The Cowboys have justified the decision to give up a first-round pick for receiver Amari Cooper by arguing that the deal for the 24-year-old simulates the use of a first-round pick on a rookie receiver.
There’s one major flaw in that logic. As of March, Cooper will have a fully-guaranteed salary in 2019 of $13.924 million. If the Cowboys had selected former Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley with the 19th pick in the 2018 draft, they would have had his services for four years, $11.8 million.
Apart from whether Cooper’s performances over the past two years justify giving up a first-round pick, the Cowboys eventually may have to justify the draft-pick investment by making a significant financial investment. And the structure of the financial investment will be the 2019 or 2020 equivalent of the contract given several years ago to Dez Bryant.
If the Cowboys decide after the season to approach Cooper about an extension, his response will (or at least should) be simple: Give me $13.924 million for 2019 and a 20-percent raise for 2020 ($16.7 million), which equates to more than $30.6 million, fully guaranteed at signing. If the Cowboys decide to see how 2019 goes, the price for 2020 becomes, at a minimum, $16.7 million for 2020 and a 20-percent raise ($20 million) for 2021. That’s $36.7 million fully guaranteed at signing.
Absent a deal like that, Cooper could simply opt to go year to year under the tag. Or he could hold out (his agent, Joel Segal, engineered the Khalil Mack showdown in Oakland) and possibly force another trade.
Of course, Cooper isn’t in Mack’s league. And that’s what will make the situation so dicey for the Cowboys. In exchange for a first-round pick, they have his services for a season and a half. Beyond that, the only way to keep him off the open market will be to tag him or to sign him to a long-term deal that simulates multiple seasons of the franchise tag, regardless of whether his performance objectively merits it.