As of this writing, we are just over a week away from the official start of the NFL free agency period. Currently, we have just wrapped the silly exhibition of watching college athletes work out in skin-tight underwear. Yet, with all that being said, here are the Dallas Cowboys, making the most noise, leaving themselves open to scrutiny.
As the NFL’s organizational brass descended on Indianapolis for the Scouting Combine, the media had an opportunity to ask questions of the “higher ups.” One of those dignitaries was Cowboys Executive VP Stephen Jones who was asked directly about the future of a few players, namely running back Ezekiel Elliott and receiver Amari Cooper.
While Jones was effusive in his desire to let it be known how positively he feels about Zeke, the same could not be said about Cooper. Jones told Jori Epstein of the USA Today the following:
"“It’s too early for me to address that yet. We’re continuing to have conversations. A lot of things affect that. There are some moving parts to that that we’ll have to continue to massage as we move forward.”"
As the week progressed, more rumors began to swell off the back of this statement that has made it almost a foregone conclusion that Amari Cooper will be playing football somewhere besides Dallas in 2022. This news did not sit well with a large majority of Cowboys fans.
Whenever news drops, the immediate reactions that follow are always filled with emotion. That does not mean that those reactions are right or wrong, but it’s almost always best to give things a few days to marinate.
Last week, as I wrote about trying to find money for Dallas to be moderate players in the free-agent market, I addressed the Cooper situation. Here’s what I wrote:
"The Cowboys cannot go into next season with just CeeDee Lamb and flotsam at the receiver. If Dallas were to get some “wink, wink” assurance from all three other free agents at this position, I’m fine with getting $14M towards the cap and cutting Amari Cooper."
The news of a potential release of Amari Cooper wasn’t the only rumor, however. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, it appears that receiver Michael Gallup could be returning to the Cowboys.
Locking in Gallup does ease the blow of losing Cooper a little. If Dallas can get Cedrick Wilson to come back as well, that helps too. Throw in a day one or day two draft pick in a very deep receiver draft, and the “three for one” concept continues to make releasing Amari Cooper more palatable.
Of course, doing all this will require two things for all of this to work in the Cowboys favor. For one, receiver CeeDee Lamb will need to ascend to a true No. 1 receiver. The other is that Gallup, Wilson and (insert WR4 here) will all need to up their game as well.
There are also rumors that Dallas may seriously consider applying the franchise tag to free agent tight end Dalton Schultz. This move, in the wake of releasing Cooper, makes almost no sense. Sure, Schultz had a great year in 2021, but he is absolutely not worth $11M. Also, giving that money to Schultz really hampers the ability to give money to other, more important free agents such as defensive end Randy Gregory.
Beyond all that, a lot of people are angry over this potential Cooper release, citing Elliott’s contract as a reason as to why Dallas is making this move. This is just plain ridiculous. Not only is Elliott still productive (he rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2021 on basically one leg) but it also aims anger at the wrong contract.
If you want to point to a contract that put the Cowboys in a bad position, let me offer you the deal they gave to now former Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith. In less than two years, Smith went from signing a six-year, $68M deal to getting released. According to Spotrac, Smith counts for over $16.5M in dead money for last year and next.
Other people are complaining about “wasting” a draft pick to acquire Cooper, only to let him walk three years later. This is also a little shortsighted. Yes, most first-round draft picks are expected to be on the team that drafts them for a minimum of four years. You also hope that first-rounder delivers from a talent standpoint and produces.
The truth is that hope is more certainly a 50/50 proposition. A lot of first-round draft picks do not pan out. Some do not make it four years with one team. Others don’t make it four years in the league. The Cowboys got a high yield for their “squandered” pick from Cooper. Making that move was worth the pick, regardless of whether or not Amari is in Dallas in 2022.
One point of view I do tend to agree with, however, is that letting Cooper walk does reduce the talent level on this team. After watching the Rams do everything short of sacrificing virgins and chickens to get a Super Bowl, a fan base starving for a quarter of a century is rightful in their anger at diminishing the talent on this roster.
Ultimately, if this truly is the end of Amari Cooper’s time in Dallas, it does sting, but it is not a death blow to this team’s chances in 2022. Seeing Cooper in another jersey in 2022 will be a bummer because he’s a good player and a good guy off the field. If he lands in Washington or Philadelphia, it will be a much tougher pill to swallow. Still, Dallas should be a playoff team next season.
A receiving corps of Lamb, Gallup, Wilson and a top-100 draft pick is not without talent. Adding another top-100 draft pick to the offensive line should provide a boost to the running game. Some of the money saved by releasing Cooper should also go towards retaining Gregory, which helps the defense.
You are right to be angry about this move. You should definitely be hesitant to believe in this front office. It should also be said, however, that there is some slight overreaction to this news. Cooper is not a generational player. He’s not truthfully even a top 10 receiver. Feel free to vent, but let’s see how 2022 plays out before already calling this move the reason for impending doom.