That scenario mostly has to do with money, but the recent frustration Jones expressed toward his star receiver makes a parting of ways even more likely.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones expressed frustration with Amari Cooper
Cooper had a down year for the Cowboys; there’s no doubt about it. Keep in mind he missed two games while in the league’s COVID-19 protocols for unvaccinated players and was hampered for a third game upon his return. The missed games had to have played a role in the downtick in production, but it’s worth noting that Cooper complained that he didn’t feel he was getting enough targets near the end of the season. He wanted to be a more significant part of the offense in big spots.
“I think I can do more in the red zone if I get some targets. I can do more on third down if I get the targets,” he said via 105.3 The Fan. “To help the offense be what we need to be, I think I can definitely help change that.”
Cooper finished the season with 68 catches for 865 yards and eight touchdowns. He eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving the two seasons before.
If you were to ask him, it sounds like a lack of targets was a big reason for his struggles. In a recent interview with Jon Machota of The Athletic, Jones didn’t seem convinced, though. In fact, he made it sound like Cooper wasn’t pulling his weight as a top target on the field.
“Amari Cooper should take half the field with him when he runs a route…a whole bunch of that defense ought to have to honor Cooper,” Jones said. “He ought to be able to catch it in the middle when they’re going with him. Others do. You throw to people that are covered all the time.”
The Cowboys have an intriguing “out” in Cooper’s contract
On the surface, it would appear that Jones is simply venting his frustration with the way the Cowboys ended the season. He’s been doing a lot of that lately. Dallas lost in the Super Wild Card Round to the San Francisco 49ers at home, and in the process, disappointed both Jones and Cowboys fans everywhere. On paper, they appeared to be a team that could make a run to the Super Bowl. In actuality, Dallas once again failed to live up to expectations.
So yes, Jones is frustrated, and it makes sense.
The subtext for his thoughts on Cooper makes things more interesting, though.
The Cowboys are heading into an offseason of change. They’re likely to lose both coordinators, Dan Quinn and Kellen Moore, to head coaching gigs elsewhere. They’re also looking at an unrestricted free agency class of 21 players, with big names like Dalton Schultz, Leighton Vander Esch, and Jayron Kearse all able to hit the open market.
Jones and the Cowboys will have some maneuvering to do to keep their talent in place while still fitting everybody under the salary cap, and that’s what makes Cooper’s contract intriguing.
The wideout signed a five-year, $100 million contract before the 2020 season in which $40 million was guaranteed upon signing in the form of his signing bonus plus his 2020 and 2021 salary. The way the contract was structured, if Cooper is on Dallas’ roster on the fifth day of the 2022 league year, which is March 20th, he’ll have another $20 million guaranteed to him, which is his base salary for 2022. If that’s the case, he’ll count for $22 million against the Cowboys’ 2022 salary cap.
If Jones and the Cowboys trade or release Cooper before that date, though, they won’t owe him his 2022 salary, and he’ll count for only $6 million in dead cap money against the 2022 salary cap.
That would effectively give Dallas $16 million to play with, which could be huge for the Cowboys.
Would it be wise for the Cowboys to move off Cooper?
There are serious savings to be had for the Cowboys if they decide to move off Cooper this offseason, but how practical would it be from a pure football sense?
Despite a down season, he’s still one of the better wide receivers in the league. One would think that having him on the field makes the Cowboys better offensively just because of his presence alone. Then again, Jones’ recent comments make it clear that he doesn’t think that, and he’s the one who ultimately makes all the decisions for Dallas.
If the Cowboys move on from Cooper, they’d have to feel confident that CeeDee Lamb can step up to be a No. 1 receiver. He had a season worthy of that title, with 79 catches for 1,102 yards and six touchdowns, but his life would also get significantly tougher if he’s the main target defenses will have to key on downfield.
That makes the receivers behind Lamb that much more important, and there are some significant question marks in that regard as well.
Cedrick Wilson had a nice season with 45 catches for 602 yards and six touchdowns, but he’s one of Dallas’ many unrestricted free agents. He’d be smart to parlay his 2021 success and turn it into a huge payday. If Dallas is looking to cut one wideout to save money, would it make sense to sign another to a big deal?
Michel Gallup has done a great job playing the role of No. 3 receiver for Dallas when he’s healthy, but he’ll also be an unrestricted free agent in 2022, and he’s coming off an ACL tear that he hasn’t even had surgery on yet. Though he is a familiar face and productive when healthy, inking Gallup to another contract comes with many risks for Dallas.
Perhaps the most intelligent decision is to stay the course with Cooper and hope that he bounces back next season. After all, he’s eclipsed 1,000-plus receiving yards four times in an eight-season career.
When he’s on, he’s a difference-maker. The problem for Cooper is that it sounds like Jones doesn’t believe he’s making enough of a difference for Dallas…at least compared to $16 million in cap savings.