- Trade: The Dallas Cowboys traded a 2023 fifth-round pick and a 2024 sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans in exchange for wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
- Immediate upgrade: Cooks represents an immediate upgrade to Dallas' WR corps due to his ability to maintain effectiveness whether he's aligned outside and in the slot.
- Draft implications: Cooks' presence provides the Cowboys with the flexibility to go in myriad directions with their first-round pick.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Outside of re-signing a couple of key contributors, the Dallas Cowboys have largely been absent from 2023's NFL free-agent frenzy; nonetheless, that hasn't stopped them from upgrading their roster, as they sent a fifth-round compensatory pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to the Indianapolis Colts for star cornerback Stephon “Gilly Lock” Gilmore in a move that makes the Dallas secondary one of the best in the NFL.
Now, the Cowboys have gone back to the trade market to acquire another veteran, as they sent a 2023 fifth-round pick and a 2024 sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans in exchange for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who Dallas offered a third-round pick for at the 2022 trade deadline — the Texans are likely kicking themselves for not taking that previous trade package, as they received much less trade compensation this time. The gravy on top is the fact that the Texans will pay $6 million of the $18 million owed to Cooks this year, meaning this trade will also keep the Cowboys' salary cap healthy.
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds with 4.33 speed, Cooks provides the Cowboys with the perfect receiver to complement Dallas' alpha receiver — CeeDee Lamb. Despite playing with multiple of sub-par quarterbacks in Houston, Cooks was able to maintain adequate levels of productivity, finishing with at least 1,000 receiving yards and six touchdowns in two out of the last three seasons.
Which non-slot WRs (< 40% slot) generated a step or more of separation most often in 2020? (>75% routes)
Diontae Johnson 77%
Davante Adams 77%
Brandin Cooks 75.7%
Marquise Brown 73.7%
Stefon Diggs 73.5%
Mike Evans 73.1%
Damiere Byrd 72.6%
D.K. Metcalf 71%
DeAndre Hopkins 71.4%
— Dwain McFarland (@dwainmcfarland) June 26, 2021
Even though his lack of size would lead many to believe he's a slot-only option, Cooks has actually done most of his damage throughout his career on the outside, showing good enough route running to create separation on the outside against bigger cornerbacks.
Check Brandin Cooks' route running ????
(via @thecheckdown) pic.twitter.com/ssbhcoSxK1
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) October 11, 2020
The key for Cooks on the outside is his ability to defeat press coverage. Due to his size, speed and movement skills, most outside cornerbacks can't match his routes without using physicality to slow and control Cooks' pace. Unfortunately for the cornerbacks, Cooks know this too, so he uses excellent footwork, pace manipulation and well-developed hand-fighting to maintain freedom of movement within the route, enabling him to use consistently create separation across the route tree.
When opposing defenses struggle to get physical with him at the line of scrimmage, they typically opt to play more off-coverage to give their cornerbacks a better chance; however, Cooks has a well-stocked plan to earn separation against those types of coverages as well. The 29-year-old receiver excels at “stepping on the cornerback's toes” against off-coverage, which just means he makes sure to eat up the coverage defender's cushion (given the route concept called) before initiating his break. This makes it tough for the cornerback to remain patient, forcing him to react — whether it's opening his hips from backpedal when Cooks sells a vertical route or driving forward when Cooks sells a stop or hard-breaking route — in a way that Cook' can counter and take advantage of.
Here's a great example:
— Jim Jeff (@CowboysGifs) March 19, 2023
Cooks — aligned on the outside to the bottom of the screen against off-coverage — does an excellent job exploding off the line of scrimmage with his chest over his knees and his knees over his toes to sell the vertical route. Once he eats up the cornerback's cushion, notice how the cornerback has to respect Cooks' vertical speed so he continues to slightly drift downfield right as Cooks initiates his break. It's subtle, but that's all Cooks needs to create gobs of separation of his break on the out route.
In fact, he created so much separation that even though his quarterback was late to throw, Cooks was still able to make a grab before gobbling up a ton of yards after the catch due to the cornerback being unable to recover and contest at the catch point.
— Jim Jeff (@CowboysGifs) March 19, 2023
Cooks' ability to thrive on the outside will enable the Cowboys to continue to deploy Lamb at his best spot — the slot. However, Cooks' slot versatility will also enable head coach and play-caller Mike McCarthy to get creative with the way he deploys his WR corps. While Cooks has spent most of his time outside, he's still been incredibly deadly from the slot, finishing inside the top 20 in yards per route run from the slot in each of the last three seasons (11th in 2020, 17th in 2021 and sixth in 2022; min. 20 targets). Cooks does an excellent job leveraging his two-way go at the line of scrimmage to defeat man coverage from the slot, and he does an excellent job of finding and exploiting the space in between zone defenders.
Moreover, Cooks' ability to stretch the field should only open up the intermediate portions of the field for Lamb to thrive. Dating back to 2020, Cooks has the second-best PFF receiving grades on 20-plus-yard targets (97.0, behind only Justin Jefferson).
Cooks' presence also allows the Cowboys to slide Michael Gallup back to the No. 3 wide receiver role, where he thrived when Amari Cooper was in Dallas. With Lamb playing so much in the slot last season, it meant Gallup was defended by the opposing team's best cornerback on a large number of snaps, and unfortunately, Gallup struggled to produce in those kinds of matchups one year after tearing his ACL. With Cooks in the fold, Gallup will rarely see the opposing team's No. 1 CB, meaning he can play his trade on less talented defenders, which should lead to better play overall.
In terms of the draft, the Cooks addition provides the Cowboys with the flexibility to target any number of positions in the first round, as receiver was the last big need on the team's roster. Don't be surprised if the Cowboys target a tight end (such as Utah's Dalton Kincaid), interior offensive lineman (such as TCU's Steve Avila), defensive tackle (such as Michigan's Mazi Smith) or even running back (such as Texas' Bijan Robinson; please don't happen) with the 26th overall pick.
If the Cowboys' offseason's goal was to help make life easier for Dak Prescott, trading for Cooks was a meaningful step in the right direction.