Amari Cooper had a down year in 2021, struggling to match the production from his first three seasons in Dallas. After the season, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones expressed his frustration with the 27-year-old wideout. That opened the door to a lot of questions about Cooper's future with the organization. What follows is a look at the Cowboys' options for their highest-paid receiver.
In 15 games during the 2021 campaign, Cooper caught 68 passes for 865 yards and eight touchdowns. That was a steep drop off from his 1,000-yard campaigns in 2019 and 2020. Meanwhile, CeeDee Lamb caught 79 passes for 1,102 yards and six touchdowns, firmly establishing himself as the team's top wideout.
Cooper signed a five-year, $100 million deal with Dallas in March of 2020. He's now set to make $20 million in each of the next three seasons. His cap hit for each campaign stands at $22 million.If the Cowboys cut or trade him before June 1, he'll have a dead cap hit of $6 million and save the team $16 million. If he's cut or traded after June 1, that $6 million cap hit will be spread over 2022 and 2023 ($2 million in 2022, $4 million in 2023).
The Cowboys are entering the offseason more than $21 million over the NFL's salary cap, so they need to make some serious cuts. Cooper is an obvious place to start. He's the third highest-paid player on the roster and a prime candidate to get moved. Dallas could just cut him outright. That's option No. 1.
The thing is, Cooper still has value around the league and the Cowboys might be able to get something in return for him. The Jacksonville Jaguars have been rumored as a possible trade destination. Franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence could use a veteran No. 1 target to help the rest of his young receivers along. The Cleveland Browns appear likely to need another receiver with Jarvis Landry possibly on the outs there.
While Dallas would likely only receive a mid-round draft pick in return, it would be a way to get out from under the contract and at least get something back. There are a bunch of options should they choose to go in this direction.
Lastly, the Cowboys could just retain Cooper. He's only a year removed from posted 92 receptions for 1,114 yards and five touchdowns. He could turn things around next season, he'll only be 28 when the 2022 campaign kicks off. Cooper is an excellent route runner and has a good rapport with Dak Prescott. That chemistry will be difficult to replicate. It's possible he'd be willing to restructure his deal to give Dallas more financial flexibility.
This offseason will be huge for the Cowboys. They went 12-5 but were bounced from the opening round of the playoffs in a huge disappointment. Dallas will need to make substantial changes to get under the cap and still remain competitive. Cooper is the first problem the franchise must solve.