Sometimes, all it takes is a change of scenery. For Amari Cooper, that was exactly what needed to happen.
In his first two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, Cooper flashed the potential of a true no. 1 wide receiver: back-to-back years with 1,000-plus receiving yards, earning Pro Bowl honors for both campaigns. But in 2017, his production dropped off and expectations were tempered, although he had a career-high seven touchdowns. Through six games with the Raiders this year, a stretch in which Cooper accumulated just 22 receptions for 280 yards and one TD, it was obvious that the struggling pass catcher needed a fresh start elsewhere.
So, new Raiders head coach Jon Gruden shopped Cooper ahead of the NFL’s October Trade Deadline and found a handsome suitor. The Cowboys, severely lacking in aerial firepower and swimming in mediocrity among the other members of the NFC East, were interested in acquiring Cooper and they were willing to part ways with a first-round draft choice. It was too good of an offer for Gruden to pass up. The Cowboys would indeed give up their 2019 first-round pick to Oakland for Cooper, a move which was highly criticized by fans and analysts alike around the league. Two other trades a few days later (Golden Tate to the Eagles, Demaryius Thomas to the Broncos) appeared to confirm that Dallas could have gotten the wide receiver at a lower price.
However, it was Cooper that got the last laugh and the effect of the trade was immediate: Cooper had more receiving yards in his first three games with Dallas than he had with the Raiders all season long. The big play ability showcased during his early years in Oakland was back. In nine total games with the Cowboys, Cooper posted 53 receptions for 725 yards and 6 touchdowns, including a monster 10 catch, 217 yard, 3 TD romp in a critical, division-clinching matchup against the rival Eagles. He finished the 2018 season with 74 catches, 1,005 receiving yards, and 7 TD.
The Cowboys’ stats with and without Cooper are mind-boggling. Before the Week 8 trade, the team’s record was 3-4. After acquiring Cooper, Dallas went on a 7-2 tear, claimed the top spot in the NFC East, and marched themselves into the playoffs. Tonight, the Cowboys take on the Seahawks in a Wild Card showdown. None of it would have been possible had owner Jerry Jones not thrown caution into the wind and taken a chance on Cooper.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” said Cooper of his contributions to the ‘Boys. “They called me in, they traded for me, they expected me to make some plays to help us win ballgames, and I felt like I came in and did a little bit of that.”
“I mean, obviously, I didn’t want to get traded,” he added. “But after I got traded, I wanted to come here, play good football and kind of help the team win and prove that they made a good trade. I’ve felt like I’ve done that.”
The biggest factor of Cooper’s successful transition to playing football with the Cowboys is his chemistry with quarterback Das Prescott. Yes, Cooper has benefited from the presence of Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott, a luxury he did not have in Oakland. In 2018, Zeke earned his second rushing title in three years. But it is Cooper’s undeniably special connection with Prescott, who has suffered from the lack of a standout receiver since Dez Bryant’s departure, that has allowed him to soar.
“It’s like they played with somebody like you before, something like that,” Cooper said on his rapport with Prescott. “I don’t know what it was, but we just had great chemistry since I got here.”
Although Cooper is still under contract for 2019 thanks to the Raiders exercising the fifth-year option on his rookie deal last April, he is expected to discuss a possible extension with the Cowboys. Back in November, ESPN insider Adam Schefter reported that the two sides had yet to have any talks about Cooper’s future, although Schefter noted that “Dallas wants to pay Cooper” and serious conversations won’t pick up until the offseason begins. The Cowboys also have a lot of young stars to pay both on offense and defense. However, Jones’ comments about Cooper “making a bid for his cash” after the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day win over the Redskins confirmed the team’s interest in locking up the wide receiver for the long-term. And, of course, a strong postseason debut will only bolster his case for big money.
Cooper deserves to be handed the extension. He is young, talented, and his potential still has yet to be fully tapped. He’s committed to Dallas and, for the first time in a while, is finally part of an offense in which he feels comfortable. Perhaps a full season with Prescott can bring out the best in Cooper. But right now, it appears that only the sky is the limit for what the receiver can hope to accomplish.
Cole Topham is the lead editor for snacktimefantasy.com and covers the MLB and NFL. He enjoys watching his opponents suffer as he defeats them week after week in his fantasy football/baseball leagues.