The Dallas Cowboys were not happy with their wide receiver group after last year’s performance. That ultimately led to the release of Dez Bryant, who failed to reach 100 yards in single game last year. The front office attempted to replace their #1 WR by trying to sign Sammy Watkins in free agency. Watkins was the fourth-overall pick by the Buffalo Bills in the 2014 NFL Draft. But the price was too steep and Watkins signed a three-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs for an average annual salary of $16 million. So, on to plan B.
Dallas then threw several resources at the receiver position, any which way they could. They signed free agents Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson to low-cost deals. They drafted two receivers in Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson. And they traded a late-round draft pick to acquire Tavon Austin from the Los Angeles Rams. When the dust settled, they had a whole lot options, but nobody that truly posed a real threat at the position. As it turned out, plan B wasn’t such a good plan. Now what?
Well, Amari Cooper, that’s what. For the first time in 10 years the Cowboys traded away a first-round draft pick, using that pick to acquire Cooper from the Oakland Raiders. Considering how attached the front office has become to it’s precious draft capital, this move surprised a lot of people. But Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, Will McClay, and Jason Garrett all got together and collectively agreed that next year’s top draft resourced needed to be used to get a talented receiver on this football team. The Cowboys don’t like to draft for need as you’re not able to maximize the value of the pick when you settle for a position you have a dire need to improve. So the front office took matters in their own hands and decided to use that future draft pick to get a talented player at a position where they desperately needed help.
It’s going to take some time before we know if this move was a good one. Some people will follow the progress of Cooper and compare him to whomever the Raiders use that draft pick for in 2019. Of course, that’s not really the correct comparison as the Raiders haven’t drafted nearly as well as the Cowboys have in recent years.
And we’ll never really know who the Cowboys would have selected with that pick.
But let’s just assume it would be a good player. That’s fine. Cooper’s a good player too. What the Cowboys really gave up was some cap space. Dallas will now lose out on having a player on the books for cheap over the next four years. Instead, they’re going to have to start giving Cooper $14+ million for the next several years, providing he demonstrates he’s worth it. The Cowboys are banking on that being the case.
The Cowboys have failed at previous attempts to fix their receiving situation and decided to take a huge shortcut by getting Cooper. With Cooper, they get a known commodity. And at 24-years-old, he’s got a lot of his career still in front of him. The upside of this deal is fabulous if he produces. But shortcuts come with a price and that will come in the form of salary cap consequences.
Fortunately for Dallas, they have been very cautious when it comes to their financial decisions and now it’s paying off. Decisions to not sign high-priced free agents like DeMarco Murray, Ron Leary, and Anthony Hitchens have saved them a lot of money. Could the Cowboys use a player like Barry Church right now? Sure, but not for the $26 million the Jacksonville Jaguars are giving him. The Jaguars have been quite the spenders lately and are projected to be $18 million over the cap next season. The Cowboys, however, are sitting with roughly $50 million in cap space heading into next year.
Great drafting and smart spending have put the Cowboys in the position they are in. They have an All-Pro defensive end that deserves a long-term deal and the Cowboys have the funds to make that work. They also have a young corner who is breaking out this season that will be needing a new deal soon and they have the funds to make that happen as well. Those players didn’t show up with great talent as it took time. With Cooper, he’s an “already made” talent. The Cowboys get to capitalize on the system because of the groundwork they’ve laid out in front of them.
The Cowboys have done a great job making some tough decisions when their players hit free agency. And they’ll have a really big one coming up in 2020 when Dak Prescott’s rookie deal is up. Bringing in a player like Cooper should go a long way in helping them evaluate their quarterback. And that’s a big decision that they don’t want to mess up.