It’s an idea that’s been in the works since the end of their season. It also sounds like a last-ditch attempt to find a place for Cooper and the $14.5 million they invested in him with his rookie signing bonus.
Cooper was drafted as a left guard but broke his leg in the third preseason game of 2013 against the San Diego Chargers, which led to Cooper losing his job at left guard to Ted Larsen in 2014. During the ensuing offseason, Arizona signed All-Pro left guard Mike Iupati, forcing Cooper to right guard. The experiment appeared to work until Cooper suffered a knee injury against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10. While Cooper was out, he again lost the job to Larsen after starting the first nine games of the season.
Cooper won’t be handed the job at center. The future of incumbent starter Lyle Sendlein still hasn’t been announced. He’s scheduled to become a free agent this week. Arizona also has plans to work Earl Watford at center. That’s along with A.Q. Shipley, who was the frontrunner to start at center throughout training camp last year until Sendlein was re-signed midway through camp.
How much longer does Cooper have to prove himself at a position? He’s entering the final year of his rookie contract. As a top-10 pick he’s eligible to have his fifth-year option picked up until May 3. If Arizona chooses to, they’d have to commit $11.9 million to Cooper -- an unlikely scenario given his inability to both stay healthy and flourish on the field.
He’s not worth it, however. For the final seven games of the season, the Cardinals had $23 million of guaranteed first-round money sitting on the bench. Tackle D.J. Humphries, the Cardinals’ 2015 first-round pick, was redshirted last year. At this point, one of those former first rounders has an upside and the other is on the verge of being a bust.
If the Cardinals decide to cut Cooper, they’d be losing $2.38 million because Cooper’s contract is guaranteed. If he doesn’t crack the starting lineup by the end of camp, it’s a decision general manager Steve Keim may need to make.