April 30, 2015, the Oakland Raiders are on the clock and with the fourth overall pick, select All-American Amari Cooper, SEC player of the year, and Fred Biletnikoff Award winner out of the University of Alabama. Little did anyone know that mediocre play awaited creating two trades: to the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns. Three teams in a seven-year career are not the stuff of legends.
Coming out of Alabama, the accolades and expectations were high. Still, despite a combination of speed, route running, and separation ability; polished skills that made him ready to start on day one. There were questions.
In 2015, the Raiders were a team trying to rebuild its image of bad boys. Too many penalties, poor attitudes, and “Just win, baby!” were no longer a reality with a dozen years passing since a winning season (2002). A legendary statement forgotten and replaced with a losing culture. A culture lacking the discipline to win. Just soap opera discontent.
History would change for one season, and Cooper would help take the Raiders from a 7-9 rookie campaign to 12-4 and their first winning season since 2002, earning two Pro Bowl bids in the process – only to collapse in 2017.
Despite being one of three players in NFL history to have a minimum of 70 receptions and 1,000-yard seasons in his first two years, the third season implodes for Cooper and the Raiders. He’d disappear throughout stretches, and the Raiders went back to their losing ways.
In 2018, the fourth season, looking more like his third, with contract talks emerging, Cooper was looking for an Odell Beckham Jr. (OBJ) and Antonio Brown payday. So, the Raiders’ new coaching staff acted. In the middle of the 2018 NFL season, the Raiders traded the talented but inconsistent and under-performing Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys.
In desperate need of a No. 1 receiver, the Cowboys still had the faith and gave up a first-round pick for him, the 24th overall in 2019. Eventually, a $20 million a year contract, only to turn around three years after acquiring him and give him away for peanuts.
The question is, why did the Cowboys move Cooper so cheaply? They didn’t have a choice. Cooper has one of the highest salaries for a wideout in the league – the fourth highest at the time of this article. His production doesn’t match his salary despite the perception he has in the eyes of most fans and even some general managers. He also allegedly dished on the star and face of the Cowboys, QB Dak Prescott.
The star and face of this team is QB Dak Prescott. Not happy with his use and production, Cooper supposedly made comments that probably helped the Cowboys decide to move him.
The Cowboys were looking at a $22 million cap hit in 2022, and you combine that with two years still left on a $100 million contract that pays out $20 million per year; salary cap issues await.
We can say the Cowboys may not be the most strategic team in looking at the big picture of the salary cap, but they’re not dumb. Cooper’s contract allowed the Cowboys to walk away from him and suffer modestly on the field and with the salary cap.
Many don’t realize QB Baker Mayfield played with a separated shoulder much of the 2021 season, and their hope is healthy; he can showcase the talent that made him the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. If they can win in 2022, they believe they have their foundation set for the next 3-5 years. The reality?
The Browns have a top offensive line and some playmakers on the defensive front. They likely feel they can compete if they can hit on some solid free agent and 2022 NFL Draft moves.
The necessity to replace their former No. 1 wideout in OBJ was apparent. They had no answer, thus the move for Cooper. Right or wrong, they must still believe he has upper echelon playmaker talent to produce and become an elite No. 1 NFL wide receiver.
Like others, the Browns are struggling to align themselves with the cap. However, while it’s a big salary, they must only eat year one of the $20 million salary and cap hit. Depending on Cooper’s production, they should take a wait-and-see before considering him long-term. That said, restructuring is always possible depending on their salary cap issues.
The Browns aren’t exactly deep in cap space. At the time of the trade, they had their issues to resolve, and one was Landry. A fan favorite and locker room leader. He would do anything to win, including playing hurt.
My friends, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the Browns’ next move would be, and Landry is now a free agent, and the Browns have some breathing room. The good news for Landry fans is that teams with Super Bowl aspirations are ready to call.
Let’s take a quick look at Cooper’s career numbers from an NFL and fantasy football perspective.
Note: fantasy points count one point per pass reception and six points per TD with standard rushing and receiving points, but remember, every fantasy league’s scoring fluctuates.
These numbers put him at the 30ish mark in most fantasy football wide receiver rankings and NFL statistical receiver categories. Mind you, that’s a very general statement.
It’s hard to argue Amari Cooper’s an elite wideout worth $20 million per season. I’m being polite; he’s not. Production and salary are the two reasons there weren’t many takers for a low-end No. 1 NFL wide receiver.
Sports Grumbling’s founder Big John Georgopoulos states the league figured him out and realized you can bump, push, and bully him at the line to disrupt his game.
Who got the better of the trade? Cleveland, if Cooper pans out, it remains to be seen until then. Let’s not forget Cooper will only be 28 this season. He is a four-time Pro Bowl selectee and was performing at a higher level with the Cowboys than he was with the Raiders.
A significant negative that many won’t argue? That makes him a much less attractive target on fantasy football draft day?
Viewing him as a value pick with upside is the best option for now. If he falls to you as a solid No. 2 wideout, grab him with this thought process; while not true, he’s playing for a new contract for all intent.