Organized team activities (OTAs) don't begin for the Dallas Cowboys until May 22, but their big-name, veteran trade acquisitions -- wide receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year -- are already making their presence felt with their new teammates.
The 2022 offseason Cowboys' receiver moves were more about subtraction, trading away four-time Pro Bowl wideout Amari Cooper. In 2023, the team put more resources into their receivers room this time around, adding the established and "dynamic" Cooks to act as Pro Bowl number one wideout CeeDee Lamb's number two following . It's an effort focused on opening up their passing offense for quarterback Dak Prescott, who co-led the NFL with 15 interceptions last seasons despite missing five games with a right thumb injury.
"Being dynamic," new Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Brandin Cooks said Wednesday, per The Athletic, when asked what he brings to Dallas at the team's 10th annual Reliant Home Run Derby, which raises money for the Salvation Army. "Being able to make plays, no matter which way, deep, short, intermediate, it really doesn't matter. Just coming in and being dynamic."
Cooks is certainly dynamic since he's one of only seven players in the entire league since 2014, when Cooks entered the NFL, with over 8,500 receiving yards (8,616) and over 45 receiving touchdowns (49). Alongside Cooks in that exclusive club is Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and Antonio Brown.
His six career seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards are tied for the third-most in the NFL since 2014, trailing only Evans (nine seasons) and Kelce (seven seasons) in that statistic. Cooks has achieved the feat with each of his four previous teams: the New Orleans Saints (2015-2016), the New England Patriots (2017), the Los Angeles Rams (2018), and the Houston Texans (2020-2021). Doing so in 2021 with Houston is especially noteworthy given he was catching passes from 32-year-old Tyrod Taylor and rookie Davis Mills. Prescott has already observed what makes Cooks unique in throwing sessions with the nine-year veteran.
"When you're just throwing to him [Brandin Cooks], it stands out," Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said. "His speed is different than many others. The way he approaches the game, his knowledge, he's already helping CeeDee, helping the young guys, playing cornerback, teaching them little nuances of the route running. He's going to be huge for me and huge for the room."
The admiration between the new quarterback-receiver duo is mutual, but hearing it from Cooks' end is noteworthy considering he's caught passes from future, first-ballot Hall of Famers like Drew Brees in New Orleans (2014-2016) and Tom Brady in New England (2017).
"I've been around some great ones, and we've been throwing and I don't have tell that but that guy [Dak Prescott], can sling that ball," new Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Brandin Cooks said. "I'm just excited to be able to get going, no doubt. He's [Prescott] special the way the ball comes out of his hand, he's special with it. His natural-born leadership, there's a couple guys I've been around that can lead a team, and the way he's doing it, to be this young [29 years old], is unbelievable for sure."
Gilmore, a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All-Pro entering his 12th NFL season, has produced a similar effect on Cowboys Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs, who has been more known for racking up interceptions than consistency in coverage early on in his three-year career.
"I talk to him [Stephon Gilmore] a lot," Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs said, via The Athletic. "I've been talking to him since I got in the league, always asking him questions since I first started. Now I got him on my team, so I can bug him right there. [The main things we talk about now are] how to stay consistent and how to slow the game down more because he plays in slow-motion, but it's really fast. He's so smart and so ball-savvy like he's walking on water since he makes it look so easy. I want to learn how to do that and take my game to the next level."
While the 24-year-old Diggs is focused on taking the next steps up in his career, the 32-year-old Gilmore is focused on proving he's still got it in 2023. He missed 14 games across the 2020 and 2021 seasons with quadriceps and groin injuries, but Gilmore bounced back last season with the Indianapolis Colts: his 81.1 Pro Football Focus coverage grade was the ninth-highest among NFL corners, and his 11 passes defended were a team-high. Now, Gilmore feels his body is its best shape since his Defensive Player of the Year season in 2019.
"I think I can still play if you watch the film from last year, you'll see it," new Dallas Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. "Last year is last year, each year you have to turn the page and prove yourself every year, that's how I look at it. You go through things [injuries] in your career, and you have to fight through it. I feel good now running around, this is the best I've felt in the last two, three years. I'm looking forward to this season and making plays like I normally do."
With a couple key spots that gave the Cowboys issues in 2022, number two receiver and number two cornerbacks, filled by a veterans like Cooks and Gilmore who have seen it all and still have gas in their tanks, Dallas could have its most exciting season of the 21st century.