May 9, 2012
STILLWATER — Josh Cooper was at his family's home in Mustang on April 28 watching the NFL Draft and hoping his name would be called in the late rounds.
Near the beginning of the seventh round, the former Oklahoma State receiver got a text message. It was from Brandon Weeden and contained a forwarded message from Cleveland Browns' general manager Tom Heckert that asked Weeden to try to convince Cooper to sign with the Browns if he did not get drafted.
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“It was good news,” Cooper said. “That's kind of where I wanted to be if (Brandon) was going there, to have a familiar face. It was pretty much a done deal.”
This week, Cooper will join Weeden in Cleveland's rookie minicamp as both of their NFL journeys officially begin. Nine other former Cowboys are following similar paths as Cooper after going undrafted but agreeing to terms with an NFL team as a rookie free agent.
It's a road with virtually no guarantee. For every undrafted success story — New England Patriots receiver and OKC product Wes Welker and Houston Texans running back Arian Foster are current prominent examples — there are countless others who don't make it.
The uncertainty usually starts in the hours immediately following the draft, with a flurry of teams vying for the services of several players who did not have their name called.
But that wasn't true with Cooper. The Browns were the first team to contact him. Done and done.
“Once I signed with them, I'm sure everybody talks to each other and knows who's going where,” Cooper said. “It really wasn't anything for me. I talked to the team, and then I hung out with the family and had a good time that night. No frenzy at my house.”
And the Browns essentially used Weeden as the middle man in this deal. He was playing golf in Oklahoma City when Heckert first sent him the text he forwarded onto Cooper. Browns coach Pat Shurmur sent a message soon after. Then when Weeden didn't respond right away, Shurmur called and left a voicemail.
“I got a call from the head coach and the GM just kind of pushing me to do what I could to get (Cooper) on board,” Weeden said.
Cleveland's interest in Cooper stemmed from his extremely productive yet often underrated OSU career because he played alongside superstar Justin Blackmon. But Cooper was the perfect complement as an inside receiver and finished his career with the fifth-most catches (161) and eighth-most receiving yards (1,695) in school history.
Cooper was always considered a borderline NFL prospect, however, because he doesn't possess prototypical NFL size — his frame is 5-11 and 195 pounds — or blazing vertical speed. An injury that prevented him from working out at the NFL Combine in February didn't help his chances, either.
Yet Cooper, understandably around these parts, often draws comparisons to Welker because of his build and skill set as a slot receiver who runs sharp routes and has good hands. Even in switching from OSU's spread offense to Cleveland's West Coast system, Cooper doesn't see his role changing too much.
“You just have to find holes and you just have to create separation on your routes,” Cooper said. “It's the same concept. It's just a lot of different terminology.”