When the Dallas Cowboys signed Amari Cooper to a five-year, $100 million contract in 2020, the club built in an escape hatch in the deal beginning in 2022 with no guaranteed money left.
The Cowboys are ready to pull that lever.
Dallas will try to trade Cooper, but will release the veteran receiver if no deal is reached, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday, per sources.
Cooper's $20 million base salary becomes guaranteed on the fifth day of the new league year, which begins March 16. If the Cowboys follow through with their plan to part ways with the receiver, it wipes off $16 million from the salary cap, with $6 million in dead money. In essence, Cooper's extension will wind up being a two-year, $40 million deal.
The wideout's status in Dallas has been questioned since the Cowboys' season ended with a postseason loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Cowboys EVP Stephen Jones was noncommittal when asked about Cooper this week from the NFL Scouting Combine, foreshadowing a potential split. As Jones' tone suggested, all the guaranteed money on running back Ezekiel Elliott's deal is causing collateral damage to other areas of the roster.
Cooper is coming off a down season, catching just 68 passes for 865 yards and eight TDs. It's debatable whether his play lived up to the $20 million per year status.
But the issue with getting rid of Cooper is that it creates another massive hole in the Cowboys' receiver room. Currently, CeeDee Lamb is the embodiment of the Will Smith empty room GIF. Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown and Malik Turner are all slated to be free agents.
It's possible that the Cowboys part ways with Cooper intending to re-sign Gallup, which would at least keep one stud WR alongside Lamb. But Gallup is coming off an ACL tear, which could mean a slow start to the season.
Dallas might also be forced to franchise tag tight end Dalton Schultz after Blake Jarwin underwent hip surgery that is expected to knock him out at least to open the 2022 season.
The Cowboys sit around $13 million over the projected salary cap with several holes to fill. They would add another gap by parting ways with Cooper.
With two weeks before needing to release Cooper to avoid his salary becoming guaranteed, the Cowboys getting the news out now is a signal for any club considering making a trade offer for the star receiver.