What Cleveland Browns Must Evaluate In Amari Cooper Contract Dispute (2024)

Amari Cooper has easily been one of the best pass catchers for the Cleveland Browns in recent memory. He finished last year with 1,250 receiving yards on 72 receptions while missing the final two regular season games. The last time the Browns had a wide receive reach the 1,200 receiving mark was back in 2013 with Josh Gordon. So when news came out during mandatory minicamp that Cooper wasn't going to show up and that he wanted a new contract, a lot of fans were pretty upset.

To many, the extension seems as a must for the Browns. He is obviously talented, and why would Andrew Berry risk not having his top receiver for the 2024 season?

But it's not just about money - there are so many other issues that Browns GM Andrew Berry has to consider. Let's take a deep dive into everything that Cleveland has to weigh during this process, and come up with a logical conclusion for both parties.

On Mar 13, the Cleveland Browns made the bold decision to trade for former Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. The deal seemed like a bargain for the former first-round pick in 2020, giving up a 2024 fifth and sixth round pick.

Three days later, the Browns inked Jeudy to a three-year, $58 million extension. Compared to the growing wide receiver market, this extension looks like a steal. However, while the initial trade may not have been much of a gamble, it was the extension that made this investment a "risk". Jeudy has yet to eclipse the 1,000 receiving yard mark in his four seasons with the Broncos.

The decision to extend Jeudy instead of Cooper and Elijah Moore led people to believe that this would be the final season for both receivers. The plan would have been perfect, as the Browns could have Cooper and Jeudy this season, then taken a wideout within the first two rounds of the 2025 draft.

Instead, Cooper has trapped Cleveland into a tough situation, forcing the Browns to keep him around for longer. This becomes an issue due to Cooper's current state.

Cooper Isn't Getting Younger

Cooper's age will play a huge factor into this possible extension. The beloved wideout turned 30 on June 18, which is known as the "golden number" for wide receiver production to take a dip.

In 2023, only six of the 27 wide receivers that reached 1,000 yards were 30+ years old. Those wide receivers were Mike Evans, Keenan Allen, Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, and Adam Thielen. The next closest WR was Seattle Seahawks' Tyler Lockett with 894 receiving yards.

One of the reasons why these receivers were able to be productive at this age was because of their alignment on the field. Out of the six qualifying players, four of them played at least 25 percent of the snaps in the slot. Playing in the slot allows for guys to face less press coverage, along with designed routes to get the ball out easier to these players.

So how does Cooper's 2023 season compare to these other players when looking at their usage in the slot?

Wide Receiver

% of Snaps Played in Slot Last Year

Adam Thielen

64.3%

Keenan Allen

58.1%

Tyler Lockett*

36.2%

Stefon Diggs

32%

Mike Evans

25.2%

DeAndre Hopkins

19.9%

Amari Cooper

17.6%

Davante Adams

12.5%

*Lockett did not reach 1,000 yards

Cooper was rarely lined up in the slot for the Browns last season, only playing a total of 158 snaps out of his 883 total offensive snaps.

The most comparable WR on this list, based off of skillset and age, is former Buffalo Bills receiver Stefon Diggs. The crafty route-runner aligned 32% of the time in the slot, which limited his chances to face press coverage. Now that Diggs is with the Houston Texans, he does not have to be forced into a WR1 role and can ultimately help his production in 2024.

This raises many concerns, as Zac Jackson of The Athletic recently wrote an article expressing his opinions on what the Browns will do for wide receiver alignment in 2024:

It’s my belief that the Browns plan to open the season with Jeudy in the slot and Cooper and Cedric Tillman out wide. Jeudy can play outside, too, and Elijah Moore will also see snaps inside and outside.

-Zac Jackson

If this is the case, the Browns will be relying on Cooper to primarily play outside, while guys like Jeudy and Moore will take up a majority of the snaps in the slot.

The fate of the star wideout's career will not completely depend on where he aligns on the field, but it could potentially lead to a regression.

Another issue Cleveland will take into consideration is Cooper's lengthy injury history, especially with his foot and ankle.

Despite only missing two games in his career with the Browns, Cooper's injury to his heel last season is something fans need to worry about when looking at his future. In 2015, it was reported that he played a majority of the season with plantar fasciitis. During the 2017 season, Cooper dealt with a lingering ankle sprain that kept him out of two games.

The list goes on, as Cooper missed all of the preseason and first game of the regular season in 2019 due to a foot sprain. Lastly, Cooper suffered an ankle fracture in a final game of the 2020 season when Giants cornerback James Bradberry landed on his right ankle.

While Cooper may have missed the final two games of the 2023 regular season due to his heel injury, the durability of the veteran wideout will be called into question when discussing his future with the Browns. For a player that is considered older with a long list of injuries, the length of the contract should not exceed past two years. Having the financial burden of a player that could quickly deteriorate would not be ideal for a team that is heavily invested in its QB.

Cap Space

Obviously, the biggest reason why this deal is being held up is the salary cap. Right now, the Browns have roughly $13 million in cap space for the 2024 season. Andrew Berry did a good job of restructuring deals to give the Browns more financial freedom this year.

However, if we look ahead into the 2025 and 2026 season, Cleveland is almost $43 million and $12 million over the salary cap, respectively. The cap guru, Andrew Berry, could easily find a way to retain Cooper during those seasons, but it would most likely come with the cost of more restructuring or extending of Deshaun Watson's contract.

Extending Watson for another year could work out in the end if the once highly-touted QB returns to his prime form. But that is the million-dollar question: will Deshaun Watson return to his prime self? I talked about how Cooper dealt with injuries in the past, but Watson has dealt with his fair share of injuries too.

Fans also have to remember that rising star Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is set to become a free agent after this season, so Berry will have to find a way to pay the elite linebacker. There is not much data on young linebackers contract's from this offseason, but some of the notable players that recently signed with teams are Baltimore Ravens' Roquan Smith ($20 million average salary per year) and Tremaine Edmunds ($18 million average salary per year). Owusu-Koramoah's breakout last season has warranted him to receive a contract around this range.

In her recent article, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com broke down an ideal scenario that would give Cooper his paycheck, without putting the Browns' cap situation through too much damage.

One way to address the issue would be to restructure Cooper’s 2024 contract, giving him a sizable upfront bonus and reducing his base salary for a lower cap charge. If the Browns want to extend him, they could aim for a two-year deal somewhere in the mid-20s, with a decent bonus, a low 2024 base, and some voidable years to spread out the bonus. There seems to be a path forward to getting something done without too much acrimony.

-Mary Kay Cabot

The key year in this situation is 2027. Right now, the Browns cap space in 2027 is roughly $180 million. If the Browns were to give a two-year extension to Cooper, they could use the ample cap space in 2027 and 2028 as voidable years to pay off the rest of Cooper's contract.

A two-year extension would also mean less money the Browns have to owe Cooper, which makes those voidable years easier to navigate. By 2027, Cooper would be 33-years old, likely putting him on the brink of retirement.

If the Browns current top wideout were to sign a four-year deal, the Browns would be left with an old wide receiver that is likely not producing to the value of his contract. Hence, a two-year extension with voidable years attached to it would be the only reasonable option for Cleveland.

Is The Holdout Just A Bluff?

Everyone inside of Cooper's camp is pretty smart. They understand how valuable Cooper is to the Browns this season, and are using it as leverage to get him the most money.

But let's put ourselves in Amari Cooper's shoes:

You are a 30-year old wide receiver that has dealt with a slew of injuries during your career, and you are in your final year of your contract. If you do end up holding out this year, you would be entering your 11th season as a free agent, and have not touched the field in over a season.

Do people understand how unappealing that sounds to a franchise looking to sign him in the offseason? He would easily miss out on more money than if he decided to play his final season with the Browns.

My guess, once again based on these facts, is that Amari Cooper will be playing Week 1 against his former team, the Dallas Cowboys. He could be using his leverage to get the most out of the Browns, and may ultimately settle on a two or three-year extension with the Browns. Personally, I would not want to give Cooper a three-year extension, but that could be the reason why this deal has not been finalized.

A two-year extension could also be benefical for the Browns in the future. Like I stated before, the Browns could use a first or second round pick in the 2025 NFL Draft on a wide receiver of the future. Rolling out with a receiving core of Jeudy, a rookie wideout, and Cooper could help the development of said wideout while taking less pressure off Cooper.

What Cleveland Browns Must Evaluate In Amari Cooper Contract Dispute (2024)
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