outside, but Indianapolis could undeniably upgrade the position opposite Pittman on the boundary. Cooper is a technician that defeats press coverage with such nuanced route-running ability. His dominant presence on the outside would make Wentz's job easier in 2022, which should be the most realistic goal for the Colts to set out to achieve this offseason.
The Colts are currently set to possess $37 million in cap space, via Spotrac. Ballard has aggressively attempted to upgrade his Colts team via trades (DeForest Buckner and Wentz immediately come to mind) in the past. Acquiring Cooper may be viewed as a realistic possibility for the Colts this offseason.
Few teams are currently set to enter the 2022 campaign with a thinner group of pass-catchers than the Cleveland Browns. The controversial midseason departure of Odell Beckham Jr. forced the Browns to start the likes of Donovan Peoples-Jones and Rashard Higgins on the outside. Both Peoples-Jones and Higgins are NFL-caliber receivers, but neither player is capable of truly operating as Cleveland's WR1. In the slot, the security blanket that is the aging Jarvis Landry won't be around forever.
The Browns must aggressively upgrade their talent at the receiver position this offseason. They're primed to do so via their first-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, but general manager Andrew Berry must add a proven veteran receiver to the position room as well.
The upcoming season qualifies as a crucial campaign for starting quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is entering the final season of his five-year rookie contract following Cleveland's decision to exercise his fifth-year option. Mayfield took a significant step backward as a quarterback in 2021 and his chances of improving would receive a significant boost if Cleveland could acquire a legitimate WR1.
The Browns are in good standing in regards to the salary cap and need to add a plethora of talent at the receiver position. An aggressive move for Cooper would qualify as a necessary and notable addition.