Browns top WR Amari Cooper absent from team's minicamp as he enters final season of contract

Browns No. 1 wide receiver Amari Cooper did not report to the team's minicamp in a presumed contract dispute

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BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson tested his surgically repaired right shoulder by rifling passes to Browns receivers.

None went to Amari Cooper.

Cleveland's No. 1 wide receiver did not report to the first day of mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, presumably because Cooper, who is entering his final season under contract, is seeking an extension from the Browns.

Coach Kevin Stefanski said Cooper's absence was not excused. Stefanski would not confirm if the soon-to-be 30-year-old has asked the team for more money, deferring to general manager Andrew Berry.

“These situations, I understand that they do come up,” Stefanski said. “I’ll really leave all of that between Amari and Amari’s agent, AB (Berry) and those type of conversations.”

Stefanski said there has been dialogue between the Browns and Cooper's agent, Chafie Fields.

One of the NFL's premiere route runners, Cooper will make $20 million this season, his last on a five-year, $100 million deal he signed with Dallas. He's subject to fines while he's not at the Browns' facility.

Per the collective bargaining agreement, Cooper can be fined $16,953 for the first day. If he misses all three days of the minicamp, the Browns can assess him more than $100,000 in fines.

Fields didn’t immediately respond to a request from AP for comment.

Looking for a top-tier playmaker, the Browns acquired Cooper before the 2022 season in a trade from the Cowboys, who wanted to get out from his contract. He's had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in Cleveland and become one of the Browns' strongest leaders on and off the field.

“He’s the best in the league,” Watson said. “He shows it each and every year. He’s showed it the last two years with different quarterbacks, so I think you’ve got to put him up there with the best.”

Cooper's absence isn't that surprising, given the large contracts being signed by wide receivers around the league. Minnesota's Justin Jefferson (four years, $140 million) and Miami's Jaylen Waddle (three years, $85 million) both recently signed monster deals.

Also, the Browns made a substantial investment in newly acquired wideout Jerry Jeudy, signing him to a three-year, $52 million extension before he played a single game in Cleveland.

Cooper was in Cleveland over the weekend and played in Browns tight end David Njoku's charity softball game.

“We all respect Coop and he's got to handle what he's got to handle,” Watson said when asked about Cooper's situation. “Nobody is looking any different than on him. We all support him and he was here this weekend with us and we had a good time seeing him.”

Cooper had 72 catches for 1,250 yards and five touchdowns last season while making his fifth Pro Bowl. He's got 9,486 yards and 60 touchdowns in 10 seasons with the Raiders, Cowboys and Browns.

As for Watson, he feels good about his progress since undergoing major shoulder surgery in November. He's following a program set up by his doctors and the Browns' medical staff and has been throwing every other day.

Watson had more velocity on some short passes than he showed a week ago when he threw with reporters watching him for the first time.

During some 7-on-7 scrimmaging, Watson stepped into several throws that appeared to have their usual zip.

“Everything’s been going pretty smooth,” said Watson, who doesn't know if he'll have any restrictions when training camp opens next month. "Taking it one day at a time, not trying to get ahead of myself. I think I’m in the right position and I feel very comfortable.”

Stefanski has seen noticeable improvement in Watson in several areas.

“Obviously, he’s done everything in his power from a rehab standpoint, and he’s doing everything that he’s allowed to do,” he said. "When the doctors and trainers tell us we can progress, we progress. And so he’s been a good patient, I guess, in that regard.

"But he continues to make strides both in the building, in the weight room, out here on the grass.”

NOTES: Jeudy is dealing with a minor injury and stayed inside “working through some things,” Stefanski said. ... As he has done the past two summers, Watson intends to work with his receivers during the break before training camp opens. He would not divulge the location. ... Stefanski didn't offer any timetable on tackles Jack Conklin, Jedrick Wills Jr. or Dawand Jones, all coming back from significant injuries.

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