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3 & Out: Hangin' In There With Mr. Cooper


FRISCO, Texas – So much for a quiet bye week.

No time to reflect on the previous seven games in this space. Let's get right into the Cowboys' agreement with the Oakland Raiders to trade for wide receiver Amari Cooper – what it means and what's next.

I Know…

it's extremely difficult for Jerry and Stephen Jones to part with a first-round draft pick in any scenario, which tells me two things about this trade.

One, they're convinced Cooper can be a star wearing the star. Two, management is showing belief in the players and coaches to go win the NFC East.

The Cooper decision wasn't made cavalierly. Yes, the Cowboys have traded a total of three first-round picks for three veteran wide receivers in the last 18 years: two for Joey Galloway in 2000, one for Roy Williams (plus a third) in 2008, and now one for Cooper. But the Joneses and player personnel VP Will McClay have put a major emphasis on building through the draft in the 10 years since the Williams deal.

Look at the structure of the active roster: 33 of 53 total players and 18 of 22 starters are homegrown, meaning they were drafted or signed as college free agents. That's not counting center Travis Frederick, a Pro Bowl player currently on injured reserve. This front office values building through the draft.

Clearly, they believe the 24-year-old Cooper is better than any 20-, 21- or 22-year-old receiver prospect in next year's draft. Easier to deal away a top pick when you're getting a young player back, not one closer to 30.

So, can the division be won? The front office must believe so, strongly.

Nine games remain after the bye. The Redskins (4-2) have a 1.5-game lead on Dallas (3-4) and the rest of the East. But with four games left against division opponents, the Cowboys largely control their own destiny here.

The defense is playing at a championship level, ranked second in points allowed and third in yards allowed. The offense has shown flashes, particularly at home, most notably a 40-point outburst against Jacksonville.

Will it work? Time will tell. But team brass deserves credit for identifying the passing game issues, acknowledging the offseason approach at receiver largely hasn't worked, and making a bold move to fix it now while there's still time left in this season.

I Think…

all that said, it's inaccurate to point to the Cooper trade and say, 'All's well.'

The receivers have taken a ton of outside criticism. But all four losses – all on the road – have been a collective struggle on offense. Against Washington, quarterback Dak Prescott lost two fumbles that led to a Redskins touchdown and flipped field position. He also was sacked four times, hit nine times. Three holding penalties and a chop block infraction wrecked drives. Ezekiel Elliott had the second-lowest single-game rushing average of his career (2.3).

Cole Beasley has been effective, on pace for a career-high tying 75-catch season. Rookie Michael Gallup continues to make progress as a playmaker on the outside.

With Cooper, the biggest thing that jumps out to me is his ability to make contested catches. He's big and physical and will fight for the ball. That's so important for a young quarterback in games this tight where one play can make the difference (see: DeAndre Hopkins' overtime reception against Dallas that led to the deciding field goal.)

And, perhaps Cooper's presence will loosen things up for Elliott on the ground. But everything still starts up front, and the offensive line knows it must win up front more often than it did against Washington.

I Have No Idea…

how quickly Cooper will get up to speed, but the bye week should help.

In Oakland, Cooper has played in a system with similarities to Scott Linehan's offense. Keep in mind that former Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing, now in Minnesota, coached under Linehan in Detroit for four years. Cowboys tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier was also Cooper's offensive coordinator at Alabama.

The key stretch for me is after the Week 9 home game against Tennessee. The Cowboys then start a four-games-in-18-days stretch at Philadelphia, at Atlanta, against Washington and against New Orleans. That's a lot to pack into two and a half weeks with a new receiver.

But the Cowboys believe Cooper is the real deal, or they wouldn't have agreed to trade their richest draft asset for him. The time, indeed, is now.