I love trades. I always have, and probably always will. When I was a kid, I loved trading football cards with my group of friends. As I got older, I started playing fantasy football for the same reason. There is something exhilarating when it comes to making a trade. So when the Dallas Cowboys traded for Amari Cooper, I was thrilled. I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the price tag Dallas was “forced” to pay, but I was excited nonetheless.
Through four weeks, the Cooper trade has worked out well for Dallas. In his four games with the Cowboys, Cooper has 22 receptions for 349 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also helped the team win three straight games.
Ahead of the Cowboys' critical Week 13 matchup with the New Orleans Saints, I planned on writing about Amari Cooper and how he can be the difference maker in this game. However, the more I thought about his presence on this roster and the trade Dallas made, the more I realized just how impactful he has been.
When we judge trades in the NFL, we often point to the player's statistics to see who "won" the trade. While Cooper's stats in Dallas have been more than adequate, that's not necessarily a fair way to judge a trade.
Despite being on the team for just four games, Cooper may have saved some jobs and careers. That’s what I want to focus on today — the difference Cooper has made for the entire Cowboys’ roster. Let’s first start with the quarterback, Dak Prescott.
Before Cooper's arrival, Dak Prescott was in a pretty big slump. From Week 11 of 2017 to Week 7 of 2018, Prescott threw 14 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, and his passer rating dipped all the way to 80.2. He was averaging less than seven yards per attempt and was sacked 37 times.
Across all media platforms, there were discussions as to whether Prescott was and is potentially a franchise quarterback. However, since the addition of Cooper, those talks have died down some — and for good reason.
In the last month, Prescott's stats have improved dramatically. In the previous four games, Prescott's passer rating is up to 102.4, and he is now completing 70 percent of his passes at 7.7 yards per attempt. He has scored eight touchdowns (five passsing and three rushing), with only one interception.
What I have specifically noticed is how much more effective and efficient Prescott has been from the five-to-ten-yard range with Cooper on the field. Now that he has Cooper, he finally has a receiver he can rely on to run slants and dig routes. Take a look at Prescott's passing charts from before and after the Cooper trade, and you will see what I mean concerning his accuracy in the short-to-intermediate parts of the field.
If Cooper’s presence is making Prescott a better quarterback, then the trade has been well worth it. While the sample size is still somewhat small, there is no doubt in my mind that Cooper has improved Prescott’s game. For Dak’s skill set, you couldn't have asked for a better match. However, Prescott isn't the only one who has improved since Cooper has arrived.
One of the reasons I was so excited about the Cooper trade was that I believed his presence on the field would open up the run game. Over the last month, that has proven to be true. As special as Ezekiel Elliott is as a runner, it's hard to do much when defenders are crowding the line of scrimmage. In the first seven weeks of the season, Elliott had a success rate of 47.7, slightly below league average. However, over the last four games with Cooper on the field, that has risen to 56.5, one of the highest success rates in the league. Cooper is dangerous enough as a receiver that teams can't just crowd the line of scrimmage, and that is making Elliott a more effective runner.
Elliott’s raw production has been impressive as well during the team’s last four games. He has carried the ball 85 times for 455 yards and three scores. He’s also added another 188 yards and a touchdown through the air. Now that opposing teams can’t key on Elliott on every snap, we are starting to see his production rise to MVP levels, despite the Cowboys' offensive line being in rough shape.
If the Cowboys' offensive line can get healthy for December, it wouldn't be a shock to see Elliott average well over 100 yards per game on the ground for the remainder of the season. Moreover, if that happens, Dallas is going to be a tough out in the playoffs.
Let's be honest here. After the Cowboys' Week 7 loss to Washington, you could have made a strong case that either Jason Garrett or Scott Linehan needed to be fired for their poor offensive performance in the first two months of the season. The offense looked stale, and nothing seemed to change from last year when the offense fell off a cliff over the final eight games of the season. But with Cooper now in the fold, their offense is starting to click. Suddenly, all the pieces are starting to fit together, and this offense looks very similar to what we saw in 2016.
Did Cooper save the jobs of Garrett and Linehan? It's still too early to tell, but it does seem to be the trend. If Dallas makes it to the playoffs and advances to the second round or farther, it would be hard to argue that the team should move on from this staff. But at least in the interim, Cooper has allowed this offense to get back on track as the Cowboys have moved into prime position to claim a playoff spot.
The fact is, it's still too early to fully judge the Amari Cooper trade. It will likely be a few years before we can say who won or lost. But the early returns look great for the Cowboys. Sometimes, being aggressive in the trade market can pay big dividends. For the Cowboys, they are now clearly reaping the benefits of having a true No.1 receiver in their offense.