Much to the delight of their fans, the Dallas Cowboys made a move to acquire a talented veteran when they gave up a 2023 fifth-round pick plus a 2024 sixth-round pick in exchange for 29-year-old receiver Brandin Cooks. Fresh off the trade for veteran corner Stephon Gilmore, the front office was right back at it again and appears to have taken huge steps in fixing two of their most concerning positions entering this offseason.
This move has fans very satisfied as it shows a bit of a compromise between a cautious front office that doesn’t want to surrender any premium draft capital, but at the same time recognizes the need to allocate some of its pie for quality football players. The risk is minimal, but the rewards can be monumental if solidifying these areas can elevate this team to the top. While the overwhelming consensus is that this is a great move for Dallas, we wanted to lay everything out on the table to see just how good of a deal it was.
What do the Cowboys get in Cooks?
Cooks was the first-round pick (20th overall) of the New Orleans in 2014 from Oregon State (Go Beavers!). He has played nine years in the league and has over 1,000 yards in six of them. In fact, he’s produced a 1,000-yard season for each of the four teams he’s played for. Whether he’s catching passes from future Hall of Fame quarterbacks or Houston’s Davis Mills, Cooks has proven to be a viable weapon.
Cooks is a receiver that offers both quickness and long speed. We are very aware of his speed as he’s been a vertical threat everywhere he’s played, but his shiftiness and ability to break quickly out of his routes is an underrated trait of his. If you lay off too much protecting against the deep ball, he’ll eat you up short. Cooks also does a good job varying his pace to lull defenders to sleep before suddenly taking off. This makes him very dangerous. His quickness allows him to be a weapon after the catch and he’s used quite often for bubble screens and quick passes to let him run in space.
Bob Sturm offered up six plays on Twitter that does a good job highlighting the things Cooks does well.
BRANDIN COOKS FILM STUDY (this won't take long). Six plays from the last 18 months that should tell you all you need.— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) March 19, 2023
A little drag that matches you up with a LB and the juice. pic.twitter.com/SdaMQWLjXw
Last month, we mentioned that the missing ingredient to the Cowboys' passing attack was an elite separator. And that’s exactly what Cooks brings to this offense. Here are the three-year averages of a few wide receivers you might know and where they stack up against the league average.
Cooks is a receiver that offers both good fundamentals and athleticism while continuing to produce regardless of the situation. He’ll now enter a situation that features one of the league’s young star receivers in CeeDee Lamb as well as a healthier Michael Gallup. Cooks won’t be seeing the same attention from the defense that he had been in his time in Houston so this should alleviate some of the pressure and allow him to make big plays in this Cowboys offense.
What did it actually cost the Cowboys?
The late-round draft capital it cost the Cowboys in the trade is inconsequential. The real meat of the trade is what he’ll cost them in terms of cap space. Cooks’ 2023 base salary is fully guaranteed from the terms of his two-year extension with the Texans. This is how his contract looked prior to the trade.
However, as part of the trade agreement, the Texans are paying out $6 million of the $18 million base salary he was guaranteed in 2023. Additionally, the Cowboys have moved some money around and his new terms look like this:
Brandin Cooks contract:— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) March 21, 2023
2 years, $20 million, $12 million guaranteed
Bonus: $8 million
2023 base salary: $4m (guaranteed)
2024 base salary: $8m
2023 cap number: $6m
Houston paid $6 million to Cooks, giving him $18m guaranteed this year.
We’re not even sure of the Tom Cruise-type contract sorcery the Joneses worked in making this happen, but from what we can tell, the Cowboys now have a wide receiver who was playing on a $20 million per year deal to one who now only has an average annual cost of $10 million. Fantastic!
Look how Cooks compares to some of the other receivers in the league starting with Hunter Renfroe who is the 20th highest-paid WR in the league. At his new average annual cost, Cooks would rank tied for the 30th highest-paid receiver in the NFL. For someone with his résumé, that seems like highway robbery.
And here are the active receivers who have the most receiving yards since 2015 (Cooks first full season as a starter) and their average annual cost (in millions). Can you spot the bargain?
What’s the risk?
Cooks is 29 years old and being more susceptible to injuries is a real thing. After missing six games during his rookie season with a broken thumb, he then went the next four seasons without missing a single game. But he hasn’t played a full season since and has missed a little bit of action in each of the last four seasons. He missed a few games with a concussion and then three games last year with a calf injury. He hasn’t had any major injuries and doesn’t show signs of being injury prone, but his mileage is just something to be mindful of.
The other question is, why is he always being shipped off to another team? Is he a troublemaker? During his early days with the Saints, things started to head down a rocky path. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport heard from multiple sources within the Saints organization that things had gone awry in New Orleans.
“Cooks was dealt because of a combination of his unhappiness with his role, his doubts that aging quarterback Drew Brees could get him the ball deep, the Saints ’ frustrations with Cooks focusing on his numbers, and their disbelief he should be paid like a top receiver.”
The Saints also had recently drafted Michael Thomas and they both had 1,100-yard seasons when they played together. Cooks didn’t seem like a headache to the Patriots as they gave up a first-round draft pick to get him. New England used him for a year and like Bill Belichick so often likes to do, they turned around and re-traded him away before his contract was up. The Patriots also got a first-round pick for him when he was dealt to the Rams. And when Los Angeles got surprising contributions from free agent Robert Woods and third-round draft pick Cooper Kupp, suddenly the five-year, $80 million investment they made in Cooks wasn’t as necessary as before and he was dealt to Houston for a second-round pick.
While things were great his first couple of years in Houston, this past year wasn’t so pleasant. Cooks grew frustrated with the Texans' inability to win and wasn’t pleased when he wasn’t dealt by the trade deadline last year. He then missed the next game for personal reasons and was stripped of his team captain duties.
In Dallas, his chances of winning certainly are better so that shouldn’t be an issue for him. But like New Orleans or Los Angeles for that matter, he won’t be the #1 wide receiver. He’ll need to be comfortable in his role and not buckle under adversity.
Overall, this is a good trade for Dallas. What it actually amounts to remains to be seen, but they have a talented player who fits nicely with the offense. The investment is relatively small and it shouldn’t stop the Cowboys from pursuing a young receiver in next month’s draft.