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The Cowboys Had to Make an Awful Trade to Get a Maybe-Good Receiver

Dallas had little choice but give up a lot to get Amari Cooper, but can the erratic wideout prove his worth in the team’s stagnant offense?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

After the Cowboys failed to replace Jason Witten (who now watches Booger McFarland announce on Monday Night Football) and Dez Bryant (who now asks teams to sign him on Twitter), their pass-catching situation has been just as bad as expected. They have been leaning on rapper Cole Beasley as their no. 1 option and currently employ someone named Blake Jarwin as a pass catcher. (No, really, they have a guy named Blake Jarwin.) Predictably, the Cowboys are in the bottom quarter of the NFL in passing yards, passing touchdowns, passing first downs, net yards per attempt … you get the idea, especially if you’ve seen them play. With the defense keeping them competitive in the NFC East, it made sense that the Cowboys would finally pony up and acquire their man on Monday by trading for Raiders receiver Amari Cooper, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. All they had to give up was — wait, what?

The Cowboys reportedly dished out a 2019 first-round pick for Cooper. That’s essentially what the Rams gave up in April for Brandin Cooks, who had been more productive than Cooper over the past few seasons. It’s an even heftier price considering the Raiders had telegraphed for weeks that Cooper would not be invited to Las Vegas after his contract expires following the 2019 season. It’s also especially risky to trade for him considering that Cooper’s play has been erratic during his four NFL seasons. He led all receivers who played more than 50 percent of their team’s snaps in drop rate in both 2015 and 2017, dropping 20 and 16 percent of catchable passes, respectively, in those years, according to Pro Football Focus. Cooper, a player who most fantasy players desperately wish they could trade away but can’t get a proper return on, was just dealt by his real football team for a real first-round pick.

In Dallas’s defense, Cooper is 24 years young, came in third in Heisman voting in 2014, and logged at least 1,000 receiving yards, 70 catches, and five touchdowns in both of his first two seasons. A year ago, he had an 11-catch, 210-yard masterpiece. He’s young, has plenty of upside, and will easily be the most talented receiver in Dallas. Assuming the Cowboys sign Cooper to an extension beyond 2019 — it would be an abject disaster if he were to leave in free agency — Cooper would be a steal if Dallas could unlock his potential.

The only hitch is that Jason Garrett is not known for unlocking players’ potential. He is known as the jailer of player potential, from Dez to Dak Prescott to Ezekiel Elliott. Garrett runs the least imaginative offense in the NFL. During Sunday’s Dallas-Washington game, announcer and former Cowboys QB Tony Romo, who hasn’t played in two seasons, explained exactly what the team would and wouldn’t do on its final drive based on how personnel lined up. This came shortly after Bryant attributed his lack of production to opponents knowing what the Cowboys would do before the snap. Perhaps Cooper is worth a first-round pick, but as long as Garrett is the head coach, we are unlikely to find out.

On the other side of the trade, the Raiders pulled off a coup by holding out for a first-rounder. The 2019 draft now runs through Oakland (or San Diego, or London, or wherever the Raiders will play before their move to Las Vegas in 2020). After the Khalil Mack and Cooper trades, Jon Gruden and Reggie McKenzie now have three first-round picks in a draft loaded with quality defensive linemen. (Perhaps replacing Mack will be easier than fans envisioned.)

There’s a decent chance that this first-round pick will come back to haunt Dallas if Cooper is subpar, and maybe even haunt them if Cooper is good on a large contract. The Cowboys finally have a receiver — but at what cost?