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NFL

That’s Amari – Dallas won the Raiders/Cowboys trade after all

I remember seeing this tweet and laughing. Amari Cooper was not worth a first round pick! Gruden finally won a trade! What in the world were the Cowboys doing? Amari Cooper is damaged goods!

I was not the only one. Here are some choice first takes from Cowboys Zone, a fan community forum after the news first broke:

ShiningStar

“stupid team does stupid. We don’t learn, so what do we do, we do the same mistake over and over”

Tenkamenin

“Dear football gods, why????  L ”

Darkhound

“another bad decision (sp)….. I hate this team to the (sp) very core”

Remdak

“Better not be a first round pick…. Oh man it is.”

Around the league in professional media, the mood was largely more subdued, but similarly sceptical. Danny Heifetz in his article for the Ringer: The Cowboys Had to Make an Awful Trade to Get a Maybe-Good Receiver closed off his article back in October 22 with:

There’s a decent chance that this first-round pick will come back to haunt Dallas if Cooper is sub-par, and maybe even haunt them if Cooper is good on a large contract. The Cowboys finally have a receiver — but at what cost?

I am prefacing this piece with all the aforementioned above to reinforce the point that I was not the only one that thought the trade was terrible for Dallas; Jerry Jones had lost it, Jason Garrett was panicking, etc. etc.

How wrong we all were.

The Raiders and Cowboys completed the Trade Week 7, with the Raiders on Bye Week 7 and Cowboys Week 8. This effectively gave Cooper 2 weeks to learn as much as the playbook as possible before his debut November 6 vs Tennessee.

Pre Amari, the Cowboys were floundering with a 3-4 record, with an ineffective committee receiver corps affecting both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliotts effectiveness.

Losing Pro-Bowler Travis Frederick before the season opener to Guillan-Barre Syndrome was an additional big blow to the Cowboys. Opponents really took advantage of the weakened receiver corps and offensive line, stacking the box against Elliott and daring the rest of the team to try beat them.

Since the trade, the Cowboys have gone 5-2, and are ahead of Philadelphia and Washington in the race to clinch the NFC East

Cooper has undoubtedly been an x-factor in this turnaround. Through 7 games as a Cowboy, he is averaging 6.3 receptions for 96.3 yards and 0.85 touchdowns per game.

Extrapolated over a 16 game season, this would work out to be a 1,540 yard, 13 TD season.

Those numbers look remarkably close to a peak Dez Bryant, a 6 foot, big bodied and hyper athletic receiver who just so happened to have been the primary Cowboys receiving threat in recent years.

As recently as September, it was easy to forget that Cooper was a 4th overall draft pick, and a 2 time Pro Bowler with 2 1000+ yard seasons. Then suddenly, whether it was a confidence issue or chemistry issue with Derek Carr, the struggle was real.

It still confuses me watching 2017 & 2018 Raiders ‘highlights’. Despite a strong offensive line and a premier receiving threat with amazing route running, there were multiple games where Carr barely looked his way, favouring Michael Crabtree, Jared Cook, Jalen Richard, Jordy Nelson, the list goes on.

Dallas is making no such mistake. Cooper has quickly become the 1B to Ezekiel Elliott’s 1A, finally giving Elliott some much needed breathing room. With a viable receiving threat, Dak Prescott is starting to better resemble the 2016 Prescott, who while still prone to occasional errors, has defences respecting his legs and arm.

What about the Raiders?

Did the Raiders make a mistake? I don’t believe so. It was clearly no longer working between Carr and Cooper, and Jon Gruden is in Trust the Process mode, clearing out established veterans for draft picks. The question of whether they won the trade with 2 months of hindsight and context is however, subjective.

The 2019 Las Vegas? Raiders are loaded with picks to completely retool the roster. Irrespective of Cooper and the Cowboys now flourishing, a change needed to be made due to the lack of on-field cohesion between the Raiders’ QB and WR. The Cowboys 1st round pick was undoubtedly the best offer available, as shown by the 2018 trade deadline;

  • Detroit’s Golden Tate to Philadelphia for a 3rd Round Pick
  • Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and a 7th Round Pick to Houston for a 4th & 7th Round Pick
  • Cleveland’s Josh Gordon to New England for a 5th Round Pick

2 months on, I’m calling this trade a win/win, with the scales tipping in the favour of the team now challenging for a playoff spot.