After Adam Schefter tweeted on March 4 that Dallas was “likely” to release Amari Cooper by the start of the league year, March 16, Cooper seemed destined for the open market.
Instead, the Cowboys are shipping off Cooper to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a 2022 fifth-round pick. Additionally, the Cowboys and Browns are swapping sixth-round picks in 2022. The Browns have also “granted permission to veteran WR Jarvis Landry to seek a trade,” according to Schefter.
With the departure of Odell Beckham Jr. and a potential loss of Jarvis Landry that this move foreshadows, the Browns sorely needed to bolster their wide receiver core. With this move they gain a high-end receiver at a minimal cost because of his high cap hit and the Cowboys’ cap situation.
As former Philadelphia Eagles President tells, Cooper is still an elite NFL option.
“Cooper has the ability to be a top-three talent at the position,” said Banner. “He has an excellent blend of size, speed, and technique for the position.”
Cooper and Landry have similarly strong traits with their advanced route running and strong hands. Cooper thrives at separating with nuanced route deception, which could bods well for a power-run, west coast scheme that emphasizes play-action shots and quick throws. However, there are concerns with Cooper’s competitiveness. Banner suggested that football may be more of a “means to an end than a sport he truly loves.”
With one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in Dak Prescott, the Cowboys have the leniency to eliminate a costly pass catcher without seriously harming their offensive capabilities. This move effectively allows Dallas to keep recently tagged Dalton Schultz and re-sign a player nearly two years younger than Cooper, Michael Gallup
“It’s good move for Dallas,” added Banner. “They are keeping two good players and gained an asset.”
This trade is an example of diverting resources to achieve a more well-rounded roster while pursuing a championship contention. The Cowboys would be better offensively with Cooper trotting out with the first unit. but made the decision that his price tag outweighed what he would bring to their 2022 offense. As CeeDee Lamb continues to ascend, Cooper became dispensable — particularly with other young, albeit less talented options available at a lower cost.
Salary Cap Impact
Before the trade, the Cowboys had a little less than $6M available in cap space, according to Over the Cap. Cooper was set to make $20M in base salary in the upcoming 2022 season and $22M against the cap for the Cowboys. As a result of this deal, the Cowboys are only incurring $6M in dead money, freeing up approximately $16M in cap space.
When Cooper signed with the Cowboys in 2018, the team structured it with a forward-thinking lens. The signing bonus was low ($10M), and only two of the three years were guaranteed, leaving this upcoming year in jeopardy in Cooper’s eyes.
“The contract structure may have been a mistake if Cooper wanted to stay in Dallas or wanted to make it harder to move him,” according to Banner. For receivers of Cooper’s caliber, “Three years guaranteed are commonplace.”
“It allows them to invest in the offensive line and defense in general,” something the Cowboys have failed to do for “10 to 15 years,” preferring to pay skill position players on offense and their quarterback. This trade also alleviates pressure resulting from Ezekiel Elliott’s contract. Banner expects Elliott to remain in Dallas for another year due to the structure of his contract.
According to Over the Cap, Elliott has made a little over $28M in cash flow since his extension in 2019. He is set to make $12.4M in P5 during the 2022 season, with $5.82M in a prorated bonus, resulting in an $18.2M cap hit. If the Cowboys do not cut Elliott, he will count as $16.7M against the cap in 2023, falling to $14.3M in 2024, $15.4M in 2025, and $16.6 ($0 guaranteed) in 2026. This trade opens the checkbook and provides draft capital for Dallas to reinforce the defense and retool a solid but aging offensive line.
As for the Browns, they had about $13M in cap space before the trade, per Over the Cap. They are over the cap by a little more than $3M. However, they should be making moves in the coming days to get under the cap per the league’s March 16 deadline. Banner suggests “the return on investment is similar” between Cooper and Landry, given the competitive-spirit disparity.
Despite his lack of production in Cleveland, Banner suggests that Beckham Jr.’s departure still hurts overall.
“Odell is the best of the three (Landry, Cooper, OBJ) with injury and medical concerns cleared up,” he says.
The Browns have not been shy in the market as of late, and this is the most recent iteration of a brave acquisition. It will be interesting to see where the Browns make cuts in the coming days, how that will factor into their 2022 lineup, and where they prioritize.
Although Cooper’s exit in Dallas was expected, the majority thought it would come in the form of a release rather than a trade. This is better for both parties as Dallas will not take on as much in dead cap, and the Browns surely would have dished out more in guaranteed money if they signed Cooper in free agency.