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Dallas Cowboys can't count on Amari Cooper to be a cure-all for offense

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 10/22/2018 Nate Davis

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Maybe you've heard this before?

The Cowboys have acquired a former Pro Bowl receiver — one who entered the NFL as a top-10 draft pick and was in his mid-twenties at the time of the deal — in a package that will cost Dallas a future first-round selection.

It happened at the trade deadline 10 years ago, for former Texas Longhorns star and one-time Detroit Lions Pro Bowler Roy Williams.

It also happened Monday, this time for two-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper, formerly of the Oakland Raiders.

More: Cowboys land Amari Cooper in trade, send Raiders first-round pick

More: Jerry Jones pushes back on Dak Prescott criticism, saying Cowboys QB is more than a 'bus driver'

Maybe you've also heard this one, given it's only been two weeks since Cowboys owner Jerry Jones claimed his team has lacked a No. 1 wideout for some time.

"That hasn't been our case here for several years now," Jones lamented on a Dallas radio show. "Not a true No. 1. My definition of a No. 1 receiver? It is Julio Jones, DeAndre (Hopkins). There are not a lot of those guys around the NFL."

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, Jerry, but we all know you got fleeced in the Williams swap and — while the jury will be out for some time on the Cooper gamble — it's safe to say you still don't have a No. 1 target for third-year quarterback Dak Prescott.

Some thoughts ...

► By Jones' own standard, Cooper isn't top tier, lacking the production and/or physical dominance of Hopkins, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, A.J. Green or Odell Beckham (when he's properly engaged). And let's throw out some more names: Davante Adams, Keenan Allen, Brandin Cooks, Stefon Diggs, Mike Evans, Tyreek Hill, T.Y. Hilton, Alshon Jeffery, Jarvis Landry, Golden Tate, Adam Thielen and Michael Thomas. If Cooper is among the NFL's 20 best at his position — and that's a very optimistic scenario given cases could be made for Doug Baldwin, Julian Edelman, Larry Fitzgerald and others with extenuating circumstances — then he's 20th. At best.

► Cooper exceeded 70 receptions and 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons (2015 and 2016), hardly mind-blowing output but deserving of those Pro Bowl nods. Yet his decline began well before Jon Gruden appeared. Cooper had just 48 grabs for 680 yards in 2017 along with a miserable 50% catch rate. This season, he's caught 22 balls for 280 yards, putting him on pace for 59 and 747, respectively, over 16 games. In fairness, Cooper was victimized by a brutal (and unflagged) hit in Week 6 against Seattle. But acquiring a player so recently in the concussion protocol is apparently another risk that didn't deter the Cowboys.

► Cooper is highly unlikely to make Dallas' passing game flourish or frame Dak Prescott as the franchise quarterback he most certainly is not — at least not at this stage, Jones' overly rosy evaluation that Prescott isn't merely a "bus driver" notwithstanding. Cooper came into the league with 4.4 speed, and five of his 19 career TDs have covered more than 50 yards. However his only score of 2018 spanned just 8 yards, perhaps because he bulked up to 225 pounds earlier this year even though his 6-1 frame typically carries about 210.

Prescott isn't specially accurate — his completion percentage rate has dipped in each of his three NFL seasons, now down to 62.1 percent — and Cooper doesn't have the catch radius, a la Jones or Evans, that will mask his misfires. He wasn't able to make an impact for Oakland, ranking 71st league-wide in receiving yards per game (46.7), even though Derek Carr was averaging nearly 40 throws (yes, many of the shorter variety) per week.

There's also the matter of learning a playbook and building chemistry, tasks that typically require at least one full offseason.

To be fair, I assessed Dallas' receiving corps (tight ends included) as the NFL's worst prior to the season. Given that's proven pretty much spot on, hard to hate a move that, by definition, is an upgrade. Cole Beasley is the only Cowboy with more than 25 catches or 205 yards, even if he does little more than move the chains from the slot. Cooper will at least make opponents content to swarm running back Ezekiel Elliott think twice (if not for all that long).

And though surrendering a first rounder for Cooper feels awfully steep given what he's shown recently, at least Jones didn't throw in an additional third rounder or cough up a $54 million extension ($54 million relative to 2008 cap value) like he did with Williams. Cooper is only 24, under contract through 2019 and will pull down roughly $14 million next year, when the Cowboys will (at minimum) almost surely let him play out his fifth-year option. Regardless, this situation provides more financial flexibility and time for self scouting than when Jones boxed his team into the Williams arrangement.

Still, at the end of the day, Jones is left with the kind of bold move that served him so well in the business world and, occasionally, as an NFL owner — though far less frequently in the 21st century. If he expects Cooper to be a panacea for this offense and propel a decidedly average team to the NFC East title, well, let's hope Jones is prepared that this could wind up being a dry well that ultimately sets Prescott and Co. further back down the road.

***

Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

Related slideshow: Best of the NFL season (provided by photo services)


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