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.
“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.”
The Browns still have receivers Greg Little (61 catches, 709 yards, two touchdowns in 2011) and Josh Cribbs (41 catches, 518 yards, four touchdowns) on the roster and took Miami wide receiver Travis Benjamin in the fourth round of the draft. They also added Florida State's Bert Reed and Missouri State's Jermaine Saffold as rookie free agents.
What none of those receivers have, though, is already-established chemistry with Weeden built from five years together in the OSU program. The Indianapolis Colts used a similar strategy when they drafted Stanford tight end Coby Fleener and signed receiver Griff Whalen as a rookie free agent to give Andrew Luck two familiar pass-catchers.
“That's probably the toughest part is going up there and getting used to a quarterback, and I've already got that,” Cooper said. “Hopefully that gives me a step up and we can just go out and perform and do well.”
Said Weeden: “I've always said (Cooper's) one of my favorite guys to throw to, because you know he's going to run the right route, you know he's going to be in the right spot. I've always had a lot of comfort throwing to Josh.”
Thursday morning, Weeden fired balls to Cooper during a 30-minute throwing session at Boone Pickens Stadium. Out routes. In routes. Corner routes. This has been the theme every day since both players knew they would be going to Cleveland.
In some ways, that's where the similarities between Weeden's and Cooper's situation end. Weeden is preparing to be the Browns' franchise quarterback and will begin to settle into his new home of Cleveland. Cooper is just trying to make the team.
But in other ways, they'll still be connected. They'll continue to be throwing pals before and after workouts and help each other learn the offense.
Cooper is even going to live with Weeden and his wife, Melanie, during minicamp, since he hasn't even thought about getting his own place yet.
“I still gotta make the team,” Cooper said. “Once I do, I'll figure stuff out. I really don't know. I'm just thinking about camp right now, trying to get through it and perform well and stay healthy.”
That's the life of a rookie free agent.
But Weeden saw the Browns' interest in Cooper first-hand last weekend. And he believes he could be throwing to his fellow Cowboy in the NFL.
“He's been a great player for us and he's a good buddy,” Weeden said. “If he can work out and find a way to get on board with us, I think he's got a real chance to compete.
“I was extremely excited (when he signed with Cleveland), not only as a friend but for his career. He's got a chance to play in that league.”
Not drafted? No problem
Here's a list of the former OSU players who agreed to terms with NFL teams as undrafted rookie free agents.
Name; Position; Team
Levy Adcock; OL; Dallas Cowboys
Hubert Anyiam; WR; San Diego Chargers
Jamie Blatnick; DE; Denver Broncos
Josh Cooper; WR; Cleveland Browns
Grant Garner; OL; Washington Redskins
Richetti Jones; DE; Arizona Cardinals
Nick Martinez; OL; Washington Redskins
James Thomas; LB; Minnesota Vikings
Johnny Thomas; S; New Orleans Saints
Wilson Youman; DE/TE; Minnesota Vikings