Amari Cooper beat the Eagles almost singlehandedly on Sunday, ripping their depleted secondary to shreds with 10 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns, including the overtime game-winner in a 29-23 victory.
The Cowboys were 3-4 before trading next year’s first-round pick to the Raiders for Cooper in a much-maligned deal. They are 5-1 since, with five straight wins now that Cooper is fully integrated into their offense.
Cooper caught eight passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the Thanksgiving win over Washington. He caught eight passes for 76 yards in the Thursday night upset of the Saints two weeks ago.
Cooper has given the Cowboys firm control over the NFC East. Thanks to that win over the Saints, he has even made a first-round bye possible. With most of the NFC wild-card hopefuls scuffling, Cooper has transformed the Cowboys from an also-ran with a popgun offense into a team likely to win at least one playoff game. He has saved Jason Garrett’s job and made Dak Prescott look like a franchise quarterback again.
So what do you think of the trade now?
It would be reductive and dishonest to attribute the Cowboys’ turnaround entirely to Cooper. Their defense has improved gradually and is now one of the league’s best. Facing Colt McCoy on Thanksgiving and the Eagles’ injury-ravaged secondary twice made seizing control of a down-and-out division relatively easy.
But minimizing Cooper’s impact on the turnaround would also be dishonest. Cooper has kept Ezekiel Elliott from facing eight-man, run-stuffing boxes snap after snap. He has allowed Michael Gallup and Cole Beasley to operate as second and slot receivers—their natural positions. Even rookie tight end Dalton Schultz has become more of a receiving threat now that opponents must take the Cowboys passing game seriously.
Prescott was erratic and error-prone on Sunday. The Garrett-Scott Linehan game plan made things too easy for the Eagles. Cooper’s 75-yard go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter only occurred because Cooper and Prescott changed the play from a stop route to a deep route, as Cooper told R.J. Ochoa of Blogging the Boys after the game.
That’s right: Cooper is now adjusting plays. If not for him, there’s little chance we would be talking about the Cowboys today.
Yes, the Raiders will get that first-round pick and use it to build a contender in 2026 or whatever. But what are the chances the player they get with the Cowboys’ pick (a late one) will ever be as good as Cooper’s been for the Cowboys?
The Cowboys face cap questions after this season, with Prescott soon to command Kirk Cousins money and DeMarcus Lawrence leading a battalion of defenders seeking paydays. If the Cowboys keep Cooper beyond this year, they will probably lose a valuable piece elsewhere.
But who cares about next year when you are 8-5 and making playoff plans?
This season matters to Garrett and Prescott, whose careers were listing sideways two months ago. And it matters to Cowboys fans, who are celebrating big wins each week and looking forward to a postseason in which anything appears to be possible.
The Cooper trade was a turning point for both the Cowboys and the NFL this season. Worry about what the Raiders and Cowboys do tomorrow when tomorrow comes. For today, the rest of the NFL should worry about what Cooper and Cowboys can do in the postseason.