For three years, Dez Bryant worked diligently to find a rhythm with Dak Prescott. It never happened, and it’s among the reasons the Cowboys cut the former All-Pro receiver in April.
The same thing happened to Tony Romo, who never developed a rapport with Roy Williams when the Cowboys acquired him at the trade deadline in 2008 for a first- third- and sixth-round draft choice.
The Cowboys immediately signed him to a $54-million contract, but he caught just 94 passes for 1,324 yards and 13 touchdowns in 40 games before Dallas released him.
The latest news from around North Texas.
So there should’ve been plenty of trepidation - and there was - about whether Amari Cooper could develop a rapport with Dak Prescott quickly enough to make a difference this season.
After all, he was going to have to do it without the benefit of offseason minicamps or training camp and the Cowboys needed it to happen quickly because they were 3-4. It seemed like a perfect cauldron for failure. Instead, it’s worked out perfectly.
Adding Cooper has made Prescott better, running back Ezekiel Elliott more effective and play-caller Scott Linehan smarter.
All of those reasons combined with the Cowboys’ stellar defense is why Dallas has won five consecutive games and positioned itself to win the NFC East for the second time in three years with a win Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.
Since acquiring Cooper, he’s gained a league-leading 642 yards receiving on 40 receptions. He’s scored six touchdowns and has five catches of 20 yards or more.
He’s been one of the game’s best players - and it’s all because he’s quickly developed a rapport with Prescott.
The normal reaction is to try to figure out why it has worked with Cooper, when it didn’t with Bryant.
Stop. It doesn’t matter.
What does matter is it’s clear Prescott already trusts Cooper more than he ever trusted Bryant. All you have to do is see the types of passes he throws the 24-year-old receiver. Bryant and the coaching staff tried for two years to persuade Prescott to throw Bryant the ball even when it looked like he was covered.
He rarely did it. Now, he does it all the time.
“That was the emphasis, to get on the same page with Dak and to see what type of quarterback he was in terms of like the route he likes to throw, and all those things,” Cooper said. “I just think it suits my style of play.
“I think our games complement each other well as far as what he does at the quarterback position and what I do at wide receiver.”
Their trust was never more evident than in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys’ 29-23 win over Philadelphia last week.
Philadelphia had just tied the score at 16-16, and the Cowboys needed a long drive or a big play to quell the Eagles’ momentum. When Cooper heard the play in the huddle, he asked his new quarterback for a chance to make a play.
“It’s interesting, because I actually had another stop route on that play, and they were - if you were watching - really sitting on those stop routes,” Cooper said. “I was like, this is ridiculous.
“So when I broke the huddle I was kind of mad, and I was like, ‘Dak, come on’. And he was like, ‘just run it bro’. I guess he thought about it again and he kind of signaled a 'go route' and I was elated. I took off, caught the ball and scored.”
Prescott used a hand signal to change the play at the line of scrimmage, looked off the safety and heaved it deep. Cooper ran under out and away from Philadelphia’s cornerback to complete a 75-yard catch-and-run.
That’s called trust building.
“I knew he was good. I knew he was going to get separation and get open and make great catches,” Prescott said, “but when you just see the run after catch and breaking tackles, and being that great of a player, as I said, I’m just thankful we got that trade.”
This is the player the Cowboys envisioned acquiring, when Vice President of Player Personnel Will McClay spent a day watching each of his 2,608 snaps with the Raiders.
This is the player the Cowboys wanted, when they spoke with tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier, Cooper’s offensive coordinator at Alabama, about his personality and upside. This is the player Jason Garrett called Alabama coach Nick Saban about to make sure he’d fit into the Cowboys’ culture.
All of that information was bandied about by owner Jerry Jones, Vice President Stephen Jones and McClay, when they met in a tiny room in the bowels of FedEx Field after a bitter 20-17 loss to Washington and decided they would part with a first-round pick if that’s what it took.
They did it because they had watched Washington put eight defenders near the line of scrimmage and dare the Cowboys and their collection of receivers to beat a them. Elliott finished with 33 yards on 15 carries, the second-lowest total of his career.
And they did it because they would have control of Cooper for nine games in 2018 and 16 games in 20119 before they had to make a decision on whether to re-sign him.
Well, that decision has already been made. He’s going to get a long-term deal from the Cowboys after what he’s done since arriving.
“It’s not easy to do what he’s done coming in in the middle of the season to get himself acclimated into an offense and have the impact that he’s had,” Garrett said. “But he is just a really good football player.
“Physically he is a really good player. He doesn’t have any limitations on the routes that he can run and the things he can do out there. You can ask him to do anything.”
Especially, when he and the quarterback trust each other.