Cowboys' call led to 'big-eye' moment for Jonathan Cooper

FRISCO, Texas -- When offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper was released by the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 27, he figured his season was over. But then he got word the Dallas Cowboys were interested in signing him.

"That was one of those big-eye moments," Cooper said. "I was like, 'Wow, they're on track to do something special, and they want to include me in it.' So that was pretty exciting."

Cooper visited the Cowboys prior to the 2013 draft but was selected No. 7 overall by the Arizona Cardinals. He missed his rookie season with an injury and never lived up to his draft billing. He was traded to the New England Patriots in the offseason, released and eventually landed in Cleveland, starting three of the five games he played.

"Honestly, it's part of guys playing," Cooper said of his early struggles. "It happened for a reason. I'm here now, but I mean, there has been a series of injuries, this, that, whatever, but I'm here now. That's how I'm taking it. A lot of people are like, 'Are you down on yourself? Do you think you're not the same player?' I'm going to continue to take advantage of every opportunity I receive and continue to improve."

Cooper lined up at guard for Thursday's practice but has experience playing center from his college days. The Cowboys have made these kinds of moves before on first-round picks who did not pan out, most notably Marc Colombo and Rolando McClain, and had success.

But the relationship with Cooper could be as short as two weeks if the Cowboys lose in the divisional round of the playoffs, since he is not signed through the 2017 season.

"Oftentimes those business decision are two sides, so it make sense for us and for him right now just to kind of get him in the fold, get him to work, and we'll see how it goes," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.

A need for Cooper could emerge in the offseason with left guard Ronald Leary, who started 12 games, expected to hit free agency. Leary could be one of the more sought-after interior lineman in free agency, which would price him out of the Cowboys' budget with the team looking to sign Zack Martin to a long-term deal by next summer.

The Cowboys will have La'el Collins back to return to the starting lineup but could use veteran backup help.

"My job is to handle my business on the field right now and all of the business aspects of it will handle themselves," Cooper said. "That's my main focus, this opportunity, right now in this moment. I'm just staying in the moment and focusing on what's right now."