Dallas Cowboys

Amari Cooper ‘ain’t counting anybody’s pockets.’ He’s only focused on running routes

It’s really not surprising that receiver Amari Cooper fancies himself more like Picasso in football cleats than the Wolf of Wall Street.

He has little interest in talking about the stagnant contract negotiations between the Cowboys and his agents, Joel Segal and Chafie Fields.

That he would rather be in the streets running routes barefoot with friends as he did as a kid is partly why Cooper has avoided talking to the media for much of the last three weeks during OTAs before finally relenting on Wednesday.

Not only does Cooper not want to answer questions about the contract, but he hasn’t talked to his agents about it much either.

“I haven’t talked to him in a minute. I don’t even like talking about the contract with him,” Cooper said. ”I just handle my business. I’m more anxious about camp and actually playing football.”

Asked if he wanted it done before the start of the season, the nonchalant Cooper said, “It don’t really matter to me.”

It doesn’t matter because Cooper knows the money is coming. He is in the final year of his contract and the Cowboys admittedly planned on signing him to a contract extension when they traded a 2019 first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders to acquire him midway through last season.

He started nine games for the Cowboys and totaled 53 catches for 725 yards and six touchdowns while helping spark the offense in an amazing closing run that resulted in seven wins in their final nine games to claim the NFC East title.

His stellar play only reinforced the Cowboys thinking. Owner Jerry Jones and vice president Stephen Jones have been consistent in their plans to reward Cooper with a mega deal in line with the market for No. 1 receivers.

Cooper’s patience is also rooted in his knowledge of what those numbers are.

“Of course. I know exactly what they’re getting, but I ain’t counting anybody’s pockets,” Cooper said. “My agent told me what the market was. I know the neighborhood.”

The neighborhood right now is between $16 million-$19 million annually. That it could jump again with possible new deals for Falcons receiver Julio Jones and Saints receiver Michael Thomas is not lost on Cooper and his agents in their deliberate approach to negotiations with the Cowboys.

“That’s above my pay grade. I got some highly trained professionals,” said Cooper when asked what he was looking for in a new deal while deftly leaving the questioner flat-footed like he does cornerbacks with his precise route running.

While other players hold out and stay away from the facility during contract negotiations, it’s something Cooper never considered. He has largely been in Dallas since before the start of the off-season program working out and catching passes from quarterback Dak Prescott.

“I just want to get better and I love football. That’s why I’m here,” Cooper said. “I love coming out here doing 7-on-7, routes on air, team periods and being able to showcase my ability and being able to run routes. It’s like the greatest thing to me, its kinda like art to me, it’s like a painter drawing something. And that’s how I feel every time I run a route. I mean, I would come out and run routes even if I wasn’t getting paid because I just love it so much.”

A full off-season with Prescott has only improved their connection.

“I think we can get a whole lot better,” Cooper said. “I’ve always been that type of guy, if I had eight targets that game I caught seven balls, I’m always thinking about the one I didn’t catch. I think that’s the perfect relationship; we strive for perfection and I think the coaches can help us.”

Cooper’s cerebral, detailed and professional approach helped him pick up things quickly last year, head coach Jason Garrett said. He solves Rubik’s cube and plays chess in his free time.

“Amari’s a fairly quiet guy but he provides a great example,” Garrett said. “He too is a real pro. The best example of that is what he did last year when he came to our team in the middle of the season. Just his ability to pick things up so quickly and do so many different things, line up in different spots, run all these different kinds of routes and he just handled it.

“I’ve been around some pretty cerebral wide receivers but he certainly ranks up there. The detail he goes into, he’s working very hard on a route (in practice) explaining what his thought process was and how he struggled with this angle. ‘I think it’s better if I take this angle because that’ll help this.’ He wants to be great at it, he’s very willing to work at it, do extra, try to understand what we’re asking him to do to execute at a higher level. Certainly a pleasure to coach, we love having him here.”

It’s that unique attitude toward the game that astonished Cowboys Hall of Famer Michael Irvin.

“One of the things we talked about is he said, ‘I don’t need 15-16 targets,’” Irvin said. “I’ve never heard a receiver say that. ‘I don’t need 15-16 targets a game, just give me my 8 or 9 and I’ll catch 7 or 8 passes.’

“It tells you he’s efficient. He’s efficient, and that’s a great thing.”

Greatness for Cooper is simply running routes and leaving receivers flat-footed.

He is already looking forward to training camp and the start of the season.

“I’m looking forward to the games,” Cooper said. “Obviously, that’s the best part. Anytime I can get into a situation where I’m running routes I love it, I can go on the street and run routes, I just love it so much.

“I ran routes with my shoes off before (as a kid), I just love doing it so much.”

It’s safe to say his love of running routes is part of the reason this football Picasso is on the brink of painting his own contract numbers.

But let’s not talk about that.

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Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.