With the NFL offseason now officially underway, it’s never too early to start focusing on the next order of business, which is free agency. The Cowboys have 20 unrestricted free agents who can sign with other teams starting on March 9, unless they strike a new deal with the Cowboys before then.
Over the next two weeks, DallasCowboys.com staff writers will break down each free agent, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses and the possibilities of a return in 2017.
Today, we’ll continue the series with guard Jonathan Cooper:
What’s The Deal: The Cowboys turned heads across the league when they signed Cooper on an affordable deal at the end of the regular season. The veteran guard had spent the vast majority of the season with the Cleveland Browns – who released him heading into Week 17. Cooper was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and the Cowboys had been highly interested in drafting him before he was eventually selected by the Arizona Cardinals.
Injuries derailed Cooper’s pro career from the start, as he broke his fibula during his rookie preseason and spent the year on injured reserve. He started a mere 11 games during his time in Arizona before he was released. In March of 2016, he was sent to New England as part of the Chandler Jones trade. Having failed to win a starting spot with the Patriots, he was released in October – which is how he came to join the Browns.
Cowboys Highlight: Cooper has never appeared in a game with the Cowboys, so it’d be hard to pick a genuine highlight. However, he did practice with the team during the buildup to the divisional round of the playoffs.
Consider this fact: with Cooper joining the Dallas offensive line, the Cowboys had the No. 7, No. 9, No. 16 and No. 31 picks in their respective drafts playing offensive line together in practice.
Argument to Keep: The conversation surrounding Cooper is always going to center around one big “if.”
“If” the Cowboys can help him discover the ability that made him a top 10 pick in the NFL draft, it could be an enormous gain for an offensive line that already boasts three All-Pros. The North Carolina product has had a rough go of it during his four-year NFL career, but he was clearly picked seventh overall for a reason.
If there’s a place where Cooper could revitalize his career, it’d have to be in Dallas – where he’d be sharing a room with three All-Pros. Guys like Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin could not only help him better his craft, but they’d make his job much easier.
On top of all of this, he’d be a cheap guy to re-sign, given his up-and-down track record these past few years.
Argument to Let Go: Again, there’s always the big “if.” What if Cooper just isn’t the same player? What if he never will be again?
The Cowboys don’t need a starting guard. Even if Ron Leary leaves in free agency, La’el Collins is healthy and ready to return to the lineup. The Cowboys also have Joe Looney filling an important role as a flexible backup.
If Cooper can live up to his talent, he’s a guy worth taking a look at. If he can’t, then it doesn’t exactly seem worth it.
Bryan Broaddus’ Scout’s Take: This was a highly thought of player coming out of the 2013 NFL Draft. Made stops in Arizona, New England and Cleveland before settling in Dallas. Made three starts for the Browns during the 2016 season at guard. The tape at the time was good enough for consideration by the Cowboys’ Pro Department to bring in for a late season evaluation. He is physically and mentally tough, and he has good football intelligence and awareness. Not fooled or put in bad position mentally. Knows his job well enough to carry out those assignments. Was an outstanding athlete while at North Carolina, and that was one of the main reasons he was so highly thought of. Could play in space with the best of them. Trap or screen – you name it, he could do it. I’m not sure if injury has robbed him of that ability to execute those types of blocks, but he is no longer as mobile as he once was. Powerful player in a short area but not a true athlete. Stiff moving in the way he plays at this time. I could see him wanting a starting opportunity down the road and will likely look at options elsewhere before signing here.
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