Why the Cowboys are looking to part ways with Amari Cooper

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·NFL columnist
·3 min read
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INDIANAPOLIS — Amari Cooper’s time with Dallas Cowboys appears to be headed to an end. And it has as much to do with the surrounding cash register as the wide receiver's struggle to live up to an elite-level contract.

A league source told Yahoo Sports that the Cowboys have made an extension with pending free agent wideout Michael Gallup and others a priority before the start of free agency, leaving the team in a difficult spot with Cooper, who is set to earn $20 million in base salary next season. Dallas was open to negotiating a lower salary with Cooper for next season, but is now leaning toward trading him — which appears unlikely because of his salary — or releasing him in the coming days, the source said.

However the team gets it done, clearing Cooper from the roster will open up nearly $16 million in salary-cap space that can be used toward free-agent retention.

The source said that without Cooper renegotiating a lower salary, Dallas has gotten to the point of feeling like it’s in an either/or situation where it has to prioritize Gallup, who (when healthy) has been a deep-threat favorite of quarterback Dak Prescott, along with some other pending free agents. As it stands, the Cowboys have a multitude of pressing issues when it comes to extensions or gaining cap flexibility heading into free agency.

What makes Cooper a target for a trade or release is the structure of his deal. Unlike some other players on the roster who are perceived to be overpaid at this stage, Cooper has the easiest path to meaningful cap savings. That fact put him front and center in the team’s talks about how to create flexibility to retain free agents over the past month.

One problem has ultimately been an undercurrent for Dallas since it was eliminated from the postseason in January: how to keep as much of the current roster in the fold without multiple players stepping up and taking pay cuts. The answer, in part, has been to surrender a valuable veteran in free agency (possibly defensive end Randy Gregory) and potentially cut another one loose (likely Cooper).

A decision with Cooper also could impact negotiations with Gregory and the team’s ability to retain Gallup as well as possibly bring back Cedrick Wilson and place the franchise tag on tight end Dalton Schultz (which isn’t a guarantee at this point).

The Cowboys are looking to either trade or release Amari Cooper to help with long-term roster flexibility. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
The Cowboys are looking to either trade or release Amari Cooper to help with long-term roster flexibility. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Gallup is currently rehabbing from surgery on a torn ACL and his timetable for the 2022 season is unknown, but Dallas has been encouraged by the early results following his procedure last month. The looming question for the Cowboys would be the length of his deal, given that Gallup was expected to be a top-tier free agent prior to his knee injury. Gallup could seek something as short as a one-year deal to again test free agency, or he could lock in more guaranteed money and safety with something longer-term. Whatever the route, his number would likely be significantly more cap-friendly than what Cooper was set to earn in 2022.

Cooper and Schultz have been buzzy players among teams at the scouting combine — Cooper because of his trade availability and the possibility of his release, and Schultz because he’s expected to be a coveted free agent. That said, two wide receiver-needy teams that spoke to Yahoo Sports suggested Cooper’s value to the franchises would be in free agency and not a trade.

As one general manager said of Cooper: “With his current deal and then trade assets, no [interest]. But if [Dallas] releases him, definitely. Even if they don’t, we have quite a few options at that spot, whether it’s through the draft or free agency. Most teams do right now. I don’t think anyone is in a hurry to make a bad deal.”