It wasn’t too long ago that Paul DePodesta explained his core roster strategy to ESPN’s Jake Trotter.
The brains behind the Cleveland Browns‘ latest rebuild was downright adamant in the face of trade rumors.
Cleveland would build something great on the shoulders of their young corps of stars.
But sometimes a remodel takes an unexpected twist.
Amari Cooper embracing leadership role in first season with Browns: "That's the position I'm in now. These guys look at me like an old guy"https://t.co/XUzzSJoe6k pic.twitter.com/IU8Sc7NhaD
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) July 1, 2022
Andrew Berry reacted to such a twist and revised the team’s rebuild on the fly with the acquisition of Amari Cooper.
Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr were culled out of the mix, along with Rashard Higgins.
Cooper and return specialist Jakeem Grant became the veterans in the wide receiver room.
And Grant’s focus on special teams leaves Cooper to assume a leadership role in the Browns’ young receiving unit.
“The Old Man”
Amari Cooper is barely 28 years old, second only to Grant’s 29 years.
Berry’s penchant to draft younger players creates a gap between Cooper and most of his teammates.
But age is just a number, and it is the experience gap that pushed Cooper far ahead of his teammates.
Cooper brings 4 Pro Bowl seasons and five 1000-yard campaigns racked up in Oakland and Dallas.
The Browns' decision to trade for Amari Cooper – who is under contract for 3 more years for $60M total – and moving back just 38 spots on day 3 of the NFL Draft looks like a massive steal right now.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 23, 2022
No other Browns wide receiver except Grant has as many as 4 seasons under his belt.
Donovan Peoples-Jones stands out among a young group of promising players in the room.
But even including Grant’s 7-year tally, the group boasts barely a third of Cooper’s career yardage total.
And that should make him the quarterback’s primary target, enhancing his status as the leader.
Taking On The Role
Being the newest guy on the block doesn’t always put one in a position to lead.
Defensive lineman Sheldon Day lamented in the offseason that he should have taken on a bigger role last year.
But in his first season, he felt it more appropriate to let others coach up or guide younger teammates.
Amari Cooper has led by example for his first seven years in the NFL.
Now, in Year 8, he's embracing his biggest leadership role yet as the "old guy" of a young group of #Browns WRs.https://t.co/DLnzQEWWDY
— Anthony Poisal (@AnthonyPoisal) June 28, 2022
But Cooper steps in without any established veterans to vie with for a leadership role.
And he embraces the chance to use his age and experience to help others.
“From what I see, leadership is just experience,” Cooper told ClevelandBrowns.com contributor Anthony Poisal. “Everything these guys are going through, (I) either went through it or saw someone else go through it, and (I) saw what the outcome was.”
That allows Cooper to talk with authority to players presented with a challenge they’ve not faced before.
When a perennial Pro Bowler says he had more drops or a bigger gaffe, it can help calm young players.
And watching Cooper practice and run precise routes can’t hurt their development.
Bigger Challenge Than Expected
Cooper’s enthusiasm regarding his role is an important consideration.
But he faces some serious challenges in his first stint as the de facto leader of the Browns receiver group.
First and foremost is the team’s uncertain quarterback situation, muddled by legal challenges and a trade demand.
By the time Cooper reports to training camp, there should be more clarity.
But Cooper and his young teammates may deal with related questions and comments throughout the year.
As they work their way through the preseason, the rookies and others will make some friends.
And about half of those friends won’t make the roster, another moment Cooper needs to be ready for.
That will be followed by the potentially-brutal regular season critiques of the young players who make the cut.
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