Amari Cooper trade impacts Cowboys’ draft approach

MOBILE, Ala. — While the Dallas Cowboys don’t have a 2019 first-round pick in April’s NFL draft in Nashville, chief operating officer Stephen Jones feels as though the club has already made their selection.

“I got one,” Jones said at Ladd-Peebles Stadium during Tuesday’s Senior Bowl practices. “It’s Amari Cooper! He’s sitting there ready to go to work and get him in the offseason and get him going. We just made our pick a little earlier, but I like our pick.”

The Cowboys sent their 2019 first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for the Pro Bowl receiver on Oct. 22, 2018. The move was made an in effort to bolster their receiving corps and give quarterback Dak Prescott a legitimate wideout and also drive defenders out of the box, which helped running back Ezekiel Elliott win his second rushing title in his three years as a pro.

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2019 will mark the first time in 10 years the Cowboys don’t have a first-round pick. Save for 2012 when the Cowboys traded up from 14th overall to sixth overall to take cornerback Morris Claiborne, Dallas has employed a strategy of taking solid first-round picks that have produced at least Pro Bowl selections for the franchise: 2010, receiver Dez Bryant; 2011, left tackle Tyron Smith; 2013, center Travis Frederick; 2014, right guard Zack Martin; 2015, cornerback Byron Jones; 2016, Elliott; 2017, defensive end Taco Charlton; 2018, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.

In taking such sure first-round selections, it has enabled the Cowboys to gamble on could-have-been first-rounders, typically players who sustained injuries in their final year of college that hurt their draft stock. The biggest instance of this method paying dividends was 2016 second-round linebacker Jaylon Smith.

However, with Dallas having already used its first-round pick to trade for Cooper, it impacts that strategy. Now, they can’t afford to gamble on any of the picks.

“It really makes me work, or be more focused — more pinned down,” Cowboys owner, president, and general manager Jerry Jones said. “We’ve got to do a great job on the later picks. We can. We’re going to preach the emphasis. We just talked about that at our scouting meeting here in Mobile. We’ve just got to put a huge, intense effort — not that we don’t — on those later picks.”

In the same span, Dallas hit on four Pro Bowlers in the second round and beyond: Second-round linebacker Sean Lee and third-round running back DeMarco Murray in 2011, second-round defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence in 2014, and Prescott in the fourth round in 2016.

If Dallas can produce a draft rife with solid contributors without needing a first-round pick, then the trade for Cooper will have positives at every angle.

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