Mike McCarthy wants to go to war with Dak Prescott, a franchise quarterback he feels capable of leading the Dallas Cowboys to a championship. And he’d like Prescott’s supporting cast to remain intact along the way.
The new Cowboys head coach declared Wednesday his intention to bring back unrestricted free-agent wide receivers Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb ahead of the NFL’s signing period, which officially opens March 18.
“The goal is to have both of those guys back,” McCarthy said at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, per the team’s official website.
McCarthy is extremely familiar with Cobb from their time in Green Bay, where the latter scored 41 receiving touchdowns and collected 470 catches for 5,524 yards across eight seasons (2011-18). A moveable chess piece, Cobb also saw action in the backfield, recording 59 carries for 352 yards as McCarthy’s play-calling reached its apex.
Following an injury-marred 2018, Cobb signed a one-year contract with the Cowboys. He functioned as the slot WR behind Cooper and Michael Gallup, and totaled 55 receptions for 828 yards and three TDs over 15 appearances, adding just 11 rushing yards on three attempts.
Cobb’s potential wasn’t maximized under former HC Jason Garrett and then-rookie offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. But it was enough to draw a rave review from his old coach.
“I was very impressed with Randall last year,” McCarthy said. “He was banged up a couple of years prior to that, but I thought he had a heck of a season last year in Dallas. I was very impressed with his video.”
Cobb won’t garner significant money on the open market even after settling for a prove-it deal in 2019. While likely to shop his wares to interested suitors, the 29-year-old allowed that a McCarthy reunion may factor into his decision-making.
“When it comes to free agency, you never know how it’s going to play out. But it could,” Cobb told USA TODAY’s Doug Farrar.
“You factor in all the different pros and cons to whoever’s offering and who wants you, and you find out where you’re valued, and how much you’re valued.”
Cooper is a trickier situation to navigate. Like Prescott, he’s primed to reset the positional landscape, prompting Dallas to heavily weigh their options. Massive contract? Franchise tag? Transition tag? They’re all in play for the club’s leading pass-catcher.
“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.
Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones recently divulged that he shared an “upbeat” discussion with Cooper’s agent at the Super Bowl. Jones, however, cautioned that no new pacts would be completed until the NFL and NFLPA agree to a revised Collective Bargaining Agreement, still in the voting stages.
The Cowboys will take roughly $77 million of salary-cap space into free agency, more than enough to lock down the former Pro Bowler. But, assuming that doesn’t materialize, the ratified CBA is expected to prohibit teams from using both tags; so if Prescott gets it, there’s a better-than-good chance Cooper is lost to the highest bidder.
Doing their due diligence with Cooper, Cobb and Tavon Austin currently unsigned, the Cowboys informally interviewed WRs Michael Pittman, Denzel Mims, and K.J. Hill — among others — at the Combine. They’ve also scheduled an official top-30 visit with Pittman, a projected second-round pick.
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McCarthy Explains Giving Up Play-Calling to Moore
Years ago, during the twilight stages of his Packers tenure, McCarthy vowed never again to cede play-calling privileges. Surprisingly, his tune changed upon his arrival to the Cowboys, where he was faced with an immediate decision: Retain Moore or oust the 31-year-old and put a stranglehold around the responsibility.
He went with Door No. 1, and not only that, granted Moore, a rare holdover from the Garrett era, full play-calling autonomy. It was a major change of heart that the media didn’t let McCarthy forget during his press conference at the Combine.
“I have a new job, so I get to start over and take all those never again statements back,” he said Wednesday, chuckling, per Pro Football Talk. “I think when you just look at the big picture, these decisions that I’m making particularly early in my tenure, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. I’ve had a chance to study the opportunities that were in front of me for quite some time and Dallas was the one opportunity was something I thought it was important to keep the current offense in place because of the success they’ve had in the past. The productivity on offense is very high. There will always be things that are different. I think anytime you have a coaching change, that’s obvious. Our approach to offense will change. The design of how we put things together will be different. But it’s important to build off the successful concepts and particularly the language in place.
“I’m excited to work with Kellen, and I’ve really enjoyed our meetings. I really like the way he looks at the game.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL