Quietly, the Dallas Cowboys were able to re-sign former first round selection Jonathan Cooper. Could the offensive lineman resurrect his career in Dallas?
When talking about the best offensive line in the NFL, you are likely to mention the Dallas Cowboys first. Bolstering three Pro Bowlers, the Cowboys O-line is considered by many as the premier positional group in the league.
But Dallas has sacrificed three first round selections over the past seven years in order to obtain All-Pros at left tackle, Tyron Smith, center, Travis Frederick and right guard, Zack Martin. The talented trio, along with left guard Ronald Leary and right tackle Doug Free, made up the best offensive line in all of football last year.
But earlier this offseason, Free decided to retire after a 10-year career. And Leary signed a four-year, $36 million deal to join the Denver Broncos via free agency. Their exits have now left two massive voids along the Cowboys offensive line.
One of those holes will be plugged by 6-foot-4, 315 pound La’el Collins. The former undrafted free agent out of LSU in 2015 should be returning to the Cowboys this season after suffering a season-ending toe injury last September. Collins was expected to resume starting duties at left guard. But Free’s recent retirement could mean a move to right tackle.
More from The Landry Hat
- 3 ways Cowboys’ Dak Prescott can have a bounce-back season in 2023
- Cowboys News: Dallas sets pre-draft visit with potential Dalton Schultz upgrade
- NFL executives heaping praise on offseason is uncharted territory for Cowboys
- 3 free agent signings from NFC East rivals that left Cowboys fans laughing
- Cowboys News: Brandin Cooks sends flattering message to CeeDee Lamb, Stephon Gilmore
2015 third round selection Chaz Green would be the perfect replacement for Free. But the offensive lineman out of Florida has struggled with injuries during his first two seasons in Dallas, playing in just four total games in that span.
But a quiet re-signing this offseason could end up paying off big for the Cowboys along their offensive line. First signed less than two weeks prior to Dallas’ big divisional playoff matchup against the Green Bay Packers in January was offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper.
Cooper was the seventh overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, chosen by the Arizona Cardinals. At the time, he was the first offensive guard selected in the top ten in over 15 years!
After three seasons in Arizona, Cooper was traded to the New England Patriots last March. But when he was surprisingly waived by the Pats in early October, Jonathan was immediately claimed by the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately for Cooper, he would be without a job again just two months later.
After being on four different teams within a span of a year, Cooper’s career trajectory appears to be in an uncontrollable nosedive. And Dallas could be his last stop before the free fall ends.
But Cooper is exactly the type of player the Cowboys love to take a chance on. He’s a former high selection who is still young enough to save his career. And maybe playing beside three All-Pros is exactly what Cooper needs to make that happen.
"“Glad you pointed out Cooper was a top-10 pick,” responded Rob Phillips, Senior Writer for DallasCowboys.com to a recent mailbag question. “The Cowboys realized that, too, when they signed him at the end of last season. Why not add a player with so much initial promise to a team and coaching staff that has developed three first-round picks into All-Pros? Even if he isn’t a starter here, maybe he can develop into a versatile interior guy who can help at guard or center.”"
Cooper initially wanted to test out the free agency market this offseason. But he quietly re-signed a one-year deal to stay in Dallas last week.
Coming out of North Carolina, Cooper was viewed as an ultra-athletic interior lineman with excellent pass protection skills, a great work ethic and a Wonderlic score of 34. But he fractured his left fibula during a preseason game his rookie year and seemingly has never been the same.
Perhaps Dallas is the perfect place for Cooper to rebuild his confidence and earn a role beside some of the best offensive lineman in the NFL. If Cooper can make strides this offseason, it’s not out of the realm of possibility he could contribute serious minutes along the Cowboys offensive line this season.