- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2022

The Washington Commanders once pursued Amari Cooper. Will they do so again? 

With the NFL scouting combine over, one of the main nuggets that emerged out of the last week was that the Dallas Cowboys plan to part ways with the four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver — opening the door for Washington to try to lure Cooper again if it wants. 

The answer isn’t immediately clear.

Two years ago, Washington offered Cooper reportedly offered “significantly” more money than the five-year, $100 million he took to re-sign with Dallas — with one report indicating Cooper was offered $22 million per year compared to the $20 million annual salary that he ended up with. Coach Ron Rivera said then he believed that Cooper would have provided a “great veteran presence” for their young roster. Clearly, the interest was there.

Circumstances are different now — making a Cooper-to-Washington scenario harder to project. 

For one, star wideout Terry McLaurin is entering his fourth year and serves as a team captain. McLaurin is in line for a massive pay raise soon, and so Washington will have to set aside future money to hammer out an extension.

Without Cooper, McLaurin has emerged into a bona fide No. 1 receiver and the 26-year-old has actually produced slightly better numbers over the last two years than Cooper. 

Washington has experienced quite a bit of turnover at the rest of the position since it last chased Cooper. The Commanders are already committing $12.6 million to Curtis Samuel in 2022, and Rivera still has hopes Samuel can become an impactful contributor for the team after getting almost next-to-nothing from the oft-injured Samuel last year.

Theoretically, Washington could easily move Samuel to the slot if it signed Cooper, though offensive coordinator Scott Turner has historically used Samuel more on the outside as a No. 2 option.

The team also used the 2021 draft to invest in the position, taking third-rounder Dyami Brown and seventh-rounder Dax Milne. Both progressed throughout the year and could be in line for bigger roles if Cam Sims, Adam Humphries and DeAndre Carter leave in free agency.

“Do I think it’s a good group?” Rivera said last week. “Yeah, I love the depth.”

All that said, Washington would almost certainly benefit from Cooper on the roster. Though the Cowboys are cutting ties with the 27-year-old just two years after they gave him a major contract, it’s not for the lack of production.

Cooper topped 1,000 yards in 2020, and last year he tied a career-high eight touchdowns despite missing two games because of COVID-19. The Cowboys are reportedly looking to part ways because they prefer to re-sign Michael Gallup, viewing it as an either-or scenario.

The NFL Network reported that the Cowboys will first explore the trade market for Cooper, but ESPN added that it’s unlikely Dallas will be able to work out a deal because of Cooper’s contract. That means Dallas will likely release the wideout just before free agency begins March 16. Such a move would clear $16 million in cap space.

If — when — Cooper is released, he’s likely to have no shortage of options. There are a number of contenders — Kansas City, New England — that make sense for Cooper, as do a number of teams with young quarterbacks such as Chicago and Miami. 

Still, if the Commanders decide to go after Cooper again, they’ll have the money to do so. Over the Cap projects Washington to have $33 million in cap space this offseason — the ninth-most in the league.

“We’re going to look at every position and really see what’s going to fit us as we go through this process,” Rivera said. “Again, this process is just beginning. It really is. The first big step will be when we get to free agency on the 16th of March.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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