The Dallas Cowboys made a big splash on Monday afternoon, trading their 2019 first-round selection for two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper, who starred for the Alabama Crimson Tide before being taken with the fourth overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, was a star for Oakland to begin his professional career before slumping last year and into this season. The Cowboys, though, thought highly enough of his talent to warrant spending a premium pick.
The price of a first-round pick is not ideal, and it does show just how desperate the front office was about adding a spark to this team. Dallas is undefeated inside AT&T Stadium this season, but things go sour when the Cowboys hit the road — posting an 0-4 record, while scoring an average of only 13.5 points per contest. Obviously, things needed to change — be it coaching staff or personnel.
On what appeared to be a quiet bye week, Dallas made a big move for three reasons: one, they must not feel that the crop of wide receivers in the upcoming class is all that strong. The class features some quality options — such as D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and N’Keal Harry, but there isn’t a bonafide sure-thing at the receiver position. That only became a bigger issue when Metcalf injured his neck on kickoff coverage in a win over Arkansas, cutting his season short. The Cowboys are clearly hesitant about the strength of this class, especially at the top, hence the move to acquire a potential WR1 through trade rather than waiting and taking their chances with an unknown in the spring.
Dane Brugler recently released his updated top-32 for the upcoming draft. Only one receiver made the cut (Brown), and you have to go all the way to number 28 to find him.
For Cowboys fans asking about next draft's 1st round WR prospects, here is my midseason top-32 Draft Board.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 22, 2018
I don't have a WR in the top-20: https://t.co/ijp14SJ3ZL
Working exclusively out of the slot, Brown is the only SEC receiver with 50-plus catches in 2018. He does an excellent job snapping off his routes, finding the sticks and giving his quarterback a target. His lack of tape as an outside receiver vs. press remains the largest question mark for his NFL transition.
Bucky Brooks makes a good point about why the Cowboys felt the need to go out and get a receiver now rather than waiting for one in the draft — after all, Cooper has made the Pro Bowl two times in his young career.
. @dallascowboys must’ve peeked ahead at the 2019 WR class and determined Amari Cooper is better than any top WR prospect. I would agree.. There’s not a Top 10-worthy WR in the next class.. Snagging a Top 5 pick/2x Pro Bowler is a better bet despite No. 89’s flaws— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) October 22, 2018
The draft class likely had a huge say in what went down on Monday, but it likely was not the lone factor. For instance, the Cowboys are aware that the NFC East is still up for grabs: Washington beat the Cowboys this past Sunday, but Dallas was a penalty away from more-than-likely heading to overtime. The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t exactly off to a strong start, either — blowing big fourth quarter leads to the Titans and the Panthers while also sitting with a 3-4 record. Oh, and the Giants are ... well, not good.
By making a move now, Dallas has the opportunity to make things interesting within the division. This seems like a year where an 8-8 or 9-7 record will clinch the wildcard spot. With questions surrounding Washington and Philly, Dallas will have a chance to be in the thick of things — if they can figure out the offensive side of the ball.
We heard the term “Dak-friendly” all offseason long as the Cowboys attempted to revamp the wide receivers room by parting ways with Dez Bryant and bringing in both Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson in free agency and then Michael Gallup in this past year’s draft; unfortunately, it hasn’t gone as planned, as overhauling the receivers position has not been as smooth as when Dallas revamped the defensive backs.
Now, the Cowboys have given Dak Prescott a potential number one, go-to wide receiver that can make life hard for defenses. Cooper isn’t a perfect receiver by any means — he is not a burner and he has had his struggles with drops — but his route-running and ability to get open are very attractive aspects of his game. Sanjay Lal was brought in to improve the route-running on this team, making Cooper an ideal fit. We already know Cole Beasley is as good as any with his routes, and Gallup has showed some promise in that regard as well.
The third reason why the Dallas Cowboys made the decision to acquire the two-time Pro Bowl receiver is because of their desire to give their quarterback every possible chance to succeed. Dak Prescott has had his fair share of very high highs and very low lows. Nobody understands him better than those within the organization. Whatever your feelings are on Prescott, he is the unquestioned starting quarterback on this team and is well-respected within his own locker room. While he did have some critical mistakes in the loss to Washington, he was also one of the biggest reasons why Dallas had the opportunity to send the game to overtime in the first place.
There is a lot to like with Dak — he is a leader, he has the charisma, he can make plays with his legs, and he seems to play his best in big moments. On the flip side, Prescott has also had his fair share of struggles with accuracy and anticipating plays developing. Some of that is who he is, while some of that can be fixed with more experience and more trust with the players around him.
While the quarterback deserves to take a lot of blame when the team loses — especially when the offense struggles — there are other concerns on the offensive side of the ball, such as play-calling, the offensive line without Travis Frederick, and a receivers group that was ranked near the bottom of every list entering the season.
Cole Beasley has had some strong moments this season, but it appears as if the others in the room are hot-and-cold: good one week, bad the next. What Cooper brings is a receiving target that has proven himself on the highest level: catching 225 passes for 3,183 yards, and 19 touchdowns in 52 career games while playing in a division that has featured the likes of Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Marcus Peters, Eric Berry, Casey Hayward, and Jason Verrett in the secondary.
While Cooper hasn’t been as consistent over the past season-and-half as he was in years one and two, the circumstances surrounding him haven’t exactly been great, either. Derek Carr has not looked the same since suffering some ugly injuries over a 10-month span — such as a broken fibula that ended his season prior to the 2016-17 playoffs, a broken pinky finger on his throwing hand, and three broken bones in his back. Oakland also failed to capitalize on the playoff trip in Carr’s return from injury, posting a mediocre 6-10 record in 2017 before firing Jack Del Rio.
Then, Oakland brought in Jon Gruden in hopes of turning things around and bringing excitement back to a passionate fan base. So far, Gruden hasn’t exactly been successful, as the Raiders sit at 1-5 and dead last in the AFC West through six games. Oh, and there was that Khalil Mack situation, too. The Raiders decided to part ways with a special talent in a move that the fan base appeared to be strongly against. Needless to say, there seems to be mess surrounding the Raiders organization right now. Perhaps a change of scenery will be good for Cooper.
The Dallas Cowboys want to give Dak resources to succeed. Ezekiel Elliott is in his backfield. The defensive side of the ball has improved dramatically since hiring former Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard. One way or another, the trade for Amari Cooper is going to tell Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Jason Garrett if Dak is the long-term answer behind center.
Either the struggles will continue throughout the remainder of the year and into next season, or Prescott will find the confidence that he played with for the first 25 games of his career and get back on track with a new toy to throw the ball to. On one hand, they will discover they were right about Dak; on the other, they will realize they need to go in a different direction — possibly as soon as the what-looks-to-be-loaded 2020 quarterback draft class.
Either way, a decision on Prescott will be made.