Amari Cooper to be a free agent 2020: Top landing spots, projected contract, latest updates, rumors and more


There is much for the Dallas Cowboys to figure out in 2020. As new head coach Mike McCarthy works to get his coaching staff all prepped for upcoming offseason tasks, he must also get in sync with the front office as he readies to take on his first stint of free agency with the team. The No. 1 item on the task list is to get quarterback Dak Prescott signed to an extension with the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback hinting at a potential holdout if he’s franchise tagged

That’s pushing the club to get a deal done with him expeditiously and if they can achieve that goal, they’ll then move their attention to locking down wide receiver Amari Cooper for the future. They’d like to have the franchise tag available to use on the four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, seeing as his contract talks remain stalled while Prescott’s push on, because it’s unlikely a deal will be done with Cooper before the NFL’s tag deadline of March 10. 

The landing of a new collective bargaining agreement — or lack thereof — also impacts how the Cowboys handle Cooper this offseason, but the bottom line is they’d like to keep him in Dallas.

Obviously, however, there’s a chance — albeit a very minute one — Cooper hits the open market. Even if he’s tagged, assuming it’s non-exclusive or transition, he’ll have the chance to negotiate with other teams. The Cowboys would have the right to match any offer and could reap two first-round picks if they let him walk under the non-exclusive tag (zero compensation if that’s allowed under the transition tag). 

Who would come calling for Cooper, though? 

Plenty of teams, because he’s proven time and again he’s a No. 1 receiver in the NFL.

Top landing spots for Cooper

If the Cowboys can’t keep the reins on Cooper, they can expect the rival Philadelphia Eagles to lead the pack in trying to chase him down. The Eagles are reportedly considering moving on from Alshon Jeffery following a season marred with injury and a rumored rift with Carson Wentz, and Nelson Agholor is an unrestricted free agent not expected to be re-signed. Add to this the fact DeSean Jackson himself is aging and returning from injury, and you can rapidly see how much adding Cooper would immediately impact the Eagles receiving corps.

And, of course, they’d love to stick it to their bitter rival from Texas in the process. 

From there, the Giants wouldn’t be too far behind, considering they’re still working to locate a dynamic No. 1 receiver and new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett would love to get Cooper back in his system. It won’t be easy for them to justify swinging big for him as long as they’re willing to allow Tate a $10.5 million cap hit though, and they do have promising up-and-comers in Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton.

So while the Giants make sense, it’s only if they move on from Tate, and that’s why stronger suitors would be the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals. The Bills enjoyed a resurgent year from Cooper’s former teammate, Cole Beasley, and adding Cooper opposite the speedy John Brown would be a lethal set of receiving weapons for Josh Allen. The Broncos loved the 1,000-yard season they got from Courtland Sutton in 2019, but the loss of Emmanuel Sanders created a void Cooper instantly fills and signing him would help ensure Drew Lock has a breakout sophomore campaign

And then there are the Cardinals, who know Larry Fitzgerald won’t play forever — even if it appears he will — needing a longterm weapon for Kyler Murray, who’ll allow Christian Kirk to excel as a No. 2 option.

  1. Cowboys
  2. Eagles
  3. Broncos
  4. Cardinals
  5. Bills

Honorable Mention: Giants

Projected market value for Cooper in free agency

This is where things get a bit uncomfortable for the Cowboys, and maybe a few other clubs as well. 

There is zero doubt Dallas wants Cooper, and Cooper feels the same way, but this is a team that fights tooth-and-nail to pay less than market value for players. They’ve taken losses as it relates to their uber-frugal model in setting the market at 4-3 defensive end for DeMarcus Lawrence and then a few months later when doing so at the running back position, by way of Ezekiel Elliott, but have their share of wins when as well when factoring in the deals on Jaylon Smith and La’El Collins.

Cooper isn’t as open to a discount as Smith or Collins though, and his market value being a robust $19.7 million annually — per Spotrac — is one reason the Cowboys are ready and willing to exercise a tag on him for 2020. The franchise tag and transition tag at wide receiver are roughly $18.49 million and $15.93 million, respectively, making both less expensive than what Cooper’s average annual salary would be on a new deal.

Concerns could curb Cooper’s price a bit

It is key to note, however, that a new deal would likely yield a smaller Year 1 hit against the Cowboys salary cap than the proposed tag amounts, adding to the complexity of the Cowboys decision. Tagging Cooper has obvious benefits, including the team having a justifiable concern (even if small) about his durability. To his credit, Cooper missed no games in 2019, but his 16 starts weren’t always fruitful and didn’t always equate to him finishing the game — be it for the list of lower-body injuries he was nursing, bad coaching decisions, or both. 

In the end, he produced 1,189 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, career highs in both categories, despite being absent for chunks of games and having issues with drops here and there.

His ceiling is why he can still command top dollar, but the Cowboys and any other suitors do have an argument for him reducing his ask, whether it’s at the projected market value or not. A longterm deal will inevitably make him a top-5 highest-paid receiver in the NFL, and you can expect his average annual salary to land closer to Michael Thomas’ second-best $19.25 million than Mike Evans’ fifth-best $16.5 million. 

Projection: Five years, $95 million ($19 million AAS), $60 million guaranteed

Scouting report on Cooper (pros and cons):

Pros:

  • Route-running phenom
  • Exceptional football IQ
  • Elite quickness and deception technique(s)
  • Above-average speed
  • Consummate pro
  • No off-the-field issues/suspensions
  • Abnormal athleticism

Cons

  • Inconsistent hands
  • Durability concerns

How a new CBA would impact talks with Prescott, Cooper

Friday, Feb. 21: It’s unlikely a new collective bargaining agreement will be ratified before the start of the new league year on March 18, let alone eight days prior when the tag deadline arrives, but it would create ripples in the Cowboys free agency blueprint if it does. For one, it would mean they don’t have access to both tags, as mentioned above, and if one has to be used on Prescott — Cooper would hit the open market. That would make it more difficult for them to re-sign him, considering he’d be able to negotiate with other clubs unencumbered. 

Cowboys prepared to tag Amari Cooper

Tuesday, Feb. 11: The two sides want a deal done, but March 10 is barreling down the ‘pike and there has been zero progress toward that goal as the Cowboys remain all-in on using Prescott as the skeleton key to unlock everything else they need to do in free agency. It’s one reason their plan is to likely tag Cooper, but the other reason revolves around their valuation of him, so the tag might not simply be a placeholder. 

Cooper himself said — despite a career-best season — he could’ve performed better in 2019, and that might make amicable to playing 2020 under a tag (if its available) to boost his value that much more for talks in 2021 with teams if it comes to that. At 25 years of age, he could still cash in big a year from now.

Prescott is ‘No. 1’ priority for Cowboys, Cooper ranked ‘No. 2’

Wednesday, Jan. 22: The front office in Dallas knows where its bread is buttered. With Lawrence now anchoring the defensive line for the next half-decade and Elliott doing the same in the running back room, it’s time to pay the piper who stands behind Travis Frederick. It’s no surprise they’re more pressed to secure Prescott than Cooper, and until they do, talks with Cooper will likely not gain traction. But while this is justified, time waits for no man, and only an exclusive franchise tag at $18.49 million would absolutely guarantee he’s in Dallas this season.

And not to sound like an echo chamber here, but that’s if it’s not used on Prescott. If it is and a CBA miracle prevents access to two tags in 2020, Cooper’s phone will be ringing off the hook as he hits the open market, and the Cowboys will officially be in a bidding war — something they’re loathed to participate in for any player. 

Best case, they’d like Cooper around for years to come. Worst case, if they lose him, they’d like it to be by choice and would love two first-round picks as compensation if another team wants him that badly.





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