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Cooper vs. Tate: NFC East may come down to which trade was better

In the span of a week in late October, the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles made trades they hoped would salvage seasons that were teetering on the brink of failure.

The Cowboys were 3-4 after their Oct. 21 loss to the Washington Redskins when they decided to send a 2019 first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Amari Cooper. The defending Super Bowl champion Eagles were 4-4 after beating the Jacksonville Jaguars in London on Oct. 28 when they decided to send a 2019 third-round pick to the Detroit Lions for Golden Tate.

On Sunday at AT&T Stadium, the Cowboys and Eagles meet with first place in the NFC East on the line.

A Dallas victory and the Cowboys could effectively close out the division with three games to play, depending on how the Redskins and New York Giants fare. A Philadelphia win and the East will be up for grabs in the final three weeks.

Cooper and Tate will have a big say in how the seasons will play out. NFL Nation reporters Tim McManus and Todd Archer take a look at how the trades have worked out for both teams so far:

What impact has each made?

Tim McManus: Tate’s time in Philly got off to a rocky start. The offense actually regressed initially, scoring 27 points total in his first two games in an Eagles uniform — both losses. Offensive coordinator Mike Groh acknowledged that it was a challenge integrating him into the system. Part of the issue is that the Eagles have three receivers in Tate, Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews whose natural position is the slot. Figuring out who to deploy, and where, has been a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. Some of Tate’s involvement felt forced early on, while other receivers’ production — most notably Alshon Jeffery‘s — dropped off. Concern in Philadelphia was growing that this trade was a bust, but Tate broke out against the Redskins on Monday night, finishing with 85 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion in a 28-13 victory. The chemistry between him and Carson Wentz has clearly improved — they improvised for a key 19-yard gain that required both to be on the same page against Washington — and the offense has looked better the past two weeks than it had for most of the season. Tate is finally starting to have the desired impact.

Todd Archer: Cooper’s impact can’t be overstated. He has changed the Cowboys’ passing game because he has given Dak Prescott an option on the outside. In each of the five games with Cooper, Prescott has thrown for at least 208 yards. He did that just three times in the first seven games without Cooper. Projecting Cooper’s numbers over a 16-game season, he is on pace for 96 receptions, 1,357 yards and 10 touchdowns. That’s the work of a No. 1 receiver. Cooper’s presence has helped Ezekiel Elliott as well. While opposing defenses still focus on stopping the Cowboys’ running back, they at least have to pay attention to the outside with Cooper because he has shown the ability to win on his route running and his running after catch (see the 40- and 90-yard touchdowns against Washington). Of the 40 times he has been targeted by Prescott, he has 30 catches. Eight of his 10 third-down catches have gone for first downs. The production is there. So are the results. The Cowboys are 4-1 since the Cooper trade. That Jerry Jones and the front office were willing to give up such a valuable asset was a sign to the players that they were not giving up on the 2018 season when a lot of people thought it was over.

What does the future hold?

McManus: That’s still very much up in the air. The Eagles gave up a third-round pick for Tate even though his contract is up at the end of the season. While they are likely to recoup a solid compensatory pick if Tate walks in free agency, this was a rental that needs to pay some significant dividends over the final quarter of the season for this to be considered a good deal. He was brought in to put a jolt into the offense and assist in a playoff push. Anything less will be considered a disappointment. Whether he stays with the Eagles beyond this season will depend in part on what the market for his services looks like. It’s hard to picture the 30-year-old Tate being signed to a lucrative contract in Philadelphia, but if the price tag is relatively modest, there should be interest. Agholor’s fate with the team seems to hang in the balance. The Eagles have picked up Agholor’s fifth-year option, so he’s under contract next season, but it seems unlikely they’d keep both players beyond this season.

Archer: The Cowboys were willing to give up the first-rounder only because Cooper is 24. He doesn’t turn 25 until June. The Cowboys did not have an interest in trading for a receiver like Tate, while productive, because he turns 31 in August. The Cowboys wanted a young receiver to add to a core of young talent they believe they have throughout the roster. As the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 draft by the Raiders, the Cowboys hold the fifth-year option on Cooper for 2019 at close to $14 million, but the hope is to work out a long-term extension at some point in the offseason. The Cowboys worked similarly with Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin last offseason, locking him up through 2025. The last time the Cowboys paid their top receiver came in 2015, when Dez Bryant signed a five-year, $70 million deal minutes before Bryant was set to play that season on the franchise tag. The Cowboys will have other decisions to make on players, like DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Elliott and Prescott, but they have made it known that Cooper is a priority to keep as well.

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