The Cleveland Browns have led the NFL in headlines over the last six months with a parade of controversial acquisitions, blockbuster trades and, most recently, an improbable late-game collapse.
Amid all the bluster, conjecture and fiery hot takes, a few developments were bound to get lost in the hoopla. One such development happened to be the Browns’ bargain-bin acquisition of former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper, who reminded the entire league on Thursday night just exactly the kind of player he has been since bursting onto the NFL scene eight years ago.
Cooper exploded in the Browns’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, pulling down seven catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. The performance hinted at even better things to come once placeholder quarterback Jacoby Brissett is replaced by three-time Pro Bowler Deshaun Watson in Week 13, following his 11-game suspension.
The receiver’s breakout showing, and his general productivity over the first three weeks of the season, have landed Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones on something of a hot seat as he attempts to explain why Dallas let the pass catcher get away for such a low price.
Jones Downplays Browns’ Clear Win in Trade For WR Amari Cooper
What makes Cooper’s performance even more exciting for Browns fans is how cheap it was for Cleveland to acquire his services. The team gave up only a fifth-round draft pick and the option for the Cowboys to swap sixth-round picks in return for the wideout.
In fairness to Jones, Cooper’s contract does amount to $60 million over the next three years, though the Browns restructured that deal to spread the cap hit around and leave themselves with plenty of maneuverability this offseason, some of which they used to secure Watson shortly thereafter.
Michael Gelkin of the Dallas Morning News on Friday, September 23, asked Jones about his decision to part with Cooper for so little in return. The Cowboys owner dodged the portion of the question involving his team getting fleeced on their compensation in the trade, instead leaning into the idea of financial realities in a salary cap sport.
“The issue with Amari Cooper was how much we were paying him and what we could do with that money,” Jones told Gelkin. “Amari Cooper is a real good player — top player.”
“You can’t have it all.”
Jones Changes Tune on Amari Cooper After Browns Roll Steelers
Jones’ comments Friday represent a significant amount of backtracking from things he said about Cooper during the offseason, following the receiver’s trade to Cleveland.
Jones told Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star Telegram on May 26 that the deal would not hurt the Cowboys, as he viewed wideout CeeDee Lamb as a superior option to Cooper.
Owner Jerry Jones … doesn’t believe the team will take a step back at the top of the [wide receiver] group. Jones told the Star-Telegram that CeeDee Lamb will be an upgrade over Cooper as a true No. 1 receiver in the Cowboys’ offense.
Jones said he was [not] trying to slight Cooper, whom the team traded in March in part because his production didn’t match his $20 million practice tag. But Jones acknowledged Cooper had his issues and that Lamb has the makings of a more complete No. 1 receiver in “production, in the huddle, and off the field.”
The Cowboys owner doubled-down on those comments exactly two months later during a press conference on July 26.
“When you get in that [financial] spot, I can tell you, your standards go up. Your bar is higher. Your conduct is higher. Your attention to the team is higher, not just your own performance, but everything when you have that kind of responsibility, when you have that much of the financial pie,” Jones said of Cooper. “What I’m trying to say is those decisions were made more about availability than ability. They were made as how you arrived at not being available at times.”
Cooper is a four-time Pro Bowler, earning two of those honors as a member of the Cowboys in 2018 and 2019.
The wideout played nine games with Dallas after being traded there by the Las Vegas Raiders in 2018. He also played in six games for the Raiders that year. Over the next three seasons, Cooper appeared in 47 of 48 regular season games in Dallas and started 45 of those contests, per Pro Football Reference.
Cooper has made 19 catches for 219 yards and two touchdowns during his first three games in Cleveland this year. Meanwhile, Lamb has made nine catches for 104 yards and zero touchdowns through the Cowboys’ first two regular season outings.