The clock has expired.
As of noon, when the legal tampering window opened, Cooper officially is an unrestricted free agent, free to negotiate with outside clubs. Deals can be consummated during the tampering period but not formally signed until 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the start of the new league year.
The sides had engaged in heavy negotiations after Cooper’s agent shared an “upbeat” conversation with Dallas brass at last month’s Scouting Combine. ESPN’s Ed Werder reported last Tuesday the team was “working hard” to lock down Cooper, whose camp appeared “motivated at the moment to get something done.”
Werder’s update piggybacked off colleague Josina Anderson’s Feb. 29 report that discussions “are set to intensify very soon.” They had been in a holding pattern due to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which the NFL and NFL Players Associated ratified Sunday.
The Cowboys’ leading receiver in 2019, 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 club which surrendered a first-round pick to pry him away from the Raiders in 2018.
“Listen. I love being a Dallas Cowboy,” Cooper reiterated earlier this month, via Blogging the Boys. “I love everything about it. I was just thinking about that today. I think about it almost every day, really. Just primetime games. It seems like more night games than everybody and that always feels good to a football player. You know everything. The facility, I love it here in Frisco where I stay at now. Just the aura of being a Dallas Cowboy, you can’t beat it.”
New head coach Mike McCarthy, too, divulged the “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 last month.
But allowing him to reach the open market puts a dent in those plans. He’s far and away the best receiver available, offers for whom should check in around $20 million annually, possibly surpassing the five-year, $100 million pact that New Orleans’ Michael Thomas signed last season, which included $60.598 million guaranteed and a $20 million signing bonus.
The Cowboys entered Monday with approximately $74 million of available salary-cap space. A chunk will be allocated to quarterback Dak Prescott, who was assigned the exclusive franchise tag, worth about $33 million for 2020, assuming he signs it.
Cooper should have multiple suitors inquiring about his services. Potential landing spots include Green Bay, Houston, Buffalo, and Philadelphia.
Dallas will continue discussions with Cooper, and there’s certainly still a strong chance he returns to North Texas. But it’s not quite the slam-dunk as initially presumed.
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