The sides met again during this week’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where significant headway was made toward a (mostly) mutual goal.
ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported Saturday that negotiations “are set to intensify very soon” between Dallas and the Pro Bowl pass-catcher, who’s been projected to land as much as $20 million annually on his next deal.
The Cowboys are working against the clock and the soon-to-be ratified Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is expected to eliminate use of both the franchise and transition tags. They would have the franchise tag at their disposal, though that’s likely to be applied to free-agent quarterback Dak Prescott, barring a long-term agreement by March 12, the tag deadline.
“It’s what it is. We’ll just have to figure out a way to (get it done). … There’s no question it’s going to put on a bigger angst,” owner Jerry Jones said at the Combine on Thursday, per the Dallas Morning News, admitting to the difficulty of retaining Prescott and Cooper in 2020.
The Cowboys will take roughly $77 million of salary-cap space into free agency, more than enough to lock down the star duo while likely waving bye-bye to cornerback Byron Jones. But removing the transition tag increases the odds that Cooper is lost to the highest bidder on the open market.
The NFL’s signing period officially opens March 18. It’s preceded by a two-day legal tampering window, beginning March 16, when a majority of high-profile agreements will be consummated around the league.
On a multi-year pact, Cooper, 25, could meet or surpass the $96.25 million contract inked by New Orleans’ Michael Thomas last summer. It’s possible he also eclipses, in terms of annual salary, the three-year, $66 million deal that Atlanta’s Julio Jones received in September.
New Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy recently unveiled the team’s “goal” of re-signing Cooper and fellow unrestricted free agent WR Randall Cobb.
“Having a chance to get through all the tape, [Cooper] did a lot of great things and it really looks like he’s in sync with Dak,” McCarthy noted.
Dallas’ leading receiver this past season, Cooper battled through numerous lower-body injuries to deliver 79 catches for a career-high 1,189 yards (eighth-most in the NFL) and eight touchdowns, also a new personal best. He’s on record as expressing a “wholehearted” desire to stay put for the foreseeable future, committing to the clubwhich surrendered a first-round pick to pry him away from the Raiders in 2018.
“I do [want to stay in Dallas],” Cooper said at last month’s Pro Bowl, via Pro Football Talk. “I mean that wholeheartedly. I love Dallas. . . .I feel like it’s home. I want to live there for a long time.”
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Dallas Reportedly Goes Opposite Route with Byron Jones
While igniting discussions involving Prescott and Cooper, the Cowboys essentially resigned themselves to parting ways with star cornerback Byron Jones, who’s estimated to reset his positional market.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the club’s brass spoke to Jones’ player reps at the Combine and the parties mutually agreed to let the 27-year-old test free agency.
“This is really not a surprise,” Rapoport said, via NFL.com. “The Cowboys like to keep all of their players. They just have a lot of other financial responsibilities here. Dak is one. Amari Cooper is another. Byron Jones is expected to be a highly paid corner and could end up as the highest-paid corner in the NFL when it’s all said and done.”
Not a surprise in the least. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones echoed team vice president Stephen Jones’ skepticism over retaining Jones considering where their priorities lie: Prescott and Cooper, then everybody else.
“It certainly is pretty plain to see that, when you have the players we have right now under contract, plus we have arguably three of the top free agents there are out there, and we have the prospects of this Collective Bargaining Agreement, that we’ve got some work to do,” Jones said Thursday, per Pro Football Talk. “That’s a real challenge.”
Among the bidders for his services, Jones has been connected to the Las Vegas Raiders, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Denver Broncos, who reportedly will aggressively pursue the former first-round selection.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL