The NFL Hot Seat: Cowboys can not pay free-agent-to-be WR Amari Cooper

This past offseason, it was reported Amari Cooper’s contract demands were “shockingly high,” even though the Dallas Cowboys were figuring on a minimum of $16 million per season. Cooper was also in “no rush” to sign, waiting for stars like Julio Jones, Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill to set the market.

Keep that in mind as we talk about what happened with Cooper on Sunday, and during the Cowboys’ shocking collapse this season.

The Cowboys faced a fourth-and-8 with 1:21 left at Philadelphia, trailing 17-9. The NFC East was likely on the line. And Cooper was not on the field.

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Why not? Jane Slater of NFL Network said Cooper wasn’t benched, but the Cowboys wanted Tavon Austin in because his quickness was a problem for the Eagles. The Cowboys were using a receiver rotation and Cooper was out on that play, Slater said.

So with the Cowboys’ season on the line, they decided the guy who scoffed at $16 million per season should stay out because of the rotation with Tavon Austin. Ask the New Orleans Saints if they’d have Thomas on the sideline for a fourth down with a division title at stake.

The Cowboys gave up a lot for Cooper, trading a first-round pick for him during last season. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hates to not pay a big-name player. But the Cowboys can’t pay Cooper unless his price has come way down. Way, way down.

Cooper has always been inconsistent, and that’s why the Raiders were willing to trade him. He’ll disappear for weeks at a time. On Sunday, in the Cowboys’ biggest game of the year, he had four catches for 24 yards on 12 targets against an Eagles secondary that is terrible covering wide receivers.

Over the Cowboys’ last six games, when they went 2-4 and probably blew the division, Cooper had 22 catches for 249 yards and one touchdown. Cooper also has the ability to explode for huge games, but you never know when they’re coming. Do you want to pay Jones/Thomas/Odell Beckham Jr. money for that?

The Cowboys already paid Ezekiel Elliott, because that’s what they do. Elliott has been good but not great and presumably will have the same mediocre or worse ROI as most huge running back deals. Dak Prescott will probably be overpaid, but he’s a good quarterback and it’s hard to move on at quarterback. He’ll get paid, somehow.

Dallas needs to resist the urge to pay Cooper. Treat the first-round pick sent to the Raiders as a sunk cost. Let someone else pay Cooper like he’s a star and that team can live with the games in which Cooper fails to post 25 yards (he has had four such games this season). The Cowboys have a lot of questions to answer this offseason, including who their new coach will be once Jason Garrett is fired and how to keep Prescott. But Cooper shouldn’t even be a question anymore. He has to be let loose. The Cowboys can’t afford to pay him and have him disappear when it matters most. Let someone else deal with that problem. Dallas has enough problems as is.

Amari Cooper had another quiet day against the Eagles. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Amari Cooper had another quiet day against the Eagles. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Here’s a look at the coaches, players, executives or anyone else feeling the heat on Monday, after Week 16 of the NFL season.

HOT: Russell Wilson hasn’t been the same lately

Can we have an honest conversation about Wilson? Because the truth is, it has been a while since he looked like an MVP candidate.

The Seahawks’ loss on Sunday was a bad one. The Arizona Cardinals have no business beating the Seahawks on the road, yet entirely outplayed them. Wilson deserves a lot of blame for the loss. He was 16-of-31 for 169 yards against a bad defense. Top-two receivers Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf combined for one catch and 12 yards.

Wilson was very good against the terrible Carolina Panthers in Week 15, but other than that he has been fairly mediocre since early November. When Wilson threw five touchdowns against Tampa Bay on Nov. 3, he looked like an MVP favorite. Since then he has averaged 228.7 passing yards per game with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. Wilson doesn’t get a lot of help from his supporting cast and the coaching staff still stubbornly wants to be a run-first offense. The Seahawks ask Wilson to do it all, and it’s not all his fault when he doesn’t play like Superman.

Still, this is the life of a star quarterback. It won’t get easier. The Seahawks lost running backs Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise on Sunday, and were already without Rashaad Penny. Left tackle Duane Brown will be out too because he’s slated for knee surgery. Wilson will have to play exceptionally well for the depleted Seahawks to beat the San Francisco 49ers and take the NFC West next week. In other words, he’ll have to play like the quarterback we saw in the first part of the season.

HOTTER: Bill O’Brien can’t screw up his decision to sit starters

Teams battle all season to get a bye, and it’s obvious why. The most important thing is being in the second round of the playoffs of course, but it’s absolutely enormous to get a week to rest. After 16 games, every NFL team is dealing with injuries. Being able to get as healthy as possible for the postseason is a gift.

The Houston Texans have almost nothing to play for in Week 17. There is some benefit to getting the No. 3 seed, but that’s a long shot because they’d need a Kansas City Chiefs loss. The Texans are going to be the No. 4 seed unless something crazy happens, but there’s good news. With the seed all but assured, the Texans could use Week 17 as a semi-bye week, giving all their starters a rest.

Except ...

“Anytime we play, we play to win,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said about Week 17.

Oh no.

If you watched the Texans on Saturday, you saw Deshaun Watson hobbling around and grabbing at his injured heel multiple times. You also saw Pro Bowl offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil come off the field. Running backs Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson are banged up. Receiver Kenny Stills is ruled out, so at least O’Brien can’t put him in harm’s way for a meaningless game.

Maybe O’Brien reconsiders playing his starters when he’s not up at a podium right after a game and has to provide an answer. The nebulous idea of “momentum” heading into the playoffs is not worth putting Watson and others on the field when they could use a rest.

We’ll see what happens in the finale. But if you see the Texans starters, you’ll know O’Brien has made a clear error.

HOTTEST: Oh, you already know

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett won't be Cowboys coach much longer. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett won't be Cowboys coach much longer. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

CORE OF THE EARTH: The Bears are a failure

Even with some regression, the 2019 Chicago Bears shouldn’t have fallen this hard.

A Chiefs-Bears Week 16 “Sunday Night Football” game seemed like good theater when it was scheduled, but it was the dull blowout everyone knew was coming. The NFL should have flexed it out, for anything. The Bears aren’t capable of putting on a decent show. They lost 26-3.

“You play games like that on TV, prime time, you want to go out and ball, especially at home,” Khalil Mack said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s embarrassing to us. We embarrassed our fans. And ultimately that’s unacceptable.”

The defense was “sloppy” in Mack’s words, and more troubling than that, the Bears have lost all ability to create a big play on defense. The offense simply isn’t good enough to compensate when the Bears can’t create turnovers. Chicago hasn’t created a turnover in three games. The Bears have just six takeaways in their last 10 games, which is hard to believe.

Regression was inevitable after the Bears came out of nowhere to win the NFC North in 2018. Some of the things that made them great weren’t sustainable. Maybe some of the magic comes back next season. But there are some significant changes in the infrastructure that need to happen. Sunday night made that very clear.

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

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