When the Dallas Cowboys traded for Amari Cooper last October, initially there were a lot of groans. Some of it had to do with the fact that Cooper’s production in Oakland had started to die down after hitting the ground running with two Pro Bowl seasons in his first two years in the league. Fans weren’t sure exactly what the team was going to get. And then there were others who didn’t like the idea of giving up a first-round draft pick for him. Considering how well the Cowboys have been drafting in recent years, it’s easy to see why giving up a premium pick was so bothersome. Not only that, but there’s a big price difference between a rookie contract and what Cooper will soon demand, so the salary cap implications couldn’t be completely ignored.
The uncertainty of Cooper’s ability was put to rest early as he immediately sparked the Cowboys offense. It didn’t take long for him to easily justify burning a high draft pick in the trade. While that issue has been put to rest, the other part of the concern remains valid. Now that we have a little bit of an idea of the layout of the upcoming NFL Draft, we can start hypothesizing and evaluating if the Cowboys did in fact make the right decision trading for Cooper.
What if the Cowboys didn’t make the trade?
Well, the first thing we must consider is that the Cowboys would’ve struggled more on offense last year. Would they have won 10 games and taken down the division? Probably not, considering it took a three touchdown performance by Cooper to get past the Philadelphia Eagles in overtime, his contribution would’ve been sorely missed. If the Cowboys don’t win that game, they’d finish 9-7 just like they did in 2017 and it would be the Eagles taking down the NFC East. You could make a case that Dallas would’ve struggled even more in other games and would have ended up with a much higher draft pick. Without being too imaginative, let’s just assume the Cowboys would end up with a top 15 pick had they not traded for Cooper.
It’s real easy to justify the Cooper decision when you are only factoring upgrading the wide receiver position as the objective. The team looked ahead at this draft and decided Amari was the best bet. Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf is the only receiver that seems like he could eclipse Cooper, but even that’s a risk. And if the team held the 15th overall pick, who’s to say they even get Metcalf? The Cowboys may have to use additional draft capital to get him or just lose out on a top wide receiver.
They wouldn’t use their first-round pick for a wide receiver
While wide receiver would be the big need, the Cowboys are committed to not allowing need to influence their draft process. They’re looking to take the best player. If the Cowboys were sitting at pick 15 this year, they’d be in prime position to land one of the elite defensive linemen in the draft. Whether it’s on the edge or in the middle, there are some outstanding talent in trenches that can be acquired within the first 20 picks of this draft.
Based strictly on wide receiver options, Cooper’s the better choice, but you can’t look at it that way. With the team’s ability to draft All-Pro caliber players in the first round, we have to concede that they probably lost out on a star player at another position of need.
A good receiver could still be grabbed in the second round
Not only would Dallas be picking in the middle of the first round, but they’d be picking in the middle of all the rounds. This would set them up nicely to still take a talented receiver on Day 2. There are some appealing choices that Cowboys fans would love to have on the roster. Marquise Brown, Hakeem Butler, or N’Keal Harry - just to name a few. Right now with pick 58, one of these top talents might not drop quite that far where they’d stand a great chance to get one if them were picking in the middle of the second. And even if one of them did fall to the Cowboys, could they really afford to spend their top draft resource on a wide receiver after already acquiring Cooper? What about help for the defense?
What would you rather have - Amari + pick 58 or a top DL + talented WR in the upcoming draft?
Maybe Amari still looks like the better choice. After all, draft picks are wild cards whereas Cooper is a sure thing. But then there’s the financial aspect of all this.
It’s going to cost the Cowboys a lot more money
The Cowboys are trading off four years of cap relief for a receiver who is going command a lot of money. And with news that Julio Jones is close to a deal that will make him the highest paid wide receiver, the price to retain Cooper could be going up even further. When you consider that the team is already going to have to shell out quite a bit of money to keep many of their young stars, these things matter. The Cowboys went from getting out from under Dez Bryant’s contract to right back into another high-cost deal for a receiver. Sure, Cooper is young and has a much greater chance of giving the team top notch production, but it’s not going to come cheap.
When you factor all of these things together, it makes you stop and think if the Cowboys did in fact do the right thing. Cooper’s awesome. He’s already gave Cowboys fans something to cheer about for many weeks last season and helped the team play bonus football. More greatness is coming, but the price the Cowboys paid was a hefty one and one can’t keep from wondering what would have been had the deal not gone down.