In the NFL and in other realms of life, it's easy to get caught up believing a prevailing narrative about a person, or in our case a player. Narratives can be positive or negative. They can be both true and untrue. Generally once a narrative gets applied to a player, it's very difficult for said player to shake it.
Consider the narratives on Tony Romo. For years people told us that he was a choke artist, yet he has one of the better passer ratings and countless fourth quarter comebacks to state otherwise, yet the narrative persists, even after his retirement. Conversely, Sean Lee's been tagged with the "injury prone" narrative, and given the bad luck he's had in his career, it's easy to see why.
One such narrative I want to tackle today, is that of Amari Cooper and drops.
Leading up to the trade that led to the Oakland Raiders sending Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys, , the word on Cooper was that he struggled with drops. Honestly, it's a narrative that I bought into even before the rumors of the possible trade went down.
The narrative is real. Even this week, Raiders fans were jumping on social media to gloat about drafting Jonathan Abram with the 27th overall pick. Those fans argued that Cooper wasn't a good receiver because he drops the ball. You don't want to see your wide receiver drop the ball, but I'd argue they aren't as important a stat as some make it out to be.
In 2015, Cooper's rookie season, he led the NFL with 18 drops. He still managed 72 catches for 1,070 yards, and six touchdowns. For a rookie receiver in the NFL that's a really, really good stat line. In 2016, Cooper only had four drops on 127 targets. That second season he posted 83 receptions for 1,154 yards, and five touchdowns.
Unfortunately, drops reared their ugly head again in the 2017 when Cooper finished with 10 drops on the season. In 2018, he was able to limit his drops to six between the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys.
The problem with looking only at the numbers is the subjectivity in what could be dubbed a catchable pass. The general rule is if a pass hits a receiver in the hands, he should catch it. I've been guilty of this standard at times, but it's not so cut and dry.
There are times when a wide receiver makes an incredible effort and is able to get his hands on a ball that he probably shouldn't have. I think back to a pass last season that was "dropped" by Tavon Austin on a high throw from Dak Prescott. If Austin were a couple inches taller, he probably makes the catch, but he isn't and he didn't. However, he made an incredibly athletic play to get his hands on the football and nearly came down with the catch.
At the time, I argued that play was a drop, though that was a heat of the moment take. The throw was good enough to be a catch, but too high for Austin to reasonably be able to make a play.
Drop numbers can be subjective, depending on who is scoring the play. Two different people could call an incompletion two different ways.
Just like every quarterback misses throws (that for another time), every wide receiver drops passes, even the elite ones.
Atlanta Falcons Wide Receiver Julio Jones has averaged eight drops a season for the last four years. Tampa Bay's Mike Evans is averaging 8.25 drops a season in that same time span. Julian Edelman, the MVP of the most recent Super Bowl -- and according to Patriots fans, future hall of famer -- averaged nine drops per season over the last four years.
Amari Cooper's 9.5 drops per season sounds like a lot, but when you compare to some of his contemporaries, it's on par with two of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Yes, he had the high season of any of those players mentioned above, but he also had the low with four in 2016.
Julio Jones is widely considered a top five wide receiver in the NFL. Many would argue that Mike Evans is there too. However, if drops are so important, then how come we don't kill those players for their supposedly faulty hands.
In Cooper's nine games after the Dallas Cowboys acquired him in 2018, he only had three drops with a 4.1% drop rate on 72 targets. In that same time frame here are a few notable player who dropped the ball more often than Amari Cooper from week nine to 17.
- Calvin Ridley: 6 drops on 57 targets for a drop percentage of 10.5%.
- Alshon Jeffrey: 4 drops on 47 targets for a drop percentage of 8.5%.
- Julian Edelman: 5 drops on 89 targets for a drop percentage of 8.3%.
- Mike Evans: 4 drops on 68 targets for a drop percentage of 5.8%.
- Julio Jones: 5 drops on 89 targets for a drop percentage of 5.6%.
The only thing that people can criticize Amari Cooper's play for are his drops. Yet, compared to some of the best wide receivers in the NFL, Julio Jones and Mike Evans in particular, Cooper had fewer drops per target in second half of 2018.
In the 2018 NFL Draft, many in Cowboys Nation wanted the Cowboys to draft Calvin Ridley instead of Leighton Vander Esch. Ridley and Amari Cooper are roughly the same age, yet Cooper's been in the league for four seasons now, has made three Pro Bowls, and has three 1,000 yard seasons to his name. Ridley dropped the ball more than twice as often as Cooper did in the second half of 2018.
In the modern NFL where passing has become king, more value has been placed on the wide receiver position. If you've paid attention to the salaries that wide receivers are getting, they are nearly the same value as pass rushers in the league.
Drops, however, are not a good indicator of wide receiver play. Do they matter, maybe, but not nearly as much as yardage, yards per route run, touchdowns, first down receptions, yards of separation at the catch point, yards per catch, yards after the catch per reception, and catch percentage.
Amari Cooper may not be the best wide receiver in the NFL. There are a few guys who could reasonably make that claim. However, the reason isn't because he drops footballs. Amari Cooper is one of the best route runners in the NFL and as we saw in the second half of last season, can absolutely change the game.
Don't buy into the "Amari Cooper is a bad receiver because he drops footballs narrative." As soon as you do, you better turn around and argue that Julio Jones is not a good wide receiver because he drops footballs too.
Amari Cooper is one of the 10-15 best wide receivers in the NFL. He does so many things well and can make so many things happen after the catch. Dropping the ball should be the least of our concern as the Dallas Cowboys look to get a contract extension done with their WR1.
2019 will be a fun season to watch as Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper get a full offseason of work. With Cooper heading into his age 25 season, he's about to enter his prime years. If his first nine games in Dallas are any indication, "Get your popcorn ready," because he's going to put on a show.
What Could June 1st Mean for 2019 Dallas Cowboys?
Some consider June 1st to be a critical date on every year's NFL calendar; it's own new wave of free agency. But will the 2019 Dallas Cowboys add any talent to the pool, and could they be interested in any players who get released by their current teams?
As you likely know already, teams may choose to cut players after June 1st so that they can defer some of the dead money from their contracts to the following season. It allows them to maximize salary cap savings in the current year.
For over a decade now, the NFL has also allowed teams to release up to two players prior to June 1st but still give them that designation. The team doesn't get the cap relief until June, but the player gets a chance to find a new home during the primary free agency period.
There have been almost no early June-1st cuts so far this year by any NFL team. That may lead you to believe that there will be similar inactivity when we actually hit that date on the calendar. But that may not be a very good tell.
Because teams don't enjoy any benefit from the early June-1st designation, except whatever good feeling comes from doing right by a former player, we hardly see it in action. Teams would much rather carry a player until after the draft and see what their need levels truly is before releasing them. It's rendered the early provision almost meaningless.
For the 2019 Dallas Cowboys, the one player whose situation and contract speak to a possible June-1st move is Defensive Lineman Tyrone Crawford.
Crawford's deal runs thru 2020, which is key since you need at least two year's left on the contract to utilize the June-1st deferment. A player with only one year left, like WR Allen Hurns, has the same cap relief regardless of when you cut him.
Releasing Tyrone Crawford either after June 1st or with the early designation would push $1.1 million of his total $4.2 million in dead money to 2020. It would increase the total cap savings from $5.9 million to $7 million for the Cowboys' 2019 salary cap.
Now Crawford is one of those guys, a valued veteran and team captain, who you'd think a team would've cut earlier if that was their intention. But Tyrone's value to the Cowboys has been fluid throughout the offseason.
The value went up when we found out Randy Gregory was suspended again. It remained high while contract negotiations with DeMarcus Lawrence dragged until early April. Crawford's ability to play multiple spots on the line meant he could be back in a starting role at DE in 2019.
But then Dallas re-signed Lawrence, traded for veteran Robert Quinn, signed Kerry Hyder, and drafted Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks. Throw in Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong coming back and there are already plenty of players at DE, especially if Gregory manages to get reinstated.
But even if Crawford isn't needed at end, what about defensive tackle?
The Cowboys spent their earliest 2019 draft pick, 58th overall, on DT Trysten Hill. He projects to play the same "3-technique" position that Crawford normally would.
On top of Hill, Dallas is bringing back Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Daniel Ross form last season. They also signed Christian Covington, a fifth-year veteran from the Texans.
Again, the numbers are pretty tight and the positions are full of younger talent. The Cowboys could easily conclude that they have plenty of DL options at this point and would benefit more from salary cap relief than from Tyrone Crawford's continued services.
Plus, we haven't even gotten into the legal issues that could cause Crawford to get suspended for a few game in 2019.
As far as current talent goes, the June-1st conversation really begins and ends with Tyrone Crawford. Other veterans who may not make it to the final roster, such as Hurns, Jeff Heath, or Tavon Austin, only have one year left on their contracts. June 1st changes nothing for them.
There could be a few interesting names that come available when other teams make cuts. Again, they could have made these moves well before now. But NFL franchises are generally going to do what's best for them, and waiting for the dust to settle from the draft allows for more informed decision-making.
One name we've seen tossed around a lot is DT Gerald McCoy from Tampa Bay, who would be an immediate upgrade over any of Dallas' current tackles. But would losing Crawford to add McCoy really be that cost-effective?
The market to really keep an eye on is at running back. The current free agency pool had dwindled down to Jay Ajayi, who is unlikely to accept a minor role behind Ezekiel Elliott, and a bunch of retreads. Perhaps other teams' cuts could yield a few more desirable prospects to help our RB depth.
For 2019 at least, June 1st may not mean very much. And it may mean even less for the Dallas Cowboys, who already could field a competitive team this year without any additional moves. They may be focusing their cap dollars solely on new contracts for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Zeke, and others the rest of this offseason.
Outside of potentially releasing or trading Tyrone Crawford, we may not see any major moves in Dallas until final cuts.
Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason
The draft is done, DeMarcus Lawrence is re-signed, and the bulk of free agency activity has passed. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys have more than enough talent to compete this season, but there is still one last move I'd wish they'd make. Veteran kicker Matt Bryant, still one of the NFL's best even at almost 44 years old, could be the final piece to this offseason puzzle.
The Atlanta Falcons' longtime kicker, and franchise scoring leader, was not retained this year despite another standout season. He made 20-of-21 field goals, with a long of 57, in 2018.
Why Atlanta didn't keep Bryant hasn't been confirmed, but perhaps the team was just looking to avoid hanging on one year to late. But Matt, who ranks eight all-time in FG accuracy (86.2%), doesn't think he's done. He tweeted the following from his personal account in February:
"Over this past year I’ve been asked numerous times about retirement and how I feel. Well, I’m not retiring and I feel fine and plan on feeling even better with some changes to my offseason program!
As of now Matt Bryant remains a free agent, and I think the Dallas Cowboys should be very interested.
If you go up and down this Dallas roster, kicker is arguably its biggest liability. Brett Maher had some highlight moments in 2018, and won two Player of the Week awards, but he also was one of the league's worst kickers in overall FG accuracy.
The problem with Maher is that you can't teach his best skill; the accuracy from the high 50s and even low 60s is incredible. It's a true weapon that you have a hard time letting go of, which was evident last year when Dallas dumped Dan Bailey for Maher at final cuts.
But Matt Bryant might be the best of both worlds. He's been a 91% FG kicker overall this last three years and has made 18-of-22 attempts from 50 yards out or more.
Maher only made 80.6% of his kicks in 2018. He went from 6/7 from long range, but that tells you how shaky he was from closer in.
Those closer kicks are worth the same three points that the longer ones are, and how'd you like it if Dallas lost a critical game because their kicker couldn't make a 35-yarder?
I get the fear factor with an older guy like Matt Bryant. Heck, the Cowboys let Dan Bailey go when he was still just 30. But Bryant hasn't shown the red flags that Bailey did; he's still kicking as well as he ever has.
If nothing else, Dallas has the cap space and circumstances to bring in Bryant for a true competition with Maher. If Brett has improved his game and keeps his job, then that's awesome. But why not add some pressure now, though a position battle with one of the all-time greats, and see what Maher's really made of?
Seasons have been made, and shattered, by one kick. Unless the Cowboys have good reason for confidence in Brett Maher's development from last year, they could be carrying a significant liability into a year where they're trying to push for a Super Bowl.
If Matt Bryant could provide even a small amount of additional security, isn't he worth it?
Cowboys RB Mike Weber’s Injury Scare Continues Concerning Trend
Rookie RB Mike Weber had a brief scare earlier this week with a knee injury in practice, but thankfully the MRI came back with a good report. However, as he fights to have a future with the Dallas Cowboys, this health incident is a concerning reminder of Weber's recent history.
One reason that Weber fell to the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft was due to battling injuries during his last two years at Ohio State. He lost his starting job in 2017 due to ongoing hamstring issues and also had to miss time last year because of a foot strain.
Carrying the load for the Buckeyes is a far different workload than being second or third on the Cowboys' RB depth chart. But this latest scare happened in early May, just two weeks after Mike joined the team and well before the more strenuous activities of an NFL offseason.
A practice injury can cost you just as badly as one that happens in a game. And with Dallas already thin at RB, it could leave them severely shorthanded if it occurs during the regular season.
Many have projected that the Cowboys' RB group in 2019 would have Ezekiel Elliott as the obvious starter and then rookies Weber and Tony Pollard behind him. While Pollard was drafted three rounds ahead of Weber, he's not built to take a large number of carries if Zeke were to go out.
If Mike Weber does make the team, he would be expected to take a sizable role if something bad happen with Elliott.
The "injury prone" label is disastrous for any athlete, but especially a guy with no real claim to a roster spot. If Weber causes concern in the front office about his durability, they may go a different way at final cuts.
Remember, Mike's not just up against Pollard and Darius Jackson for a roster spot. There are still plenty of veteran free agent running backs out there that Dallas could turn to if they're not confident about their young prospects.
This isn't too say that one scary moment in May, which ultimately didn't amount to much, is reason to cut bait with Mike Weber. But when you stack it up with his injury history in college, it does make you wonder how he'll do over the course of an entire NFL season.
Hopefully, Weber bounces back from this and has a great summer. Former Buckeye RBs have treated Dallas well the last few years, and it'd be fantastic if Mike can provide the same solid solid depth that Rod Smith did.
But this latest news is just a reminder of why Dallas can't rest easy at running back just yet, and why they may still have another move to make to prepare for 2019.
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
5 Dallas Cowboys Players Who Could Become Trade Assets
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
3 Free Agent Targets for the Cowboys with Compensatory Pick Period Closing
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
3 Reasons Why LB Leighton Vander Esch Will be Even Better in 2019
Player News1 week ago
RB Rod Smith Signs with Giants; Brother Jaylon Sends Farewell Message
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
Cowboys Draft: Reviewing Kansas DT Daniel Wise
Player News4 days ago
Leighton Vander Esch Graded Best Rookie Linebacker Since 2014
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Can Donovan Wilson Continue the Cowboys 6th Round Safety Success?
Star Blog5 days ago
QB Dak Prescott Already Impressing New Offensive Coaches