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Amari Cooper Traded to Browns After 'Troubling' Playoff Effort with Cowboys

Despite catching a touchdown in the Wild Card loss to the 49ers, the receiver's lackluster performance in the final moments of their devastating playoff loss disappointed the Cowboys

FRISCO - Clouding his overall performance, Amari Cooper's lack of effort on the Dallas Cowboys' final, futile drive of the season helped sour the franchise - according to an NFL source - on keeping the $20 million-a-year receiver heading into 2022 and beyond.

Is that the singular reason Cooper was traded on Saturday to Cleveland for nothing more, in essence, than a salary dump and a fifth-round pick?

That can't be claimed; the salary issue is a real one. But, the effort level, we're told, was "troubling.''

"The Cowboys don't necessarily think he quit," the source said, "but ... let's just say they found his effort at the end troubling."

Ahead of the NFL's March 16 start of free agency, the Cowboys have been working on going forward with Michael Gallup (and Cedrick Wilson?) over Cooper. Dallas has long been considering a trade of Cooper - who has three years remaining on his contract - as it is "closing in" on a new deal with Gallup.

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Cooper's $20 million base salary was to become guaranteed March 21, forcing the Cowboys to act soon. And act they did. 

The receiver was targeted a team-high 10 times in January's Wild Card loss to the San Francisco 49ers, catching six passes for 64 yards and a 20-yard touchdown that pulled Dallas within 13-7 midway through the second quarter. Considering No. 1 receiver CeeDee Lamb's quiet afternoon - only one catch for 21 yards - it seems peculiar the Cowboys bristled at Cooper's production.

In the second half he caught just two passes for 27 yards, none in the game's final 9:35. But it was his lack of effort - and visible indifference to blocking - on Dallas' fateful possession that apparently left a bad taste in the organization's mouth.

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With the Cowboys trailing, 23-17, and at their 20-yard line and with 32 seconds remaining, quarterback Dak Prescott completed a pass to Wilson, who lateraled to Lamb for a big gain that could've been bigger. During the play Cooper casually jogged downfield and didn't lay a finger on 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, who wound up running Lamb out of bounds. 

On the next snap, Prescott completed a swing pass to running back Tony Pollard. Again Cooper nonchalantly whiffed on a block attempt, this time on a safety (Jaquiski Tartt) who helped run Pollard out of bounds.

The Cowboys gained 30 yards on the two completions, but felt they could've had more if Cooper would have been interested in carrying out his blocking assignments. Excruciatingly, Dallas ran out of time at San Francisco's 24-yard line.

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On what could be his final play as a Cowboy, Cooper jogged five yards and watched helplessly as Prescott ran a quarterback draw and ultimately failed to spike the ball in time for an attempt for one last snap. 

"(The Cowboys) thought they had a team that could go far the playoffs - maybe even to the Super Bowl," the league source said. "But with the season on the line, (Cooper) kind of shrunk. It might sound unfair to judge an entire season by a couple of plays. But in the end for them it was ... just very disappointing."

Initially hailed for his precise route-running and toe-tap catches, Cooper's 68 receptions were the second-fewest of his seven-year career and he failed to produce 1,000 yards for the first time as a Cowboy. And now? The Browns hope he'll produce for them.