The Cowboys reportedly agreed to a trade with the Browns on Saturday that will send four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper to Cleveland for a fifth-round pick and a sixth-round pick trade in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The return Dallas received for Cooper is no indication of his worth – rather, it was a move necessitated by poor cap space management. He basically paid his salary to a team that was willing to pay him $20 million a year.
MORE: Amari Cooper Business Details
The Cowboys and their loyalists can justify the move by pointing out that Cooper was never able to get the team over the playoff hump, and that he didn’t prove to be the game changer. game that justified the first-round pick Dallas sent to the Raiders in their trade. for him in 2018. They can point to the fact that this move frees up space to re-sign other cheaper receiver options. They can point to the fact that the team risked getting nothing for Cooper by cutting him.
All of this is true. Still, Dallas fans and objective observers alike might want to know why Cooper asked for such a low price — and why the Cowboys chose to walk away from him in the first place. With that, The Sporting News breaks down that decision:
Why did the Cowboys trade Amari Cooper?
Ezekiel Elliott’s contract
Elliott’s deal was a huge boost for the Cowboys who traded Cooper. Some wondered why Dallas chose to keep the traditional running back in a more passing-oriented league. The reason is that Elliott, who signed a six-year, $90 million extension ahead of the 2019 season, would create more problems for the team if he were released than if the Cowboys kept him.
If the Cowboys were to release Elliott, the team would face an estimated $30 million hit and an additional $11.9 million hit if they cut him before June 1.
They must but cannot.
Zeke has a dead cap of about $30 million this year and the Cowboys would face an additional $11.9 million if they cut it before June 1.
The soonest they can pass is probably next offseason. https://t.co/khDST5AwKU
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) March 4, 2022
As it stands, Elliott is $18.2 million over the Cowboys’ cap in 2022.
Salary dump creates cap space
Conversely, removing Cooper from the Cowboys’ books only results in a cap of $6 million, while keeping him would have resulted in a cap of $22 million. By trading Cooper to the Browns, the team saves $16 million in cap space.
Why is this important? This helps the team re-sign other, cheaper options on offense who weren’t far behind Cooper in terms of production in 2021. The move now re-signs receivers Cedrick Wilson Jr. and Michael Gallup, as well as the late Dalton Schultz, who received the franchise tag.
Retaining Schultz is important, given that he set career highs in targets (104), receptions (78), yards (808) and receiving touchdowns (eight) in 2021. Additionally, the tight end Blake Jarwin has undergone hip surgery that threatens to keep him out of the field until 2023.
Loss mitigated by CeeDee Lamb, Gallup, Schultz
If the Cowboys take advantage of the Cooper trade to re-sign Gallup, Schultz and Wilson, they will keep all but one of their offensive weapons from the 2021 season. This group (without Cooper) had 305 receptions, 2,957 receiving yards and 22 touchdown receptions last year.
Cooper was third on the team in receptions, second in yards and tied for first in touchdown receptions in 2021. If the Cowboys were going to keep him, he should have been the No. 1 clear receiver. Lamb is a terrific young talent still on his rookie contract while Schultz, Gallup and Wilson all represent cheaper alternatives to Cooper.
Cooper was undoubtedly a big part of the Dallas offense, but on paper the unit won’t take too big a hit without him.
Never pushed the Cowboys further into the playoffs
It’s true that Cooper gave the Cowboys’ offense a much-needed boost when they traded him in 2018. He was a two-time Pro Bowler at Dallas, racking up 292 receptions for 3,893 yards and 27 touchdowns. He was also a three-time 1,000-yard receiver as a Cowboy.
But part of the reason the Cowboys signed him was to help them reach their first Super Bowl since the 1995 season. They only made the playoffs twice with Cooper, in 2018 and 21. In three career playoff games with the Cowboys, Cooper compiled 19 receptions for 235 yards (12.4 yards per reception) and two touchdowns.
Cooper certainly didn’t help his case in 2021 by missing two games after contracting COVID-19. For the season, he produced 68 receptions (the third-lowest of his career) for 865 yards (the second-lowest) and eight touchdowns.
For these reasons – and reasons beyond Cooper’s control – Dallas chose to walk away from him.