We are a week away from the clock striking midnight and the ball dropping on the new league year; free agency in the NFL is a truly unique and fun time. This particular part of how teams go about roster construction has been a frustrating experience for Dallas Cowboys fans over the last decade as the team has chosen to approach free agency by looking for value deeper in the process. When you factor in how much salary cap space the Cowboys currently have (at the time of this post’s publishing Over The Cap has them less than $1M over) it lends even more to the idea that Dallas will sit back and chill.
On the subject of sitting back and chilling it seems that this could be how the Cowboys approach a very distinct part of free agency - Amari Cooper.
Recently-created cap space could allow the Cowboys to hold onto Amari Cooper “for a little bit”
When Cowboys brass have spoken over this offseason they have continually dropped bread crumb after bread crumb that Amari Cooper and/or DeMarcus Lawrence could be salary cap casualties. Word surrounding both has only picked up steam over the last week and it feels like both of their days in Dallas are down to single digits, although obviously anything could happen.
Regarding Amari Cooper, the Cowboys are already on the hook for $6M of his $22M value for this year, but they can save that residual $16M if they move on from him by trade or release (as of Monday they had not granted him permission to seek a trade) by the fifth day of the new league year which is Sunday, March 20th.
As noted the Cowboys are basically jump-roping the cap at the moment so they are not in a position where they have to release Cooper immediately. A big reason for this is that on Tuesday they created $22M in salary cap space by restructuring the deals of Dak Prescott and Zack Martin which helped accommodate the franchise tag value of $10.9M that they placed on Dalton Schultz.
Considering all of this, the Cowboys are now approaching a week of free agency where they are not going to be between a rock and a hard place when it comes to releasing Cooper. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Tuesday and Jane Slater noted on Wednesday that they might even now hold onto him “for a little bit” to see if a need arises from a particular team to the point that they would become desperate enough to trade for him.
Interesting note from @RapSheet on the Cowboys’ restructures from Tuesday.— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) March 9, 2022
He mentions the new space allows them to hold onto Amari Cooper “for a little bit”, maybe long enough for a need to arise elsewhere so they can trade him.
(via @nflnetwork) pic.twitter.com/HXlMsU12mr
Don’t expect news on Amari Cooper until we get closer to the 5th day of the league year? Why? I’m told the #Cowboys have been fielding some calls. Advantage for teams? You don’t battle for him on open market. They get to redo the deal and can spread money out via signing bonus.— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) March 9, 2022
If we are being matter-of-fact this is a move that is potentially going to be made with regards to the interest of the Cowboys and the Cowboys alone, as is the team’s prerogative. It stands to reason that Team X might be banking on landing Player A or B when free agency fully begins, miss out on their targets, and realize that Cooper is an option to the point that they strike a deal without letting him hit the open market for risk of losing him as well.
Obviously, though, this is a little unkind to Cooper as teams will strike big deals with players in the opening wave of free agency and money that could otherwise go to him might go elsewhere and dry up in the spots that are his most logical fits. It feels very similar to how things ended between Dallas and their last high-profile wide receiver, Dez Bryant.
Football is a business though and the Cowboys - like any other NFL team - are likely going to prioritize their needs above all else and if they feel like they can create a situation that can work to their advantage then they may very well pursue it.