Since his October 22, 2018 trade from the Oakland Raiders to the Dallas Cowboys, wide receiver Amari Cooper has been instrumental in both the Cowboys’ identity shift, and in the maturation process of ascending quarterback Dak Prescott.
Cooper’s elite ability to create a clear separation between himself and defenders was just what the doctor ordered for a young quarterback who was at the time struggling to “let it rip.” The Cowboys’ offense transformed when Cooper arrived and stands currently as the league’s top unit.
The fact that the trade has been an absolute win for the Cowboys cannot be overstated. However, the feeling has always been that with the trade, a subsequent extension was a mere formality. A closer look at Cooper’s time in Dallas might leave you feeling like a monster extension for Amari Cooper is a bit less of a slam dunk.
In Amari Cooper’s 19 games as a Dallas Cowboy, he has amassed 109 receptions for 1,611 yards. That is an incredible stat line on the surface, but the sequencing is troubling. Cooper has been the definition of a boom or bust, feast or famine player. If it feels to you like Cooper either lights it up or has a pretty pedestrian outing, your gut is no liar.
Cooper has been held under 60 yards in 9 of his 19 games as a Cowboy, basically half. Possibly even more troubling, an obscene 47% of Cooper’s yards as a Cowboy have all come in 4 games. As you may remember, Cooper went thermo-nuclear on the rival Eagles and Redskins last season, then lit up the Packers and Vikings this year in losses. Cooper racked up 770 of his 1,611 Cowboys yards in those 4 home games alone. Speaking of home games, it should not be overlooked that Cooper has yet to top 80 yards in a Cowboys road contest. 19 games may not be the largest sample set, but home Amari and road Amari have been night and day.
So why the inconsistency? Could it be the injuries?
Injuries have most certainly played a role in the up-and-down nature of Amari Cooper’s tenure in Dallas. The guy 100% deserves a ton of credit for toughing it out through an avalanche of injuries. While we applaud him though, we need to also be concerned about the fact that he is always toughing out an injury.
Amari Cooper has appeared on the injury report every week of the 2019 season. We first saw reports of foot/heel issues in August training camp, and the injury bug has been feasting on Cooper ever since. One tough year of one injury leading to another is not overly concerning, but Cooper’s injury history is an extensive one.
2019: Plantar fasciitis flare-up, strained heel, bruised quad, bruised knee, sprained ankle
2017: Concussion, ankle sprain (twice)
2015: Admittedly played through Plantar fasciitis most of the season
2013: (College) dislocated toe, foot sprain
That is an alarming list of lower-body injuries for a player who’s value lies in his ability to plant, explode, and change direction. An injury history like that has been the undoing of many at his position before him (see: Bryant, Dez) and is something that cannot be overlooked trying to project the next phase of his career.
Another cause for concern regarding Amari Cooper really revealed itself in the Cowboys’ most recent contest, a cold, sloppy 13-9 loss to the defending champion New England Patriots. The Patriots game plan was to defend Cooper mostly one on one with lock-down corner Stephon Gilmore. The Cowboys appeared far too agreeable to the Patriots plan. Cooper was not only held without a catch, he flat out looked disinterested a good portion of the game. He wasn’t snapping of routes with his usual highlight-worthy urgency. He wasn’t attacking the football. For most of the game, he looked like a guy who was banged up, cold, wet, tired of Gilmore being in his pocket, and ready to get back to the locker room. With the benefit of hindsight, you can look back the previous week’s contest with Detroit, and see a bit of that same disinterest when Cooper got a heavy dose of the Lion’s Darius Slay.
Inconsistent, perpetually limping, and maybe feasting on lower-rung corners while largely being controlled by elite ones. Not the first things that come to mind with Amari Cooper, but definitely issues that deserve closer examination before the team commits to Cooper long term. If it is at all possible to make the numbers work, the Cowboys would be wise to slap Cooper with the franchise tag this coming offseason. Smaller issues aside, the team should at least want to see Cooper’s health improve before tying the knot, so to speak.
The common belief is that the Cowboys pretty much have to commit to Cooper long term, because of the hefty price (2019 1st round draft selection) to acquire his services. To that, I say a sunk cost is a sunk cost. If the product turns out to be less valuable than anticipated, what good does it do to compound the loss by committing to that lesser product long term? At this point, the Cowboys have spent a 1st round pick on Cooper. Why spend a 1st round pick and $100M on a player who’s body may have already begun to break down and allows opponents to dictate when he is and isn’t going to be effective.
Another way to view the already sunk cost of acquiring Cooper is that he has already paid dividends in the way that he has helped Dak Prescott unlock the qualities within himself that will allow him to become an elite quarterback. There isn’t a team in the league who would pay a 1st and 4th round pick for a franchise quarterback. The Cowboys spent a 4th round pick on Prescott himself, and a 1st round pick (Cooper) to unlock elements of his game that will stay with him the rest of his career. If it comes to it, parting ways with Cooper after 2.5 seasons is not the end of the world.
For anyone who follows the Cowboys, the happy ending is one where Cooper gets healthy, and better health minimizes some of the other issues. However, the Cowboys would be irresponsible to commit major money to a player who has been duct-taping himself together to get on the field without first seeing him stay relatively healthy for a season. If he holds out he holds out.
The last thing the Cowboys can afford to do is stack what becomes a bad Amari Cooper contract on top of a bad Ezekiel Elliott contract in consecutive years.