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Cowboys cap breakdown: Understanding the options with star wide receiver Amari Cooper

Just how financially committed are the Cowboys to Cooper?

NFL: NFC Wild Card Playoff-San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Amari Cooper has been a topic of conversation from the moment he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in the midseason of 2018. From debating whether he was worth giving away a first-round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders, to the repeated discussion of whether he’s worth the five-year, $100 million extension the Cowboys gave him two offseasons ago. Let’s face it, he gives us a lot to talk about. That’s Amari.

So, it should come as no surprise that Cooper and his high-priced contract is once again a talking point this offseason. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones had a chance to talk with reporters on Tuesday at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and he shared his thoughts on how expectations are high for these players who are commanding a large piece of the pie. And Cooper is one of those players.

For proper context, it should be noted that Jones’ frustration about expectations was not limited to just the wide receiver position as he went on to say...

“Whether that’s catching, whether that’s yards, whether that’s receptions, whether that’s touchdowns, whether that’s throwing touchdown passes. Winning football games if you’re a quarterback. Whether it’s a running back if you’re getting your touches and you’re scoring touchdowns and you’re running for yards. I mean all those things. Your pass rushers you want to be getting pressures and making plays. I mean, all those things relate to how a guy’s paid and once you pay that player a lot of money then with that comes high expectations. And they know that. These players know that.”

The meat of this quote is that if you’re going to command a big contract, then you better produce. This statement applies to several players, but is the Cowboys front office particularly unsatisfied with what they’re getting from their big wide receiver investment?

Cooper has had a very good run with the Cowboys up to this point. During his three and a half seasons with the Cowboys, he’s caught 292 passes for 3,893 yards and 27 touchdowns. His ability to win on routes is such a plus for the offense and the Cowboys made sure to capitalize. Cooper’s reliability was such a solid fixture that it seemed like a certainty that he’d put up 1,000 yards receiving every season.

But something has changed.

Cooper failed to hit the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career in which he’s started more than 12 games in a season (it excludes his injury-riddled season in 2017 with Oakland). If you look at his production on a per-game basis during his seasons with the Cowboys, you can see that Amari’s numbers are slowly declining...

  • 2018 = 80.6 yards per game
  • 2019 = 74.3 yards per game
  • 2020 = 69.6 yards per game
  • 2021 = 57.7 yards per game

There are likely multiple contributing factors to what is a slow decline of Cooper’s production. The Cowboys' offensive game-planning struggled down the stretch to find ways to win for their players and that wasn’t limited to just Amari Cooper. Dak Prescott also had issues down the stretch as defenses did a better job challenging the reads of the Cowboys' savvy quarterback. And who's to say that the production isn’t on Cooper himself, whether it’s a performance issue or lingering effects of COVID. He never eclipsed 100 yards in a game since returning from COVID reserve and had two games down the stretch with just eight (Week 15) and 18 yards (Week 17).

The Cowboys need to get to the root of their problems on offense and take steps forward to fix them in 2022. If they're paying a wide receiver $20 million a season, they certainly want him to be getting you more than 57.7 yards per game.

Looking at Cooper’s contract, here is what the Cowboys are committed to over his final three seasons (cap numbers courtesy of spotrac):

One thing to note here is that Cooper’s 2022 base salary becomes completely guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2022 season, which would be March 20th of this year. If Cooper was a “cap casualty” candidate, which seems unlikely, then the Cowboys would need to act before March 20th to avoid that extra $20 million base salary being added to dead money they’d have to eat. Now, if Cooper is being shopped around in a trade, then the March deadline isn’t important as the Cowboys would only be on the hook for the $6 million dead money while his new team would take on the remainder of his base salaries.

The Cowboys would be wise to figure this Cooper thing out sooner versus later. He is still a great route-runner and that’s a valuable asset for this offense. If that wasn’t the case, like in the Dez Bryant scenario in 2018, then it would behoove the Cowboys to move on. If the Cowboys did move on and trade him, they would likely get a Day 2 draft pick and take $20 million off the books for this season and a total of $60 million over the next three years. That’s a big chunk of change.

The Cowboys could mitigate his loss by re-signing Michael Gallup and/or Cedrick Wilson and/or selecting a low-cost rookie wide receiver in the upcoming draft. And whomever they chose to go after would be paired with CeeDee Lamb who the Cowboys have under control for at least three more years (because of the fifth-year option). Lamb led the Cowboys in targets, receptions, and yards (1,102) en route to his first-ever Pro Bowl season.

Or, if the Cowboys have complete confidence in Cooper and are just looking for immediate cap relief, they could always choose to restructure his deal and turn some of his base salary into bonus money. They could see up to $12.5 million in relief. The downside there is that it pushes some of his cost to future years, so that’s not always the most desirable route to go. It would seem an odd choice if they are already thinking about Cooper not being in Dallas, even if they don’t act on releasing him this year.

While this fan wants no part of watching a Cowboys offense without Amari Cooper, it’s good to lay everything on the table and see what type of options are available.

Poll

What would you do with Amari Cooper if you were the GM of the Dallas Cowboys?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    Amari’s a stud, keep him!
    (1200 votes)
  • 43%
    He’s just not worth it, move on
    (937 votes)
2137 votes total Vote Now