BEREA — Amari Cooper was on vacation when the Browns traded for quarterback Deshaun Watson on March 18.
“I was elated,” the four-time Pro Bowl receiver said Wednesday.
Once he was awake.
It was late in Dubai, so Cooper was asleep. He woke up to “a whole bunch” of text messages, including from former teammates telling him he was “lucky.”
“I was like, ‘What?’ Then I checked social media, the news and then I found out that information,” he said. “It was cool, I was happy about it.”
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Next to the acquisition of Watson, the trade for Cooper was the Browns’ biggest move of the offseason. They sent a fifth-round pick and swapped sixth-rounders in the deal with the Cowboys agreed to March 12.
In less than a week, the Browns had a new quarterback and a new No. 1 receiver.
“He’s a great player. I’m a great player. We’re going to make it work by any means necessary,” Cooper said in his first interview since being traded, adding he’ll work extra with Watson to develop a connection. “But as far as being his No. 1 receiver from him, that has to be earned. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past. It has to be earned every day in OTAs, minicamp, training camp. So I’m looking forward to going out there and earning the respect of Deshaun and allow him to say, ‘I want to go to this guy. I’m confident in this guy.’
“I know he’s going to come through for me, so I just have to go out there and prove it.”
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The organization’s top priority after the disappointing 8-9 finish in 2021 was to upgrade the passing game. Cooper, 27, called it “very exciting” to be considered part of the solution.
“I understand that that’s the reason I’m here, to help the passing game improve. And I take that on,” he said. “I feel it’s my responsibility to do that, and it’s no worry, I know what I can do.”
Cooper was the No. 4 pick of the Raiders out of the University of Alabama in 2015. He went to two Pro Bowls and reached 1,000 yards receiving twice in three years before being traded to the Cowboys during the 2018 season, which began a string of three straight 1,000-yard seasons and two more Pro Bowls.
In 15 games last year, he has caught 68 passes for 865 yards, a 12.7 average and eight touchdowns. The Cowboys didn’t want to pay his $20 million a year salary, and the Browns jumped at the chance to get him after Odell Beckham Jr. was cut at midseason last year. For his career, Cooper has 517 catches, 7,076 yards, a 13.7 average and 46 touchdowns.
“Coop has been great,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Very responsive to coaching. Amari is not the loudest guy in the room, but he is very, very thoughtful, very, very intelligent and has been productive really every year he has been in this league.
“He is a good teammate. Just watching him work in the weight room and seeing him around his teammates, he is a guy who really works hard.”
Cooper has the reputation of being an anti-diva at a position filled with them. Alabama coach Nick Saban recently told The Chronicle-Telegram that Cooper “did things the right way,” wasn’t “arrogant” and was a “grinder.”
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Cooper understands the Browns have a strong running game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and that targets may not be plentiful every week.
“It kinda reminds me of college,” Cooper said. “At Alabama we had a great running game, we were known for running the ball.
“I think any team that has assets they’re going to use them, No. 1. No. 2, it’s just the run game opens up the pass game. So it’s not something that I’m really worried about, whether I get a lot or not. Just because we have such an explosive running game, I know that when I do get targeted, it’s going to be wide open. So it’s a win-win.”
Cooper said he loved Dallas and didn’t want to be traded. But he knew it was coming and he understands it’s part of the business.
“So it all comes to an end at some point,” he said. “And with that said, I am excited about this new chapter and I embrace it, I look forward to the future here.”
He wasn’t fazed by the snow on his first day of work Tuesday — “That’s part of what separates this game from every other game,” he said — and is enjoying learning a new team and part of the country. Before the trade, his knowledge of the Browns was superficial, at best.
“I think the most I knew about the organization was — what’s that movie? — ‘Draft Day,’ yeah,” he said. “And then the history, how historic the program is as far as all the Heisman Trophy winners that have come and played for the organization, the great running backs and stuff like that.”
#Browms WR Amari Cooper on joining new team. pic.twitter.com/zCjHo5Afbq
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) April 20, 2022
He keeps learning and believes it’s part of the job to share the knowledge with younger teammates.
“Sometimes you still kinda feel like you’re the youngest guy till you look up and you’re like, wait, I’m the oldest guy in the room,” he said. “That’s when you start to realize, hey, it’s my responsibility to look after these guys, to make these guys better, to make the room better, to make the team better. And so I embrace that.”