Green Bay Packers thrifty GM Ted Thompson ended his offseason slumber, and what better way to do that than by signing a sleeper free agent in Jared Cook?
Even though Richard Rodgers can do some nice things, including pulling down a game-winning Hail Mary against the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers haven’t fielded a dynamic pass-catching tight end since the days of Jermichael Finley. This season, however, the Packers will hope that Jared Cook can find himself while roaming Lambeau, because the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that he is “set to sign” with Green Bay.
Cook was a tremendous disappointment for the St. Louis Rams in three seasons with the team, because he never came close to making good on a five-year, $35.1 million deal with $16 million in guaranteed money. In 2015, Cook could do nothing to help the worst offense in the NFL, and he was part of the problem. A chronic dropper who was nothing resembling a safety valve due to his paltry 52% catch rate, Cook was only more effective than Brian Quick, who could at least use a previous injury as an excuse.
The Rams decision to dump Cook this offseason was the least surprising move, but I always believed that it would help the former Tennessee Titans tight end immensely.
Although Cook was a disappointment with the Rams, especially relative to his contract, it’s important to remember that he may have fallen victim to lofty expectations. Quarterback play isn’t an excuse for drops or an abysmal catch rate, but since he’ll be catching passes from Aaron Rodgers, who made James Jones look good last season and helped Jarrett Boykin net some past interest, it’s worth noting the other QBs he’s caught passes from in his career.
Here’s the list, with total pass attempts from that QB in parentheses.
Matt Hasselbeck (103)
Nick Foles (56)
Austin Davis (54)
Jake Locker (50)
Shaun Hill (45)
Kellen Clemens (43)
Sam Bradford (42)
Kerry Collins (39)
Case Keenum (19)
Vince Young (11)
Rusty Smith (10)
Now that has to be the most pathetic list of quarterbacks I’ve seen in a long time, and it reenforces the point that you can’t evaluate Cook solely off of the numbers. But even though he has dealt with shoddy quarterback play throughout his career, his best season, 2011, came in his full season with Hasselbeck, who provided at least some competent quarterbacking for the 9-7 Titans.
That year, Cook showed his potential with 49 receptions for 759 yards on 81 targets in a breakout third season, which was a continuation off of a promising second-year campaign. In 2011, Cook averaged 9.4 yards per target as one of the NFL’s most dynamic TEs, and that’s a number the Packers surely have in mind as a ceiling for him.
At 28, Cook still has something left to give to a team, and there are so many reasons to believe he can put it together. Of course, nobody should count on him playing well after putting up three seasons of lousy tape for the Rams, but, remember, Cook is moving to a Super Bowl contender with a Hall of Fame quarterback. He’s never played with a good QB in his career, and a not-too-crappy 36-year-old Hasselbeck was enough to make him a decent player.
Even in that season, Cook wasn’t a star for the Titans, but rather a promising player who provided efficient production for an otherwise underwhelming offense. The Packers should not expect anything resembling a big coming-out party from Cook in his first season with a great QB, but, rather, decent production after three seasons of nothing.
Although no details have been released, it’s hard to see there being any risk in this contract, since Cook hasn’t received any known interest from a team other than Green Bay. A dirt cheap, one-year deal is likely in the cards for Cook, so the Packers have nothing to lose.
They do have a good amount to gain. Although Rodgers is a boring TE and a limited player, he is competent, meaning the Packers don’t have to put too much on Cook’s plate. And unlike his situation with the Rams, the Packers have gifted wide receivers at their disposal when both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are healthy, so Cook will be more of a complementary player and an athletic foil to Rodgers.
The expectation here is for Cook to play a role in the Packers offense and become the lead TE, but the Packers don’t have to rely on this. Even though he’s been in the NFL for seven seasons, Cook does qualify as an upside signing. He’s never played for an organization like this, with other pass-catchers like this, and a QB like this.
Maybe more importantly when it comes to the word “upside”, Cook is a dynamic athlete. I’m not sure how he’s looking now after many years in the league, but since he’s durable (just five games missed), I doubt he’s lost too much of a step. Before he was a third-round pick out of South Carolina, Cook, at 6’5″ and 246 pounds, ran a 4.5 forty with a 41-inch vertical.
It’s hard to have any real expectations of him, but Cook is indeed a perfect sleeper signing with the potential to be unleashed. He could have trouble latching on since he’s never had continuity in his career, but if Cook can buckle down and be motivated by the chance of a ring, plenty of good things could happen for him in 2016.