Yesterday, the Dallas Cowboys used a first-round pick to acquire receiver Amari Cooper from the Oakland Raiders. Once a top-five pick in his draft, Cooper will command some major money in the coming years. How will those likely demands affect the Cowboys’ salary cap?
Cooper is in the fourth year of his original rookie contract, and the cap impact in 2018 is minimal. With Oakland having to pay out his bonus money and nearly half the season’s game checks, Amari only counts a little over $400,000 against Dallas’ cap the rest of this year.
The Raiders had already picked up the fifth-year option on Cooper this past offseason, which comes with any first-round pick. That option year will pay him like a modest franchise tag, costing $13.9 million.
That option comes over in the trade, so Dallas is on the hook for that money unless they work out a long-term deal with Amari this offseason. But will the remaining nine games of 2018 be enough for the Cowboys to feel confident about that commitment?
The option year doesn’t become guaranteed until the start of the 2019 league year, which should be around the second week of March. So if Cooper were to just be a horrible flop the rest of this season, Dallas could technically release him without any dead money.
But then you’ve totally wasted a first-round pick, which seems unthinkable. Barring something catastrophic, Amari Cooper will be with Dallas next year.
Ideally, Cooper will shine for the Cowboys and create a mutually beneficial opportunity. The Cowboys and Amari could start working on a long-term deal that would get him the same money as the fifth-year option while also allowing Dallas to lower the cap hit.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen the Cowboys do this with the long-term contracts of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. The first year of the deal is treated like an immediate restructure, pushing guaranteed money into later years by converting base salary to additional bonus money.
You don’t mind doing this with young guys who are clear cornerstones of your team. There was no question about these offensive linemen, the nucleus of Dallas’ entire offense. But will Amari Cooper earn that kind of trust over the rest of 2018?
If not, the Cowboys may have to just let him play on the option year. But thankfully, some new money will be coming in 2019.
Dallas still has $16.9 million in dead money from the contracts of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Those penalties expire next year, giving them more than enough to cover Cooper’s $13.9 salary.
Even after the Romo and Dez money, there’s another $11.5 million coming from penalties from former players like Orlando Scandrick, Cedric Thornton, and others. That will help Dallas to handle other necessary financial business next year.
Dallas will also have options to release players like Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, and Terrance Williams to free up more cap space.
So no, Amari Cooper won’t be cheap in any form. Even if he’s a total bust this year, he still cost you a first-round pick. But more than likely, Dallas will be paying him like a number-one receiver for a while.
But as we just saw, the financial flexibility is there to make it all work. Dallas can still retain their other talents and conduct all offseason business despite adding Cooper.