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The Amari Cooper situation is surely about more than just the salary cap

Nothing about how they’ve handled this makes sense.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

All signs are pointing to the Dallas Cowboys parting ways with veteran Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper. If that happens it will be an odd outcome of Cooper’s time in Dallas because it just doesn’t jive with how they’ve felt about him in recent years. They loved him enough to trade away their top draft resource from the 2019 draft only to then re-up on him in 2020 with a five-year, $100 million extension. Two things the front office hates giving up, draft picks and big contracts, were used to keep their prized route-running receiver on this offense.

But the love is gone. Whatever the team felt a couple of years ago apparently isn’t what they’re feeling now. And if you ask Stephen Jones about it, the answer is quickly defended by simple roster bookkeeping. However, all this talk about the team being strapped financially is just a bunch of silly talk. We know the salary cap can be finessed and teams can keep whomever they want to keep. When we hear them talk about only having so much pie as a reason to not pay for a player, what they’re really saying is that they no longer believe that player is worth what the Cowboys initially agreed to pay him. That’s the crux of the Cooper situation. Releasing him means he no longer has the value he once had to the team. So what’s changed?

We discussed all of the chaos that Friday called on an emergency edition of the BTB Roundtable. Make sure to subscribe to our podcast network so you get access to all of our shows. Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.

The team does have CeeDee Lamb on the roster and could possibly re-sign Michael Gallup and/or Cedrick Wilson Jr. this offseason. And the upcoming draft offers a very deep class of wide receiver prospects. It’s possible the urgency to have Cooper on the roster isn’t what it used to be and the team just prefers to use its resources in a different way. But it’s more possible that the team no longer sees Cooper as a player that warrants a $20 million base salary for the next three years.

For the team to part ways with him, it must mean that their player personnel department isn’t seeing the same player they once saw. Has he lost a step? Does he no longer separate as well as he used to? Are the lingering injuries that he plays through continuously affecting his play? While it doesn’t seem like those things are an issue from what we’ve seen on the field, maybe Will McClay and the brain-trust that evaluates talent sees it differently.

The Cowboys' offense did struggle down the stretch of the season and Cooper’s numbers were down. He had his lowest receptions and yardage in seasons where he’s played with the Cowboys. He did miss two games this past year after testing positive for COVID, but even on a per-game basis, Cooper’s 57.7 yards per game were his lowest in a Cowboys uniform.

If the team truly believes Cooper’s best days are over, then fine, move on. We criticize them for hanging on to players for too long, so if there's an opportunity to cut loose before things go south, make the move. The right play at that point would be to trade him for whatever draft capital they can get and don’t look back.

Sadly, the front office may have squandered the chance to do that by somehow leaking the idea that he’s going to be released before his 2022 salary becomes guaranteed on March 20th. Teams could be less inclined to offer anything knowing a release is imminent. And another element that isn’t being talked about is how the team’s willingness to kick a good player to the curb (is DeMarcus Lawrence next?) could end up costing them more money in the future. Agents whose clients are considering signing new deals with the Cowboys might work a little harder to get more guaranteed money written into the contract. If a player's base salary in the future isn’t as likely to be earned, it could mean a larger signing bonus, which then leads to larger dead money hits.

It’s hard to know what this team’s plans are if they move on from Cooper, but nothing about how they’ve handled it creates confidence And for an organization that has shown they aren’t built to last, another round of unpredicted roster shake-ups brings about a lot of questions heading into the future. Will this year’s roster be better/worse? Are they wasting away the prime years of Dak Prescott? Will they ever get it right? Who really knows the answers to those questions, but the carelessness of how they’ve handled the Cooper situation doesn’t make us feel optimistic about where this team is going.