Lawrence: Amari Cooper Worth The Investment

Cooper wasn't cheap, but trading for him was a no-brainer for the Cowboys

Amy Lawrence
October 23, 2018 - 6:19 pm

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Life is a series of choices. Some of those choices produce immediate results; others don't offer instant gratification but require an investment and patience over time. In football, the decisions to run or pass, blitz or drop into coverage, try the QB sneak on 4th down or kick can all be evaluated in the moment. A trade? It's impossible to know if a deal was worthy or wasteful right away. To assess a trade in sports often requires weeks, months, or even years. But the Dallas Cowboys' move to acquire receiver Amari Cooper from the Oakland Raiders deserves the time.

Most importantly, the trade addresses a glaring issue for the 2018 Cowboys. They need a deep threat, a receiver who can stretch the field and draw defenders out of the box away from Ezekiel Elliott. They need a reliable target who can add a vertical element to an offense sorely lacking in that department. Through seven weeks, only once has a receiver racked up more than 100 yards in a game. Cole Beasley had 101 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches against the Jaguars in Week 6. It's no coincidence the Cowboys amassed 378 yards, well above their average, and scored more points (40) than any other game this season. Right now, Dallas is ranked 29th in the NFL with just 183.1 net passing yards per game. Only Tennessee, Arizona, and Buffalo gain fewer; and all three of them have used multiple quarterbacks. The Cowboys need a receiver of Cooper's caliber pronto!

Make no mistake, Cooper is a top flight wide-out. He's athletic, explosive, quick, and strong. He's disciplined with his routes and will fight for yards after the catch. And Cooper is only 24 years old. He's going into the prime of his career. He still has plenty of miles left in his legs, but he's already gleaned some valuable wisdom and experience. He understands how the NFL works and what it means to be a professional football player, yet he's still operating under his rookie contract. Cooper's impact was immediate when the Raiders drafted him fourth overall in 2015. He posted back-to-back Pro Bowl campaigns with more than 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first two years. In 2016, Cooper was eighth in the NFL in yards (1,153) and top 17 in both receptions and targets. He was also the youngest feature wide-out in the league. He played a critical role in Oakland's push for a bye and Derek Carr's MVP buzz before Carr broke his leg.

As soon as news of the blockbuster trade went viral, football analysts and fans pointed to the drop-off in Cooper's stats last fall and through the first quarter of this season. His biggest problem in 2016 was drops. He was among the league leaders in that category. Not every ball is catchable, of course; but he definitely bears some responsibility for the decline in the Raiders offense. He only caught half of the passes that were thrown to him. This year, his catch percentage is way up; in fact, it's the highest of his career at just shy of 69%. In the second game of the season at Denver, he was 10-for-10 with 116 total yards. His numbers aren't gaudy through six games, but that's not an indictment of Amari. He barely played in Week 6 because he was knocked out early by a helmet-to-helmet hit in London. The previous week at the Chargers, he was only targeted once. In the season opener, he only had three passes thrown to him. When the ball goes to Cooper, he's a difference-maker, one the Cowboys desperately need and will try to incorporate right away.

Dallas made this trade to start its bye week, which means extra days for Cooper to study the offense and the playbook and work with Prescott. It could take a few weeks for him to get up to speed in the system and develop a rhythm with his new quarterback. Josh Gordon wasn't active the first Sunday after he was traded to the Patriots, and he was only targeted twice in his debut. But a month later, he was on the field for 95% of their offensive snaps against Chicago, and he just recorded his first 100-yard game with the Pats. Tom Brady has worked hard with Gordon, putting in extra time to build chemistry and make sure he's comfortable. There's no shortcut to incorporating Amari into the Dallas offense, but additional reps and practice in this next month should reap dividends.

The sense of urgency is paramount for the Cowboys. After losing to the Redskins, they're 3-4, tied with the Eagles for second place in the NFC East. While the division is wide open, there's no time to waste. With so many teams bunched together, the battle for playoff spots will be fierce in conference. Dallas can't afford to play it safe anymore. From the play-calling to Dak's decisions on the field, the Cowboys must be more aggressive, especially on the road. Dak needs a receiver he can trust, a guy who will go get the ball like Dez Bryant and serve as a security blanket like Jason Witten. With them on the roster his rookie year, Dak was a Pro Bowler with a QB rating well over 100 and nearly 3,700 yards passing. He had 23 touchdowns and only four interceptions; he was efficient and effective. The guy who won multiple Rookie of the Year honors didn't disappear; he lost his top weapons. This season, it's been wide receiver by committee and a revolving door of tight end candidates. It's also worth noting the jury is still out on Dak. The Cowboys can't fully evaluate him or decide if he's the future of their franchise without giving him a receiver like Cooper.

Critics will focus on the high price paid for Cooper: a first round draft pick next spring. But if the Cowboys win the division title or earn a wild card, that pick is a small price to pay. They were probably going to draft a wide-out anyway. Why wait?? Cooper is a proven commodity in a results-based business, and he's under contract through 2019. The NFL is about winning NOW. The Cowboys traded future potential for an instant offensive upgrade, a ready-made receiver who can jump in with more than half the season remaining. What's not to love?

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, cbssportsradio.com and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.