The Cowboys gave up their 2019 first-round pick in exchange for Amari Cooper, and six months later, Dallas is still happy with its decision to trade for a game-changing wide receiver.
Those inside the Cowboys’ draft room will be dressed in suits and ties. They will take phone calls and make phone calls and look busy, but ultimately they will sit on their hands in the first round.
As antsy as they might feel at times during the round, if a player they like really starts to drop, they will take comfort in knowing they actually made their first-round pick last October when they traded for wide receiver Amari Cooper.
“I don’t think there’s any buyer’s remorse there,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “We are really pleased we made that move.”
Cooper’s arrival changed the trajectory of the Cowboys’ season. They won seven of nine games and won a playoff game. He invigorated a dormant passing game, giving quarterback Dak Prescott an option he did not have in the first seven games of the season when passing for 200 yards was a chore.
After the Cowboys’ 20-17 loss to the Washington Redskins on Oct. 21, owner and general manager Jerry Jones did not speak to the media. It was one of the rare times Jones did not speak after a game. Some wondered if he was too upset to speak, perhaps a sign coach Jason Garrett’s future was in doubt.
Instead, he was huddled in the corner of the athletic trainers’ room inside FedEx Field with his son, Stephen, and vice president of player personnel Will McClay discussing the possibility of trading for Cooper.
The Cowboys and Oakland Raiders opened dialogue on a deal only a few days prior. A first-round pick was costly, but so was letting a season crumble at the midway point of the season.
“We have looked at each other before and said we would never do that again,” Stephen Jones said of giving up a first-round pick.
Not having a first-round pick takes some juice out of the draft. Making a potentially bold move up in a draft is nearly impossible without a first-rounder, unless a team would be willing to give up a future top pick or multiple picks. Also, the chances of landing a cornerstone player decrease.
The Cowboys have had a good run of first-round success recently. Dez Bryant (2010), Tyron Smith (2011), Travis Frederick (2013), Zack Martin (2014), Byron Jones (2015), Ezekiel Elliott (2016) and Leighton Vander Esch (2018) have played in at least one Pro Bowl.
The last time the Cowboys did not have a first-round pick was in 2009 after another in-season trade for a receiver — Roy Williams from the Detroit Lions. That was a disastrous draft in which none of their 11 selections became anything more than bit pieces.
With that bit of history as the backdrop, Jerry Jones gave up the first-round pick for Cooper the next day.
In nine games with the Cowboys, Cooper caught 53 passes for a team-high 725 yards. He scored six touchdowns. In the rematch against the Redskins, he had a 90-yard touchdown catch. Against the Philadelphia Eagles, he had 10 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns. He became the first player in NFL history with three go-ahead scores in the fourth quarter and overtime of the same game. Nine of his 10 catches went for a first down.
Prescott threw for more than 200 yards in just three of the first seven games without Cooper. He passed for more than 200 yards in eight of the nine games with him.
“I would do it tonight again,” Jerry Jones said of the Cooper trade. “To make that clear. We were that rewarded with our future with Amari and consequently want to be real clear there. But again, it’s simply a foolish thought of ‘I would have liked to do that another way, instead of having that No. 1 pick.’ But candidly it makes anything we’re doing here very acceptable of reach over there and thinking about Amari Cooper and the Cowboys.”
Without the trade, the Cowboys likely would not have made the playoffs in 2018. They certainly would not have had the 27th pick in the first round that went to the Raiders. And even if they finished middle of the road, they would not have found a receiver with the quality of Cooper in this year’s first round.
In 2015, Cooper was among the Cowboys’ top-five rated players on their board, according to multiple sources. While it is unknown how the Cowboys have ranked the wide receivers in this year’s draft class, sources said no receiver has a draft grade close to what they gave Cooper.
A key factor in the decision to make the trade at the time was Cooper’s age. He turns 25 in June. Many folks wanted the Cowboys to select Alabama’s Calvin Ridley in the first round of last year’s draft. He turns 25 in December. Cooper has four years of experience — and three Pro Bowl appearances. The top receivers in this year’s draft, such as DK Metcalf, Marquise Brown and Parris Campbell, will be 21 or 22 by the time the regular season begins.
“I think we are very happy with where we have ended up in terms of what we could get at our pick in terms of a receiver or any other player in terms of what we ended up with with Amari,” Stephen Jones said.
At the NFL scouting combine, Stephen Jones joked that the Cowboys will watch Cooper highlights when the Raiders are on the clock with the Cowboys’ pick. The team might also put Cooper’s name on their draft board, slotting him into where he would fit in this year’s draft if he were available.
Anything to keep them occupied in the first round.
“I don’t know about you,” Jerry Jones said, looking to his right at Stephen during the pre-draft news conference, “but I’m not interested in stacking up these one-less draft days. They’re no fun.”
Unless you already your pick.