FRISCO, Texas – For only the second time in his six-year NFL career, Amari Cooper did not make the Pro Bowl.
From a production standpoint, however, 2020 might have been Cooper's best season yet. And the Cowboys are confident the 26-year-old receiver's absolute best is still ahead.
In his first season of a five-year, $100 million deal, Cooper became just the fourth player in Cowboys history (ninth time) to reach 90 catches. Two weeks ago he had minor clean-up surgery on his ankle that shouldn't impact his offseason work.
With a career-high 92 catches, Cooper also became the first player to reach 90 in a season since Dez Bryant in 2012 and 2013.
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones compared Cooper to another Cowboys legend.
"Amari Cooper is one of the most talented football players we've ever had on the Dallas Cowboys," Jones said in a recent interview with DallasCowboys.com. "He has unlimited potential to go from here to a higher level. I think his surgery is going to allow him to do that. I think all of this is an experience-builder.
"I know that Michael Irvin told me the single-most thing he did in his career to make him a Hall of Famer was when he rehabbed through his injury and saw how much football meant to him. More likely than not, some of these negative experiences -- injury or setbacks -- can motivate you to be a Hall of Famer. It happened to Michael Irvin."
Irvin was dealing with a much more significant injury, of course, having torn his ACL in his second season with the Cowboys back in 1989. Irvin returned healthy the following year and resumed what turned out to be a Hall of Fame career.
It's not a direct comparison in that sense. But Jones and the Cowboys clearly believe Cooper is still an ascending player. That's why the club was willing to part with a first-round draft pick for Cooper in a midseason 2018 trade with the Raiders that pushed the Cowboys to the NFC East title.
After the 2019 season, Cooper said he would focus on becoming more consistent, even though he didn't take much stock into his surprising dip in production on the road compared to home games that year.
In 2020, that statistical contrast proved to be an aberration. Cooper had 48 catches for 468 yards and 2 touchdowns on the road, compared to 44 catches for 646 yards and 3 TDs at home. Close to an even split.
With 1,114 receiving yards, Cooper reached 1,000 yards for the fifth time in six seasons despite playing with four different Cowboys quarterbacks. The receiving trio of Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb proved as dynamic as advertised.
With quarterback Dak Prescott expected to return healthy from ankle surgery in 2021, it's something Cooper and the offense can build on moving forward.
"He's very consistent. He's so explosive," head coach Mike McCarthy said of Cooper. "He has the ability to play inside and outside and he also has the vertical speed to go over the top.
"If you watched his season, the productivity in my experience is he just kind of chips away at you. And all of sudden he has the ability to break the long way. That speaks to his numbers. … That goes Amari's skill set. He is a receiver that has all the tools."