I never took Jerry Jones for a procrastinator, but boy did he drag his feet on this one. Dallas had all offseason to address wide receiver. Sure, the Cowboys made minor improvements here and there, adding former 1,000-yard receiver Allen Hurns in free agency while taking a third-round flyer on Colorado State product Michael Gallup. But that’s not how you replace two of the most prolific pass-catchers in team history, Jason Witten (fourth all-time in catches) and Dez Bryant (franchise-record 73 receiving touchdowns). We’re used to seeing Jones swing for the fences but when it came to filling the team’s receiver need, the long-time Cowboys owner played it unusually safe … until Monday.
That’s when Jones pressed send on the second big swap of trade season (the first came Friday afternoon when the Jags added Carlos Hyde as insurance for wounded workhorse Leonard Fournette), acquiring Amari Cooper in a blockbuster deal with Oakland. Cooper is the big-name receiver Dallas has long coveted and he didn’t come cheap. The two-time Pro Bowler cost Dallas a first-rounder which, depending on how the chips fall, could end up being a top-10 pick. That’s a steep price, especially for a player as erratic as Cooper. The Alabama alum has a pair of 1,000-yard seasons on his NFL resume, but he’s also been prone to lapses including last year when Cooper committed an embarrassing 10 drops, fourth-most in the league behind Dez Bryant, Keenan Allen and Evan Engram. As awful as that sounds—it’s tough to frame a 10-drop season in a positive light—that’s actually an improvement from when Cooper stunk up the joint with a league-high 18 drops as a rookie in 2015.
Durability issues have also dogged Cooper throughout his career as the former fourth overall pick was noticeably slowed by a high-ankle sprain last season and just endured a concussion in Week 6, which would turn out to be his final appearance as a Raider. Cooper’s yardage totals this year are a good representation of what his career has been to this point: a complete rollercoaster, alternating between wonderfully thrilling and sickeningly ugly. Nobody in the NFL embodies the feast or famine stereotype quite like the NFL’s resident extremist Cooper, who has twice gone over 100 yards receiving this year while also falling short of 20 yards on four occasions. Cooper still displays flashes of tantalizing brilliance, but not as many as steadier stars like Odell Beckham and Mike Evans.
It’s been a frustrating run for Cooper, especially considering the lofty expectations placed on him coming out of Alabama four years ago. But let’s not forget that the former first-round pick is still just 24 and it’s reasonable to think his best football is still ahead of him. He wouldn’t be the first player to benefit from a change of scenery—John Brown has seen a career resurgence in Baltimore this year following a largely disappointing tenure in Arizona—and the opportunity will certainly be there for Cooper in Dallas.
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In the absence of Bryant and Witten, the receiver-starved Cowboys have turned to a depressing cavalcade featuring diminutive slot man Cole Beasley, the talented but inexperienced Gallup, overpaid gadget player Tavon Austin, Jaguars castoff Allen Hurns and a rotating band of catch-and-fall tight ends including Geoff Swaim and former Baylor basketball player Rico Gathers. Cooper doesn’t measure up to seminal talents like DeAndre Hopkins or Julio Jones. In fact, it’s probably worth debating whether he even belongs in the same echelon as Josh Gordon, a player the Patriots poached from Cleveland for only a fifth-round pick. But it’s a start and for all his flaws, Cooper is certainly a more appealing option than either Kelvin Benjamin or DeVante Parker, who Dallas had also been eyeing prior to Monday’s blockbuster.
It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys utilize Cooper, who has struggled against top corners this year including Miami’s Xavien Howard (two catches for 17 yards in Week 3) and Casey Hayward of the Chargers (one catch for 10 yards in Week 5). The threat of shadow coverage from ace corners like Howard and Hayward could be lessened by moving Cooper to the slot full time (he’s lined up there on just 18 percent of his snaps this season), though that seems unlikely with Beasley already filling that role for Dallas.
The second Jon Gruden Era in Oakland has gotten off to a tumultuous start and now that Cooper has traded in his familiar black and silver threads for Cowboys blue and whites, the Raiders can officially call this a lost season. Cooper’s departure is symbolic of Oakland’s quick and remarkably comprehensive downfall, which began this summer when the Raiders inexplicably dealt their star pass-rusher Khalil Mack for a pair of first-round picks. All Mack has done since joining the Bears is swallow the league whole, dominating to the tune of five sacks, four forced fumbles and a pick-six. Meanwhile back in Oakland, the Raiders have recorded just seven sacks, tying them for the league’s lowest total. There seems to be a very obvious correlation between Mack’s departure and Oakland’s laughably non-existent pass-rush.
And that’s just the defense. On offense, the Raiders are now left with an aging Jordy Nelson, off-field headache Martavis Bryant and tight end Jared Cook as their top pass-catchers. The run game also took a hit Monday with the loss of Marshawn Lynch, who is headed to I.R. with a potentially season-ending groin injury. With the 32-year-old in the final year of his contract, it’s possible if not likely that Beast Mode, one of the most entertaining players of his era, has logged his final NFL snap. Next up on the depth chart is Doug Martin, who has had the distinction of finishing dead-last in yards per carry each of the last two seasons. This is a team on its last leg, a broken, bloodied corpse of a franchise (excuse my Halloween imagery) gasping for its last breath.
Many of Gruden’s personnel decisions have been misguided, bordering on horrendous and given how poorly his early tenure has gone, it’s fair to wonder if Chucky has lost his mojo or better yet, if he ever had any (his last postseason win came in 2003). Gruden’s Oakland sequel has been disastrous on almost every level (Raiders fans are already counting down the days until his last paycheck) but to his credit, the former Monday Night Football announcer has given the Raiders exactly the tools necessary to start over, namely a trio of first-round picks (two in the Mack deal, one in the Cooper trade). Gruden didn’t exactly ace this year’s draft—first-rounder Kolton Miller holds PFF’s worst tackle grade through six games—but at least he’s committing to the rebuild. The Raiders aren’t going to play an aesthetically pleasing brand of football this year or any time soon, but thanks to their treasure trove of picks, they may not be as doomed as we all thought.
Quick Hits: The Falcons got the best of New York on Monday Night Football, holding on for a narrow 23-20 victory. Matt Ryan starred for the Falcons, topping 300 yards passing for the fourth-time in five games. Meanwhile the visiting Giants were led by wide receivers Sterling Shepard (5-167-0) and Odell Beckham (8-143-1), who combined for 310 of Eli Manning’s season-high 399 passing yards … Le’Veon Bell will continue his holdout at least through Week 8. It’s still unclear when Bell will arrive, though it will likely be sometime after the October 30 trade deadline. In the meantime, James Conner will continue to fill in as the Steelers’ workhorse … Despite being benched for Cody Kessler in Sunday’s loss to Houston, Blake Bortles will draw another start when the Jags travel to London to face Philadelphia in Week 8. Kessler will mix in with the first team at practice this week, which suggests Bortles will be on an extremely short leash … The Jaguars released veteran Jamaal Charles on Monday. The 31-year-old was no longer needed following the team’s trade for Carlos Hyde … Derek Anderson has been announced as the Bills’ starting quarterback for Week 8 against New England. The 35-year-old was dreadful in his season debut, committing four turnovers (three interceptions and a lost fumble) in Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis. Anderson is keeping the seat warm for Josh Allen, who injured his throwing elbow back in Week 6 … The Colts are working out kickers in case Adam Vinatieri is unable to go Sunday at Oakland. Vinatieri labored through a groin injury in Week 7, missing a pair of extra points in the win over Buffalo. The 45-year-old ranks second in all-time points scored behind only Hall of Famer Morten Andersen … Long-time Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson reportedly wants out of Arizona and is pushing to be dealt ahead of next week’s trade deadline. According to Bryant McFadden of CBS Sports (who is also Peterson’s cousin), the Saints are the stud corner’s preferred destination, though the Eagles and Patriots have also expressed interest in the seven-time Pro Bowler … The Dolphins have already ruled out Ryan Tannehill for Thursday night’s game in Houston. He’s been dealing with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. With Tannehill headed for another absence (his third straight), the Fins will again turn to Brock Osweiler at QB. Thursday will mark Osweiler’s first game back in Houston since the Texans traded him in 2017 … Miami will be without two of their top receivers in Week 8. Kenny Stills is out with a groin issue while Albert Wilson is nursing a hip injury he picked up in Sunday’s loss to Detroit. Agent Drew Rosenhaus suggested Wilson’s injury could be a season-ender. With Stills and Wilson on the shelf, more will be asked of DeVante Parker, who has recently been at odds with the Dolphins’ coaching staff … Sony Michel is week-to-week with a knee injury he suffered Sunday against Chicago, though luckily he was able to avoid structural damage. James White, who has already scored seven touchdowns this year, will see most of New England’s backfield work during Michel’s absence … Tom Brady said his confidence in Josh Gordon is “growing.” Gordon impressed by nabbing four catches for a season-high 100 yards in Sunday’s win over the Bears … Tests confirmed that linebacker Kwon Alexander suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Sunday’s overtime win at Cleveland. With Alexander headed for free agency, it’s possible the 24-year-old has played his final game as a Buccaneer.