The Cowboys made it clear a few weeks ago that they wanted to move on from Amari Cooper with their intentions on full display in the media. Dallas went with a tactic we’ve seen a ton in recent years where a team negotiates through social media – you say you’re going to release a player with hopes that another team swoops in and flips you a few late-round picks – and that is exactly what happened!
Cowboys are finalizing a trade to send WR Amari Cooper and a sixth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for a 2022 fifth-round pick and a sixth-round pick, per league sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 12, 2022
Of course, the main reason why the Browns didn’t have to give up much for Cooper is because of his contract. He has a $20M cap hit in each of the next three seasons (and that will surely be restructured at some point soon).
First and foremost, the Browns are a team built on the run game and Nick Chubb. Over the last two seasons, HC Kevin Stefanski has leaned heavily on the run as his offense finished 10th in run rate in neutral situations (game within a score in the 1st-3rd quarter) in 2020 and they were fifth last season.
Dallas was among the most pass-heavy teams in neutral situations last year, ranking 12th. The Cowboys also played much faster, ranking first in pace of play (seconds in between plays) while the Browns were slow overall (23rd in pace).
As a result, the Browns and Cowboys couldn’t have been more different in the pass volume they generated last year.
Whereas Dallas averaged 38 pass attempts per game (sixth-most), the Browns were tied with the Colts and Titans for seventh-fewest at 31 attempts per game.
However, this Browns offense is about to be totally different in 2022 and beyond with Deshaun Watson now under center. I was less than excited for Cooper’s prospects if Baker Mayfield were still the starter, but Watson is obviously a game-changer.
Watson has elevated his receivers to stud status in his three full seasons (2018-20) as the Texans starter, with DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Brandin Cooks all posting top-20 fantasy seasons:
|2018||DeAndre Hopkins||WR3 (21.1 FPG)|
|2018||Will Fuller||WR20 (15.2 FPG)|
|2019||Hopkins||WR6 (17.6 FPG)|
|2019||Fuller||WR38 (12.2 FPG)|
|2020||Fuller||WR8 (17.2 FPG)|
|2020||Brandin Cooks||WR17 (15.5 FPG)|
The bottom line is that, with Watson, Amari Cooper is going to be a fantasy WR1 contender in Cleveland. We’re going to see Stefanski completely take the governor off of this passing attack with Watson under center and I won’t be surprised if the Browns end up being one of the most pass-heavy attacks in the NFL.
Watson still faces a possibly lengthy suspension from the NFL for his ongoing civil suits stemming from over 20 women accusing him of sexual harrasment and misconduct, so we likely won’t see the Watson-Cooper connection in full until 2023. Cooper will likely have to play at least half (or maybe more) of the 2022 season with Case Keenum / Nick Mullens under center, which should keep his ADP tame.
With Cooper gone, there is now a nice chunk of open opportunity available for all of the Cowboys pass catchers to absorb.
In his three full seasons in Dallas (starting in 2019), Cooper averaged 7.4, 8.1, and 6.9 targets per game and those looks will be spread out fairly evenly between CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Dalton Schultz.
The big question that I have for 2022 is where does CeeDee Lamb primarily play?
When Gallup and Cooper were both healthy last year, Lamb was a full-time slot receiver. When either Cooper or Gallup missed time, Lamb lined up out wide more often and impending free agent Cedrick Wilson kicked into the slot.
It’s worth noting that Lamb was better when he lined up out wide as opposed to in the slot last year, too. Lamb averaged 1.59 receiving yards gained per route run in the slot vs. 2.27 YPRR out wide. That’s a sizable difference.
I don’t think HC Mike McCarthy and OC Kellen Moore have had a consistent plan for Lamb in place and that is a part of the reason why he faded down the stretch last season. Lamb was not a difference maker over the team’s final seven games (including playoffs) as he tallied 30 receptions, 383 yards, and 0 TDs in that stretch.
If Lamb is going to take the next step in 2022, it won’t be because of a few extra targets opening up with Cooper’s departure. It’ll be because he starts being game-planned as the Cowboys clear-cut top option.
Meanwhile, Dallas is close to re-signing Gallup but because of his ACL injury at the end of last season there is no guarantee he’ll be ready for Week 1. Dalton Schultz is someone I’ll have a close eye on as a major target in my drafts this summer coming off of his breakout 2021 campaign (78/808/8). Schultz’s ADP (96.8 overall on Underdog) will surely be on the rise.