ALAMEDA -- Amari Cooper was expected to play in silver and black for a long, long time. The Raiders budgeted to pay the Alabama product fair market value when the time came, as part of an effort to reward homegrown talent and keep the team’s nucleus intact.
Those plans changed this year. Cooper was traded to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday for a first-round draft pick, formally exchanging the shield for the star.
Cooper was going to be the mainstay in this receiver corps, as Derek Carr’s go-to guy for a considerable stretch. That won’t happen anymore, and should lead to a complete upheaval at the position.
Jordy Nelson and Seth Roberts are the only Raiders receivers under contract for the 2019 season, and both guys could be gone if coach Jon Gruden so chooses.
Nelson is set to make $7.2 million next year, and Roberts will earn $4.65 million under his contract. Neither deal contains guaranteed money for 2019, meaning the Raiders could end either one without incurring dead money.
Starting from scratch sounds imposing, but it offers Gruden to create the pass-catching corps he sees fit.
They will need a top target posthaste, either in 2019 free agency or the NFL draft. Nelson still has it, but he's 33 years old and no longer a speed demon. Roberts primarily is a slot receiver and was the team’s No. 4 receiver behind Cooper, Nelson and Martavis Bryant.
The Raiders gave the Pittsburgh Steelers a third-round pick for Bryant, but re-signing him seems unlikely unless he improves on a subpar start to the season.
It’s far too early to look at this, but the list of unrestricted free agent receivers is uninspired, save a select few, lacking a dominant No. 1 that could elevate the receiver corps.
It’s entirely possible the Raiders have a new receiver crew in 2019. Receivers were expected to come in and out around Cooper, a solid wideout who never reached elite status. He was too inconsistent for that, too often hurt to be steadily dominant.
He wasn’t going to be worth the money required to keep him, but he could’ve been a quality producer for years if allowed.
Not only do the Raiders have to make up for his absence in the long term, but they must figure out how to survive 2018 without him. Nelson and tight end Jared Cook surely will see increased attention. The team needs Roberts and Bryant to assume bigger roles, and rookie Marcell Ateman and veteran Brandon LaFell will see increased action in coming weeks.
Losing Cooper represents the end of an ideal, where a select few Raiders talents would lead the team into a prosperous future. Different personnel will carry Gruden’s offense forward. The Raiders would be wise to look for durability, steady hands and a forceful route runner to take Cooper’s role. They have to be smart, able to play multiple positions and make proper adjustments required to function well within Gruden’s system.
It was clear the Gruden-Cooper partnership didn’t go as planned, and he was traded for shockingly steep compensation. Now it’s on Gruden to fill Cooper’s void in the short term and improve his position group over time.