The Cowboys made a bold move Monday based on hope and reality.
The hope is that Amari Cooper, a gifted receiver who had more than 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first two seasons, can help the Cowboys make the playoffs this season.
The reality is the Cowboys have a $100 million decision, maybe more, to make concerning Dak Prescott at the end of the 2019 season and they can’t do it with him throwing to a pedestrian group of receivers.
It’s a trade Dallas needed to make.
The 6-1, 211-pound Cooper is better than Miami’s DeVante Parker. He’s a ton better than Buffalo’s Kelvin Benjamin. He’s better and younger than Denver’s Demaryius Thomas.
Each of those players were reportedly on the trading block. The NFL trade deadline is Oct. 30.
Cooper is better than any receiver the Cowboys could take in the first round of the 2019 draft whether we’re talking Mississippi’s A.J. Brown, Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown or Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry.
Cooper, who’s signed through 2019, is scheduled to earn $13.9 million next season.
Now, it’s a steep price in terms of draft capital and money for a dude with just 22 catches for 280 yards and a touchdown this season.
But that’s more a product of first-year coach Jon Gruden’s seeming disdain for Cooper than the player’s ability.
After all, Cooper caught 10 passes for 116 yards against Denver and eight passes for 128 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland in September.
He didn’t suddenly get sorry.
Besides, we’re talking about a player who gained more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. His numbers declined last season, but he was still apparently in high demand. Oakland reportedly turned down a second-round pick from Philadelphia and Indianapolis was about to make an offer, so Jerry made the deal happen.
Late last week the Cowboys were still discussing the move internally, but as late as Friday morning they still hadn’t contacted Oakland about what it would take to make a deal.
A source said talks intensified this weekend internally and with Oakland.
Much of the internal conversation centered on how the Cowboys could determine Prescott’s worth given the collection of receivers on the roster.
Other teams such as Chicago, Kansas City and the Los Angeles Rams have given their young quarterbacks a collection of weapons; the Cowboys stuck Prescott with journeymen.
In his first 24 games, Prescott completed 66 percent of his passes, while throwing for 228 yards a game with 38 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He averaged 7.7 yards per attempt.
In his last 14 games, Prescott has completed 62.4 percent of his passes, while passing for 194.9 yards per game with 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He’s averaged 6.7 per attempt.
The Cowboys acquired Cooper to help them figure out whether the real Prescott is the player from the first 24 games or the guy from the last 14.
Understand, Prescott is never going to consistently elevate players with his arm talent like New England’s Tom Brady, New Orleans’ Drew Brees or Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. They can make average receivers good.
Prescott can elevate players with his intangibles, but he must be surrounded by better talent than the front office gave him this season.
The question is how fast Prescott can found a rhythm with Cooper.
After all, he had an entire offseason of minicamps, OTAs, training camp, preseason games not to mention seven regular season games with players such as Hurns and Deonte Thompson and he still can’t seem to consistently find a rhythm with them.
It’s hard to believe he’ll be able to do it with Cooper, but it’s worth the risk.
This trade is about more than this season. The Cowboys also made the deal with next season in mind.
A group of receivers led by Cooper, Michael Gallup and Cole Beasley, if he re-signs, is significantly better than the current group.
Then, the Cowboys can adequately determine whether Prescott is their long-term quarterback.