As noted by Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, the team kept open an “exit door” for the Pro Bowl wide receiver by opting not to restructure his $100 million contract.
The Cowboys instead redid the deals of three offensive linemen — tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins and right guard Zack Martin — to create $17 million in salary-cap space, it was announced Wednesday.
“Can part ways in early 2022 with just $6M dead money vs. cap,” Gehlken said of Cooper. “This one of big decisions looming at WR position. Michael Gallup in contract year.”
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After Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence was named a likely restructure candidate, Mike Fisher of CowboysSI.com reported on the possibility of Cooper agreeing to a “trigger-flip” that would have freed roughly $12 million in cap room.
“The trigger doesn’t change the player’s salary; it just changes, in a sense, which pocket his money comes from and which pocket it goes into,” Fisher wrote on March 4. “A move with Cooper would, however, essentially lock him onto the roster, as a practical matter, for this season and for 2022. (Without the trigger, his $20 million APY deal has an ‘escape clause’ following this season.)”
Per OverTheCap.com, restructuring Cooper would save $14,257,500 against Dallas’ cap. As is, he’s scheduled to carry a monster $22 million figure for 2021 — or 10.5% of the club’s overall payroll. His $20 million base salary is guaranteed.
The Cowboys’ leading receiver is under contract through 2024, his age-30 campaign. If the organization opts to move on, they must reach a decision prior to the fifth day of the 2022 league year, when Cooper’s $20 million salary for that season becomes fully guaranteed.
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With quarterback Dak Prescott now assuaged, the Cowboys have begun to turn their roster attention elsewhere. On Wednesday, they released starting fullback Jamize Olawale.
Olawale joined Dallas in 2012 as an undrafted free agent before spending six seasons (2012-17) with the then-Oakland Raiders. His second Cowboys stint began in 2018. A strict blocker, the North Texas product totaled just 55 career rushing attempts (206 yards, four touchdowns) and 41 receptions (438 yards, three TDs).
Instrumental to star running back Ezekiel Elliott’s success, Olawale helped spring the two-time NFL rushing champ to consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. The Cowboys’ ground attack finished fifth in 2019, averaging 134.6 yards per game. Olawale, who recorded 118 snaps, made all 16 appearances.
Olawale opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. Without him, the rushing average fell to 111.8 YPG, and Elliott notched his fewest ground touchdowns (eight) since 2018, as well as the lowest yards-per-carry (4.0) of his five-year career.
If designated a pre-June 1 cut, the Cowboys will eat $1.2 million in dead money while clearing only $575,000 in salary-cap space. A post-June 1 designation would save $1.175 million and leave behind $600,000 in dead cash.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL