With free agency looming in March, roster turnover isn’t far away. However, the majority of the 2019 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, DallasCowboys.com will feature players who are currently under contract for next season, analyzing their past season and their future prospects.
Today, we continue the series with wide receiver Amari Cooper
What’s Been Good: It’s not a stretch to say Amari Cooper saved the 2018 season. Yes, there were other factors that contributed to the Cowboys’ 7-1 run after a 3-5 start, but it’s hard to undersell the impact of adding a Pro Bowl receiver to the equation. Just look at the stats. The Cowboys traded for Cooper on Oct. 22, the day following their last-second loss to Washington. In those first six games without Cooper, Dak Prescott averaged 206 passing yards per game – which would situate him roughly 24th in the league. In the 11 games after trading for Cooper, Prescott averaged 269 yards per game – which would have pegged him at seventh. That doesn’t even include the impact that Cooper had on Ezekiel Elliott, as the improved passing game opened up running room for the Pro Bowl running back. The Cowboys paid a steep price for Cooper in sending their first-round draft pick to Oakland, but Cooper paid it back in every way imaginable, helping the Cowboys to the second round of the playoffs in the process.
What’s Been Bad: Cooper had a few hiccups, to be fair. His 36-yard outing in Atlanta and his 32-yard outing in Indianapolis were low points. He also suffered a late-game fumble in the dramatic win at New York in Week 17. This is nitpicking, though. Even the best receivers don’t blow up the stat sheet every single week. The bottom line is that if you adjusted Cooper’s Dallas stats for a full, 16-game season, he’d have been projected at roughly 94 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. And that doesn’t include his two playoff performances, when he tallied 13 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown in games against the Seahawks and Rams. There’s not much bad about that, even with hiccups.
2018 Highlight: This one’s easy. The Cowboys’ offense was abysmal through three quarters against Philadelphia on Dec. 9, scoring just nine points to go along with two turnovers and a missed field goal. Then, the fourth quarter started and Amari Cooper took over. In the fourth quarter and overtime, he completely torched the Eagles’ defense, catching seven passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns. In rallying the Cowboys to a 29-23 win. He did everything, catching a 75-yard bomb to tie the game in the waning minutes. Then, in overtime, he clinched the win by snagging a tipped pass off Rasul Douglas’ arm and waltzing into the end zone.
What’s Next: If there’s one downside to the Cooper trade, it’s the timing of his career. The Cowboys acquired him at the halfway point of his fourth season, which means they only got the benefit of 11 games of Pro Bowl talent at the discounted rookie price. Heading into his fifth season, Cooper is now playing on the fifth-year option built into the contracts of all first-round draft picks. In 2018, his salary was $700,000, but in 2019 his salary will be roughly $14 million. On top of that, the Cowboys will need to re-sign him to make the trade worthwhile, and the early projection is that the new contract will cost them roughly $16 million per year. Of course, Cooper has proven he’s worth it. His heroics last fall earned him a third Pro Bowl nod in just four years in the NFL. He gives the Cowboys a bona fide No. 1 option at wide receiver, and he figures to be around for years to come. But his services won’t come cheaply.
It’s fair to say Amari Cooper saved the Cowboys’ 2018 season after they acquired him in a trade. How can he build on that success moving forward?
Bryan Broaddus’ Bottom Line: Shame on the front office and coaching staff for believing that receiver by committee was going to be a good idea coming into the season. But like every good team, they realized it was a terrible mistake and took a big swing to correct the problem. Amari Cooper was a home run in every sense of the word. He brought dynamic playmaking ability to the offense, which they were not even close to having. Cooper not only elevated his own play but also those around him. The offense thrived with him in the lineup and in my opinion single handedly turned around a franchise that was staring a losing season in the face. Amari Cooper is as rare as they come and his struggles in Oakland were a real benefit for the Cowboys. Adding him to the roster at the time might have been viewed as a reach, but nobody is questioning that move now.