Here's why Broncos Should Abstain From the Amari Cooper Free-Agent Sweepstakes
Since the offseason began, it has become obvious that the Denver Broncos need to add a speedy pass-catching threat to the roster. Courtland Sutton has emerged as a genuine No. 1 wide receiver, which means adding a deep-ball threat to complement him could be nirvana for new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
A familiar face from the Broncos' AFC West battles over the years could be available in free agency — Amari Cooper — but the trouble is, the Dallas Cowboys' wideout is sure to be coveted across the league. Adding Cooper’s ability as a deep threat will come at a premium on the open market, so it remains to be seen whether the Broncos are going to be willing to splurge at the position.
Cooper is entering unrestricted free agency, five years removed from being an Oakland Raiders' first-round pick. Still only 25 years old, the receiver is scheduled to cash in on new contract talks and doesn’t appear interested in handing out any discounts to potential suitors.
This is partly because the Cowboys are currently committed to their top contract priority — QB Dak Prescott. Cooper is poised to play the field, knowing that the Cowboys are likely to use their franchise tag designation on their prized starting signal-caller should the negotiations with the QB stall.
What Cooper has made clear is that he is not closing the door on a return to Dallas, should the opportunity present itself.
“I love it here. I love everything about this area, the place I live,” Cooper told ESPN's Todd Archer at the Pro Bowl in Orlando.
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With the league’s legal tampering period set to open ahead of free agency on March 16th, the clock is ticking on Cooper’s negotiations, which should result in other teams throwing their hat into the ring for his services. But will that group of teams include the cap-space rich Broncos?
Armed with a war chest of $61 million in cap space that could potentially grow by moving on from QB Joe Flacco and guard Ron Leary, GM John Elway will surely be active in the market. However, recent history suggests his policy on high-priced receivers has changed significantly.
In consecutive seasons, Elway has decided to cut bait on high-earning receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and gravitating towards a younger, more affordable stable of pass-catching options. This policy has certainly mined gold when it comes to Sutton but has found mixed results when it has come to finding a productive No. 2 option opposite him.
The Broncos are projected to have 12 selections in April's NFL Draft, which features a deep WR class that is loaded with fast route runners that fit the profile for stretching the field. Options like Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, Colorado's Laviska Shenault and Alabama explosive duo of Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy have been commonly mocked to the Broncos at pick 15 by draftniks around the league.
Due to the slightly back-to-front NFL calendar where the legal-tampering circus predates April’s draft, Elway will be involved in a fluid process when it comes to finalizing his big board. The work Elway has to get done first with his own free agents is considerable with so many veterans, like CB Chris Harris, Jr., S Justin Simmons, DE Derek Wolfe and Shelby Harris, set to hit the open market. Elway will have to address these decisions before moving onto finalizing the Broncos' big board come draft day.
“We’re fortunate enough to have a lot of draft capital," Elway said at the Senior Bowl in January. "Once we get through free agency and see where that is and get into the month of the draft, that’s when all of that starts."
All of these factors will play a role in any big moves the Broncos make in free agency, particularly if Elway considers adding an oft-injured wideout like Cooper to the roster. Cooper would offer Drew Lock an experienced deep-ball weapon but he would come attached with a prohibitive price tag that would leave the Broncos with significantly less means to acquire the talent needed upfront to protect the young QB.
Cooper made more than $13M last season on the fifth-year option the Cowboys exercised and is likely hoping to match the NFL's top-paid wideouts around $18-20M per year. With a class as stacked at wide receiver as the 2020 class is, it makes a lot more sense to find that dynamic complement to Sutton via the college ranks.
Expect the Broncos' front-office czar to mine free agency for value rather than reach for the type of high-profile homerun hits that dazzle fans. Steering away from Cooper might be the more shrewd move, especially after building significant salary cap room by trading away costly wideouts in each of the last two seasons.
Besides, even though the Cowboys are likely to franchise-tag Prescott, there's been buzz that Jerry Jones is not opposed to transition-tagging Cooper in order to keep him in Dallas, although it would come at a significantly prohibitive cost. If Elway wants to make a splash, another Cowboy, CB Bryon Jones, would be most welcome in the Mile High City.