Amari Cooper is an eight-year veteran and four-time Pro Bowler, but he feels as though he's back to rookie status in his first days in Cleveland as one of the newest Browns receivers.
He doesn't mean it as a bad thing — he's embracing the opportunity to meet new teammates, new coaches and learn a new offensive system. He's also a Miami native who played college football at Alabama and spent time in the NFL in Oakland, Las Vegas and Dallas.
In other words, he's never lived in an area quite like Cleveland.
Despite the unfamiliarity, Cooper sees the same kind of opportunity a first-round pick might see in a new NFL home. He'd know that feeling himself as a fourth overall pick in 2015, and he's feeling it again as he acclimates himself to the Browns.
"It feels like being drafted all over again," Cooper said Wednesday at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. "It's cool getting to know new people, getting in a new environment and getting to explore a different part of the country I've never been to."
The game and expectations for Cooper, however, are the same as they've been throughout his whole career.
He's the new WR1 for Cleveland and will be leaned on heavily to help the Browns improve a passing offense that ranked 27th in the league last season. The pass game has been completely re-tooled primarily with the addition of Cooper and QB Deshaun Watson, whom the Browns acquired for three first-round draft selections and a handful of other picks. The duo is expected to produce big plays and join RBs Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and others as the core skill position players for head coach Kevin Stefanski's offense.
Cooper and Watson are both in the building this week for the start of the Browns' voluntary offseason program. Activities are mostly limited to the weightroom and small meetings, but it's a chance for new players to mesh with their new team, and Cooper is seizing the opportunity to learn what he can about the playbook and build rapport with his new quarterback.
"You always want to work extra with your quarterback, especially if it's a new quarterback," he said. "He's a great player, and I'm a great player. We're going to make it work by any means necessary."
Check out photos as players and staff work throughout the offseason
The Browns are confident that Cooper will repeat the Pro-Bowl caliber production that hasn't waned since he was drafted. He's topped 1,000 receiving yards in a season five times and caught 865 yards and eight touchdowns last year from 68 receptions.
Those numbers could all go up with the Browns even though the offense under Stefanski has mainly been predicated on the run game. Stefanski, however, hasn't ruled out big changes in how the offense operates as he continues to evaluate Watson and see how the Browns can best utilize his wide range of skills. Those plans will all come together over the next several months and will likely pick up during Phase Two and Three of the offseason program, when the Browns will be able to conduct on-field practices.
No matter what, Cooper is going to get the ball. He sees benefits in being a receiver in a run-heavy system, too, and believes it can lead to better target opportunities and a higher frequency of big plays.
"Any team that has assets, they're going to use them," Cooper said. "It's not something I'm worried about — whether I get a lot (of targets) or not — because we have such an explosive running game. When I do get targets, I'm going to be wide open."
As it stands now, Cooper will be in a room with Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz. Jakeem Grant, a seven-year veteran, was also added this offseason, and the team signed four-year veteran Javon Wims on Wednesday. The Browns appear to be in a good position to draft another receiver next week who could be capable of handling a sizable rookie-year role with the offense, too, if they elect to add to the position early.
No matter what, Cooper will be the chiseled veteran of the room. He feels like a rookie again, but the last time he was a rookie, he led the Oakland Raiders with 1,070 receiving yards and caught 75 passes.
That's the type of production the Browns need from him in 2022, and he's confident he can do it in a new NFL home.
"I understand that's the reason I'm here — to help the pass game improve," he said. "I take that on because it's my responsibility to do that. I know what I can do, and I'm excited about it."