Ever since the Dallas Cowboys traded for Amari Cooper in the middle of the 2018 season by shipping off their first-round pick to the then-Oakland Raiders, Dak Prescott and the team’s passing game have elevated to new heights.
The Cowboys finished second in passing yards in 2019 (averaging 296.9 per game), largely due to Cooper’s presence on the outside, as he accumulated 79 catches for 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns.
However, there are many fans in Dallas that believe the best course of action is to let Cooper test the market as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Why? For starters, the star wide receiver dealt with a myriad of lower-body injuries in 2019, playing through most of the season banged up. The “injury-prone” label is being thrown around, and the question of whether to pay him top money at the position is not a matter of talent, but if it’s worth the lack of availability and inconsistency.
It’s no secret that this is quite possibly the most important offseason for the Cowboys in the last decade, as Cooper is just one of many top expiring contracts on the roster, which also includes quarterback Prescott, cornerback Byron Jones and defensive end Robert Quinn. Tough decisions will have to be made, and throughout this month, I will be breaking down the cases for each side of whether or not to re-sign each of these players — starting with Cooper.
The Case For Re-Signing Amari Cooper
The Cowboys’ offense is a different animal with a healthy Cooper in the lineup. For years, Dallas lacked an explosive, downfield threat who could separate against anybody in man coverage. It is one of the biggest reasons why they parted ways with Dez Bryant. Route running and separation are king at the receiver position, and one could argue that Cooper is the best in the league at accomplishing that.
He turned around the Cowboys’ season in 2018 and nearly lifted the team to the NFC Championship with his performances in the playoffs, racking up 13 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown in the two games against the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams. Without Cooper, Dallas was well on its way to earning a top-10 selection in the 2019 draft. Even more importantly, Prescott would be a step behind in his development phase.
Fans want change — no matter what it is — but they don’t know what they have until it’s gone. That is the case with Cooper.
His home/road splits are eye-opening and he rarely showed up to a game in 2019 fully healthy, but letting arguably a top-five receiver walk away when this roster is capable of competing for a Super Bowl seems foolish on the surface. This front office invested a first-round pick for Cooper just one year ago — I don’t think their intentions were to rent him.
The Case For Not Re-Signing Amari Cooper
There are several fair criticisms of Cooper and his future in Dallas going forward. In addition to the quad, knee and foot injuries he’s dealt with since arriving, those home/road splits are absolutely staggering.
Going back to when he was acquired in 2018, his four road performances resulted in 18 catches for 174 yards and zero touchdowns. On the other hand, in just two home games against the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles that same season, he accumulated 18 catches for 397 yards and five touchdowns.
In 2019, the home/road split numbers got worse. At home, he looked like one of the league’s elite, catching 52 passes for 869 yards and five touchdowns. On the road, he was invisible for long stretches, catching just 27 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns.
Prescott is likely to get franchise tagged, considering long-term talks with him and the front office have reportedly stalled, which leaves the Cowboys with a decision to make: keep Jones or Cooper. In my opinion, it is harder to find a productive starting cornerback in the NFL than it is to find a productive starting receiver. Michael Gallup also surpassed 1,000 yards in 2019 and looks like he is ready to be a No. 1 wideout. Not to mention this year’s receiver class is the deepest it has been in over a decade. With all of these factors in play, it is easy to see why many think the Cowboys should hesitate in paying Cooper over Jones this offseason.
What I Would Do
If I were the general manager of the Cowboys, I would prioritize Jones over Cooper in long-term negotiations. The position in today’s NFL is more replaceable than a starting outside cornerback. We started to see it with last year’s receiver class, as several picks outside the first round proved to be impact players right away. Rather than paying Cooper top wide receiver money, I will take my chances drafting from this 2020 pool of prospects if it means keeping Jones on the roster. Without Jones, the Cowboys are left barren in the secondary. Anthony Brown is unlikely to return as an unrestricted free agent, and underwhelming cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis will hit the open market next offseason. Without Cooper, the Cowboys have Gallup, Randall Cobb and likely an early-round draft pick from this 2020 class on the receiving depth chart.
Obviously the goal is to keep both on the team for next season, but if it is a binary decision to retain one or the other, I’m keeping Jones.
What I Think The Dallas Cowboys Will Do
Contrary to my opinion, I fully believe the Cowboys will do whatever they can to re-sign Cooper to a long-term extension. I think the gameplan in Dallas is to franchise Prescott, give Cooper top pass-catcher money and let Jones walk.
Jerry Jones wants to win now, and he will do everything in his power to make this offense as explosive as possible, even if it means losing a Pro Bowl cornerback in Byron Jones. The Cowboys’ front office put themselves in a tough predicament when they handed Ezekiel Elliott the largest running back deal in NFL history, and it’s now likely forced them to choose between Cooper and Byron Jones this offseason. At the end of the day, I would be absolutely shocked if Dallas accepted Cooper as a rental and let him test the open market.