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Cowboys hope to follow familiar path with Jonathan Cooper

FRISCO, Texas -- Back in 2013, the Dallas Cowboys thought highly of Jonathan Cooper, like just about the rest of the NFL, but they never had the chance to draft him.

The Arizona Cardinals selected Cooper with the No. 7 pick.

“We wanted him so bad,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said in January. “We liked to have died when Arizona took him.”

The Cowboys had the 18th pick in the draft that year and traded down to No. 31 with the San Francisco 49ers, eventually taking Travis Frederick in the first round. All Frederick has done is make the Pro Bowl the past three years, been named a first-team All Pro once and signed a hefty contract extension through 2023.

Cooper’s career has yet to take off. He missed his rookie season with a broken leg. He started 11 games in 2014 and ’15 with the Cardinals, was traded to the New England Patriots last offseason, never played in a game and was released by the eventual Super Bowl champs.

The Cleveland Browns claimed him and he started three of the five games he played for them before his release at the end of the year.

The Cowboys signed Cooper in January before the playoffs started, knowing he would not play in a game but hoping it would be the beginning of a relationship into 2017, if possible. If not, then maybe they could recoup a possible compensatory pick in 2018.

On Tuesday, Cooper agreed to a one-year deal with the Cowboys, becoming the fourth former first-round pick on the offensive line, joining Frederick, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin.

Cooper might have had outsized expectations when he was selected by Arizona, but he comes to the Cowboys with small expectations. At worst he serves as a backup interior offensive lineman on game day. At best, he is their starting guard.

The Cowboys are not taking much of a risk since it is just a one-year contract, but it is a good bet. They are following a philosophy Al Davis and Bill Parcells used in their Hall of Fame careers. At one point just about everybody thought he could play, so see what he has left, even if it has not worked out at other spots.

The poster boy for the philosophy in recent Cowboys history is Marc Colombo, who will now be one of Cooper’s coaches. He was a former first-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 2002 but was troubled by a major knee injury that included nerve damage and was released in 2005. The Cowboys signed Colombo late in the 2005 season and largely stashed him away.

In 2006 he won the right tackle job, a spot he held through 2010.

Cooper comes to the Cowboys with something of a head start in knowing the coaches, the players and the scheme.

Cooper’s signing allows the Cowboys the possibility of moving La’el Collins to right tackle should they not find a solution to Doug Free’s impending retirement in Chaz Green, Emmett Cleary or a potential draft pick down the road.

With Martin set to join Smith and Frederick in the mega-deal extension category this summer, the Cowboys were not in position to make a play to retain Ronald Leary or go after a high-priced free agent.

The cost of Cooper is low -- relatively speaking -- but the benefits might be large.