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Seth Wenig/Associated Press
The Dallas Cowboys are in a standoff with Amari Cooper, with the wide receiver possibly leaving town as a result. Multiple franchises should be champing at the bit to acquire a new No. 1 target.
Cooper’s $22 million salary-cap hit, including a fully guaranteed $20 million kicker, for the 2022 campaign is problematic. The Cowboys are $21.2 million over the projected salary-cap figure, according to Spotrac. By moving on from the four-time Pro Bowl target, the Cowboys can save $16 million in one fell swoop.
ESPN’s adam schefter reported the Cowboys are “likely” to release Cooper by the start of the new league year (March 16). CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson added it is a “possibility” with “a lot of moving parts.” NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said he believes that Cooper is outright “done” with the Cowboys and that they may try to trade him before just letting him go.
The reports differ slightly, but the message remains the same: Cooper and the Cowboys may be heading toward a divorce.
Granted, the public nature of the potential contract squabble signals a leverage ploy by the Cowboys in an attempt to restructure Cooper’s current deal and provide some salary-cap relief. However, the wide receiver and his representation could hold steady since they don’t need to acquiesce with a potential robust market awaiting should the Cowboys pull the trigger.
Five organizations with salary-cap space and varying levels of need at wide receiver immediately jump to the forefront.
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Ron Schwane/Associated Press
Much like Cooper and the Cowboys, Jarvis Landry and the Cleveland Browns appear to be parting ways imminently.
Landry spoke out about his current situation on social media by revealing that he played through significant injuries last season and that he’d like to remain in Cleveland, though his status depends entirely on the team.
As tough as Landry is, the Browns have met the point of diminishing return with him. The wide receiver turns 30 later this year and his salary-cap hit exceeds $16 million. The organization can recoup $14.9 million with its release.
Even if the two sides agree to a restructured contract for Landry to remain with the team, wide receiver is clearly the biggest need on the Browns roster. Donovan Peoples-Jones led the squad last season with 597 receiving yards. Cleveland lacks explosiveness, reliability and consistency at the position.
Since the organization plans to move forward with Baker Mayfield as the starting quarterback this fall, general manager Andrew Berry’s primary offseason goal is adding pieces around the position to maximize the 2018 No. 1 overall pick’s potential.
Cooper would immediately add a different dynamic as a go-to threat, though he also struggled with a couple of nagging injuries last season.
Cleveland should be expected to make a splash with some type of wide receiver acquisition either through free agency or the draft. A Cooper signing would qualify.
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Bill Kostrun/Associated Press
The ties that bind can be very strong. The Miami Dolphins don’t leap off the page as a potential landing spot for Cooper because they just invested a top-10 selection in Jaylen Waddle and also have DeVante Parker on the roster.
However, Parker’s injury history is worrisome since he has played a full-season slate only once during his seven-year career. Parker dealt with a balky hamstring this past year and missed seven contests.
Parker still finished third on the team with 515 receiving yards (behind Waddle and tight end Mike Gesicki), and no other receiver had 225 receiving yards.
Interestingly, Cooper can join his fellow Alabama alums in Waddle and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The veteran wide receiver didn’t play with either during his Crimson Tide career, but he assuredly knows both through the program.
Finally, Cooper is a Miami native. The allure of going home to play with the Dolphins, who are packed with potential, should be appealing. Besides, the Dolphins own the league’s most salary-cap space at $61.2 million.
The perfect confluence of factors could collide in Miami’s favor to court a primary threat in Mike McDaniel’s new offensive scheme.
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Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press
The NFL’s worst team won’t be a popular destination for many of the top available free agents. But a wide receiver must look at his options. In Cooper’s case, the Jaguars provide an opportunity to maximize his potential both on and off the field.
Any skill-position player should assess a team’s quarterback situation to see if the talent behind center can take full advantage of his abilities. And Trevor Lawrence is a legitimate selling point. Lawrence may have not looked like the slam-dunk No. 1 overall pick during his rookie campaign, but those issues ran much deeper than simple first-year struggles.
Lawrence still presents the potential to become one of the league’s elite quarterbacks, especially with a quarterback-friendly head coach in Doug Pederson. The second-year signal-caller should blossom when he’s placed in a position to succeed.
The Jaguars lack a true No. 1 option in the passing game, so Cooper would immediately demand a significant target share. Turning 32 later this month, Marvin Jones Jr. would be far better served as a secondary threat.
From a financial perspective, the Jaguars own some of the league’s most financial flexibility as a young team in transition. The franchise holds the third-most salary-cap space at $56.1 million.
Cooper can cash in, play with one of the game’s most exciting young quarterbacks and even return to his home state.
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The argument for the Chicago Bears is nearly identical to that of the Jaguars, except the Bears aren’t located in sunny (and state-income-tax-free) Florida.
The Bears have more than enough salary-cap space at $25.7 million to make a run at Cooper on the open market. They can do so with the excitement of selling Justin Fields’ future with the franchise. Fields is another young quarterback whose rookie season didn’t go exactly as planned based on a poor situation. But the talent remains obvious.
A proper personal offensive infrastructure is what the team lacks.
Darnell Mooney is an excellent young wide receiver. In his second year, he led the Bears last season with 81 receptions for 1,055 yards. His production is a combination of an ascending player and circumstance. No other Bears wide receiver managed more than 410 receiving yards.
While Allen Robinson II is a more-that-capable target when healthy, he’s also a pending free agent, and the wide receiver is “eager” to test the market, per the Chicago Grandstand‘s Brad Biggs.
A duo of Cooper and Mooney, along with an improved offensive front to keep Fields upright, would make the Bears a dangerous team in the NFC. Considering Luke Getsy, who served as the Green Bay Packers’ passing game coordinator the last two seasons, is Chicago’s new offensive play-caller, Cooper can enter the situation knowing the offensive scheme will be set up to highlight its top receiver after Davante Adams averaged 159 targets over the last two seasons.
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Lon Horwedel/Associated Press
The Detroit Lions will be associated with every available wide receiver because they fielded the league’s worst group of targets last season.
To his credit, Amon-Ra St. Brown exceeded expectations as a rookie with a team-leading 90 receptions for 912 yards. But St. Brown was a fourth-round pick for a reason, and the Lions need far more juice among their receiving threats.
St. Brown should be Detroit’s long-term slot option. He’ll be the security blanket for whoever becomes his franchise quarterback. But the Lions need to find receivers who can create mismatches and force coverage to roll their way, thus creating more opportunities for everyone else.
The Lions’ most dynamic receiving threat is TJ Hockenson. He’s a quality option, too. But the tight end is not at Travis Kelce’s or George Kittle’s level. Thus, the Lions’ search for wide receiver helps to open up the entire offense should be vast.
Detroit is a hard sell for a player of Cooper’s caliber. At the same time, the Lions outperformed expectations last season. Yes, they finished 3-13-1. However, they played hard every week, and it’s obviously that they are well-coached.
Someone like Cooper taking a chance on the franchise and its staff would go a long way to elevating the organization’s status. The Lions must make a play for Cooper’s services if/when he becomes available.