With half of the season now behind us, it’s much easier to look back on the Dallas Cowboys‘ offseason decisions and pass judgment. One that drew heavy criticism at the time and remains a sore spot is trading away wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns. How much has that move helped or hurt the Cowboys so far in 2022?
Back in March, nobody reasonably expected both Cooper and Michael Gallup to make it onto this year’s roster. But while many thought that Dallas would let Gallup walk away in free agency, especially given his ACL tear in Week 17 of 2021, they instead signed him to a multi-year deal and traded Cooper. The Cowboys sent Amari to Cleveland in exchange for a 5th-round pick and a swap of 6th-rounders, gaining $16 million in salary cap space with the move. They would spend that extra draft pick on offensive tackle Matt Waletzko.
How’s Dallas faring right so far after this move? Overall, everyone’s smiling with a 6-2 record and a great shot at making the NFC playoffs. Even with the Philadelphia Eagles cruising towards the NFC East crown, the Cowboys are currently the top wild card candidate and have a great shot at maintaining that status over the second half of the season.
While the hot start and well-documented success even during QB Dak Prescott’s injury have been feel-good stories, that doesn’t mean Dallas hasn’t missed Cooper’s services. Gallup didn’t debut until Week 4 and has struggled to make an impact so far, barely connecting with Cooper Rush and still not yet back to his former self since Prescott’s return. Hopefully, the bye week has given Michael a chance to get closer to form.
Cowboys WR replacements
It also hasn’t helped that James Washington, the veteran receiver Dallas signed last March, has been completely absent so far since a preseason foot injury. While not a star during his years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington was expected to round out the top three at receiver and provide much-needed depth and experience. We’ve also been disappointed by the lack of progress from prospects like Jalen Tolbert and Simi Fehoko, who haven’t capitalized on these veteran absences.
Thankfully, longtime backup Noah Brown stepped up enough to give Cooper Rush a reliable target and keep the offense semi-solvent. But everyone knows that if not for the outstanding play from the Cowboys’ defense so far this year, this offense didn’t have enough juice to win the majority of its games during Dak’s injury.
Meanwhile, Amari Cooper continues to be a productive receiver for the Browns. Despite Cleveland’s 16th-ranked passing offense, Amari has posted 39 catches for 553 yards and five touchdowns already this season. He’s poised to return to Pro Bowl-worthy numbers for the year and easily would’ve been one of the top two receivers so far if he’d remained with the Cowboys.
Obviously, Dallas could’ve used Cooper early this year and would have a stronger receiving corps now. With reports that they’re hotly pursuing free agent Odell Beckham Jr., the Cowboys clearly don’t have full confidence in the current group. While CeeDee Lamb is starting to look like the franchise WR again, the lack of impact from the rest of the group needs to be addressed.
Not having Cooper in the mix hurts even more when you look at what Dallas did, or didn’t do, with the return from the trade. That $16 million in cap space partially went to re-signing Gallup and helped fund some other modest deals, such as signing LB Anthony Barr and OT Jason Peters. Some of it may yet be helping the Cowboys add Odell Beckham in the coming days. But as we bemoaned throughout the offseason, there were no splash moves that clearly moved the needle in Dallas’ overall talent level.
The 5th-round pick used on Matt Waletzko has yet to yield results, either. Dallas had to sign Peters because neither Waletzko nor Josh Ball showed they could be trusted to play swing tackle. While one can’t reasonably expect a Day 3 pick like Waletzko to come in and start balling, it illustrates how little the Cowboys got back in exchange for a Pro Bowl receiver.
The bottom line
It’s easy to take a “no harm, no foul” approach to analyzing the Cowboys’ decision to virtually dump Amari Cooper. They’re still having a great season and are poised to be a contender in the NFC. But despite that, it’s hard to look at what Cooper’s doing in Cleveland and how Dallas is still struggling at receiver and say the Cowboys benefitted from the move. They’re winning in spite of it, not because of it, and still have plenty of opportunity to regret the decision once we get into the playoffs.