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Amari Cooper’s contract gives the Cowboys a top receiver without the risk

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There is so much to like about Amari Cooper’s deal.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys protected their two most precious free agents on Monday by slapping the franchise tag on Dak Prescott and signing Amari Cooper to a new five-year deal. While Prescott’s contract is still in the works, the team finally got things taken care of with Cooper. Fans had to sweat out the idea of him possibly leaving since other teams were in the mix for his services after he remained unsigned when the tampering period began.

It seemed like a formality that Cooper would return, considering the team gave up their first-round draft pick from a year ago combined with all the nice things ownership has said about him since his arrival. Cooper’s impact is pretty evident. With a full season with Prescott, the veteran receiver posted career highs in receiving yards, yards per catch, and touchdowns en route to his fourth Pro Bowl over his five-year career. The Cowboys offense improved significantly this season, and Cooper is a big part. Dallas led the league in total yards, and averaged a touchdown greater last year than they did during the seven games in 2018 before Cooper arrived.

Despite Cooper’s spark to this offense, there were questions about the Cowboys decision to make him the second-highest paid receiver in the league. Is he better than the Saints Michael Thomas or the Texans Cardinals DeAndre Hopkins? Nope, but that doesn’t matter. Regardless of where you stack Cooper among the league’s top pass catchers, it’s important to acknowledge that he belongs in that group. And when you’re in that group, and your contract is up - you get the big prize. While the price isn’t cheap, there are some things about this signing that should make Cowboys fans feel pretty good.

The precision

We all know that Cooper is recognized as one of the best route-runners in the league. That is a great luxury for a team that has a quarterback who banks on his receivers being where they’re supposed to be. When Dez Bryant’s athleticism declined, his ability to win off of routes took a hit and the Cowboys offense felt it. With Cooper, it’s much different. Prescott averaged 100 yards more per game in Cooper’s first full season with the team than he did during Bryant’s last season with the team. It didn’t take long for these two to have an instant connection.

Cooper’s attention to detail and athletic gifts make him one of toughest corners in the league to cover. He’s extremely smart, and the exactness of every step he takes has purpose. His footwork should be used in training videos, such as this...

The character

It’s so easy to root for guys like Cooper because he’s one of the most likable people the team has had on the roster. He’s a quiet person, and it can be hard to get read on how he feels about certain things, but that’s always been who he is. Cooper just goes about his business without complaint. It’s hard to remember a player undergoing a big, drawn out contract negotiation who has said fewer words about it than Cooper.

Him professing his love to stay with the Cowboys was great. He could’ve easily joined Julio Jones as the highest-paid receiver in the league if he had signed with the Washington Redskins, but he wanted to stay with Dallas. His lack of sideline antics or “throw me the damn ball” attitude is comforting. But what it all comes down to is having a player the team can count on to reliably play at a high level. Cooper’s high character means the Cowboys have a really good chance to maximize what he can do on the football field, and it’s something we should all appreciate.

The contract

Like with any big money free agent contract, there’s concern whether the team is going to get the right amount of value from the deal. The Dez Bryant extension back in 2015 proved to be a costly signing for the Cowboys as he was released after the third year of his five-year, $70 million deal. This resulted in an $8 million dead money hit to the Cowboys cap.

With Cooper, the team is being a little more careful. Sure, he’s younger than Dez was when he signed his second contract, and Bryant didn’t possess the fundamentals that Cooper has to offset a dropoff in athletic ability - so there are other attributes that make you feel better about this deal. But just on raw construction, the Cowboys left themselves some outs.

The team is only purely committed to Cooper for the next two seasons, where his total cap hit will average $17 million. If for any reason the Cowboy are not happy with his production, they can move away from him. Thanks to just a $10 million signing bonus, the Cowboys can escape with a manageable dead money hit after 2021, and it gets cheaper with each new season. It’s a well constructed deal that allows the team to keep one of the better receivers in the league, and gives them an escape valve if his production starts to vanish. Here is the complete breakdown of Cooper’s contract (courtesy of spotrac):