INDIANAPOLIS — The Amari Cooper era launched suddenly when the Cowboys dealt a first-round draft pick to acquire the wide receiver at the October 2018 trade deadline.Three and a half years later, its end could loom near.The Cowboys are trending toward releasing the four-time Pro Bowler before his $20 million salary becomes guaranteed on March 20, a person with knowledge of the team’s plans confirmed to USA Today Sports on Friday.The person spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to publicly disclose the information.Time remains for a shift in negotiations with “nothing determined” fully yet, another person with knowledge confirmed to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity given the lack of a formal decision.
But the Cowboys lack sufficient funding to keep all their weapons.
Shedding Cooper’s hefty cost would help salary cap compliance.
COOPER’S NEXT STOP?: Dolphins, Browns among 11 NFL teams that could be fits BIG MEN, BIG DREAMS: Offensive linemen Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu build case for No.1 pick NFL DRAFT: Hand-size hysteria is no reason to downgrade top QB prospect Kenny Pickett Cooper’s tenure in Dallas was productive if at times inconsistent and enigmatic.He competed in 56 games with 54 starts, catching 292 balls for 3,893 yards and 27 touchdowns.But in 2021, as the Cowboys’ receiving stable deepened, justifying Cooper’s production relative to his cap hit two years into a five-year, $100 million extension became murkier.Second-year receiver CeeDee Lamb led the Cowboys with 1,102 yards and six touchdowns in 2021.Cooper posted 865 yards and eight touchdowns, missing two games after contracting COVID-19 while unvaccinated .The Cowboys’ viable options continued, tight end Dalton Schultz notching 808 yards and eight touchdowns while receiver Cedrick Wilson posted 602 yards and six scores.
Eight players had multiple receiving touchdowns.That body of work, paired with Schultz, Wilson and Gallup being poised to hitting free agency, could further dissuade the Cowboys from ponying up $20 million.“I know you guys may target guys that you think we may be looking at, and usually those are the guys who are making a lot of money,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Monday from the NFL scouting combine.“That comes with making money.
Unfortunately in this league, (we ask): Is the value there?” What could Cooper’s release mean for the remainder of Dallas’ free agency landscape? Schultz could be a candidate for a franchise tag or long-term extension, the Cowboys acutely aware that tight end is their thinnest position.Tight end Blake Jarwin underwent offseason hip surgery with serious implications, multiple people with knowledge of the procedure confirmed to USA TODAY Sports on Thursday.Jarwin’s 2022 future hinges on medical decisions, but Cowboys brass have discussed the room’s depth this week without listing him in their top three available options.Gallup, too, could stand to cash in if Cooper departs.The 2018 third-round draft selection missed eight games in 2021 while battling first a calf injury and later tearing his ACL.He underwent surgery to repair the tear on Feb.
11 and remains in rehabilitation.But should Gallup recover fully, Cooper’s departure “definitely opens the door for a bigger role we think he can fill,” a person familiar with the team’s plans told USA TODAY Sports.The person spoke on condition of anonymity due to the fluidity of the situation.Teammates advocated for Cooper’s return, Lamb telling USA TODAY Sports that he believed the team needed the crisp-route veteran.“We do, honestly,” Lamb told USA TODAY Sports on Feb.10.
“We do because I feel like he goes unappreciated off small things because he does the small things right.Having him back, I hope they understand that: We need at least two (top receivers) out there.” Lamb said he tried not to discuss the business with Cooper since Cooper was “crazy out of his mind with the situation (and) how much stress it brings him.” “It’s been a lot for him,” Lamb said.Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy was asked Tuesday whether the Cowboys could truly be a better team in 2022 without Cooper’s production and under-the-radar run blocking.McCarthy reframed the challenge.”We have to be a better team regardless of how that shakes out,” McCarthy said.
“I learned this a long time ago.My first two years in Green Bay as a head coach, when you got to stand up there and answer business questions about your players, you can’t have an opinion.Because it’s between the player and the club.“When people say he didn’t get enough targets, OK.I want all of the players to get paid as much as they can and we wouldn’t have any money if it was up to me.We’d try to get them all back.But there is the business part to this.”.