DALLAS — Receiver Amari Cooper is set to be a free agent on March 18 at 3:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, and there is a chance he does not return to the Dallas Cowboys.
Under the final year of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, NFL teams can use both the franchise tag and the transition tag to retain potential free agents. The Cowboys, for example, could tag quarterback Dak Prescott and then use the transition tag on Cooper and keep them on the team for the 2020 season.
However, if a new collective bargaining agreement is ratified before the start of the new league year — March 18 at 3:00 p.m. — then Dallas would be limited to one tag. If a contract extension with Prescott is not reached by then, the club would do anything to prevent Prescott from getting away. But they would have no power to protect Cooper from the open market.
The Cowboys traded away a first-round pick to the Raiders for Cooper midway through the 2018 season, so they’d surely like to continue the relationship that has seen Cooper make the Pro Bowl in each season in Dallas. However, if Cooper gets away from Dallas, Daniel Jeremiah from NFL Network likes younger options in the draft who can replace the Pro Bowler's ability to catch and run.
"A great fit in that offense would be a guy like Van Jefferson from Florida, as a receiver, who I compare to Cooper Kupp," Jeremiah said on a conference call on Feb. 21. "Just a really polished route runner with strong hands. And he's another one, gosh, another one of these guys that's a gunner on punt, another tough kid, but really good after the catch."
Walter Football projects Jefferson to go anywhere in the third to fifth rounds. The 6-foot-2, 197-pound wideout would be a player that would have a career trajectory similar to Michael Gallup's in that he may not explode onto the scene as a rookie, but have more significant contributions in year two. The former Florida Gator caught 49 passes for 657 yards and six touchdowns in his last year with the SEC East team.
If receiver is an area the Cowboys feel they need to address earlier than the third round, then Ohio State's K.J. Hill would be another option. At 6 feet and 192 pounds, Hill is shifty and quick and would add another dimension of speed to the receiving corps. Hill caught 57 passes for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns and produced key grabs for the Buckeyes in 2019.
"K.J. Hill would be another receiver who is just a really crisp route runner and a really good after-the-catch guy," said Jeremiah. "Those types of receivers, I think, would make sense with what [Mike] McCarthy has had success with."
McCarthy spent 2006-2018 with the Green Bay Packers, winning a Super Bowl at the end of the 2010 season. Similarly, the Cowboys' personnel department has had consistency in the type of players to profile with Jason Garrett as full-time coach from 2011-2019. However, Jeremiah doesn't see any conflict with the Cowboy Way and McCarthy's style.
"I think a lot of the same things that he believes in and what they had success with there in Green Bay, I think a lot of that is in place there with Dallas," Jeremiah said. "I think Dallas has done a good job identifying and collecting talent."
If the Cowboys can't keep Cooper, then the personnel department will have to collect a talented receiver in the McCarthy mold to take the Dallas offense back to dominant levels.
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