A full two weeks into the NFL free agency period and the Green Bay Packers are one of only two teams (the other being the Cincinnati Bengals) to not sign a free agent from another team. With fans decrying General Manager Ted Thompson, the team appears satisfied to resign their own players and stay pat.
The one exception, however, may be ex-St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook. The speedy tight end is one of the few remaining free agents that could perhaps step in and make an immediate contribution. He would certainly fill a hole that the team will not likely be able to fill immediately via the draft.
Unlike other players whom fans had hoped the Packers would attempt to sign (such as inside linebacker Danny Trevathan), Cook actually garnered interest from Thompson, being brought in to Green Bay for a visit. He left without a deal, but, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, remains unsigned almost two weeks later.
There are two major things working toward bringing Cook and the Packers together. The first is that Mike McCarthy recently spoke about how impressed he was with Cook. “I spent a lot of time with Jared Cook and he’s a fine, fine young man. I was impressed with him.”
That’s an important piece of information. While Cook’s fast, athletic build made a great fit on paper, he’s been known as an underachiever, someone who doesn’t work hard on the field and who isn’t always the exemplar of “Packer people.” For example, Cook shoved his quarterback Austin Davis on the Rams’ sideline during the 2014 season. Many had assumed that concern over Cook’s character may have stifled a deal, but McCarthy’s words certainly dispelled that.
McCarthy continued by saying, “So we’ll see what happens. It’s in the business phase of it and that’s where it stands.” All indications are that Cook’s future with the team is predicated on money, not his character or his abilities as a player. And this brings us to the second issue working in the Packers favor: not only is Cook still unsigned, but there hasn’t been any major news of interest from other teams. Meanwhile, the rest of the league is shoring itself up with other tight end acquisitions and beginning to look toward the draft.
Cook is going to quickly find himself on the outside looking in. If the hang up to a deal was the amount of money that he is looking for on his end, he may have no option but to lower his price. But what might that price be?
Clearly Cook is not going to get anywhere near the amount of money that big name players like Dwayne Allen ($7.25 mil. a year) or Coby Fleener ($7.2 mil. a year) received, nor should he expect the more modest but still sizable contracts that second-tier free agents like Ladarius Green ($5 mil. a year) received.
Cook finished the 2015 season with 39 receptions for 481 yards and 0 TDs. These are fairly modest numbers which are much more similar to other free agent tight ends like Josh Hill (16 rec./120 yards/2 TDs), Jermaine Gresham (18 rec./223 yards/1 TD), Larry Donnell (29 rec./223 yards/2 TDs), or even Zach Miller (34 rec./439 yards/5 TDs).
Josh Hill has received a tendered offer from the Bears for $2 mil. a year. Gresham resigned with the Cardinals for $3.5 mil. a year. Donnell resigned with the Giants for $1.6 mil. a year. And Miller received a contract with the Bears worth $2.75 mil. a year. With the exception of the 31 year old Miller, the remaining tight ends listed here are actually a year or two younger than Cook, as well.
The contracts for these third-tier free agent tight ends average out at about $2.5 mil. a year. Given Cook’s baggage and the general disinterest from other teams through the first two weeks of free agency, there is no way that he can expect to receive more than his peers.
A one or two year deal for $2 mil. a year with only $1 mil. guaranteed should look very favorable to both parties. To compare, Zach Miller, while several years older, hauled in a nearly identical total of receptions and yards as Cook but also added 5 TDs to Cook’s 0. Miller’s contract with the Bears features $1.5 mil. a year guaranteed, only $500,000 more guaranteed than the deal proposed above.
If McCarthy is as impressed by Cook as he has said, the team needs to commit only a few hundred thousand dollars over the veteran minimum. The other half of the contract can be laden with incentives for Cook, giving them some insurance regarding the possibility of his underachieving or making a disruption in the locker room.
The deal would immediately fill a need, come relatively cheap for the talent level of the player, would be low-risk, and would free the team from having to go with a TE with one of their first two or three picks in the NFL draft. The business end of the deal that McCarthy mentioned takes care of itself.
If such a deal were to happen, it might not happen in the immediate future, however. There’s little incentive for Green Bay to pounce on Cook if he’s not receiving offers elsewhere. If Cook has unreasonable expectations, the Packers can afford to wait him out.
But if Cook signs in the coming weeks with another team for a similar or even cheaper deal, we’ll be forced to assume one of two reasons that Green Bay passed: McCarthy was overplaying his interest in Cook, or McCarthy and Thompson were not on the same page regarding Cook. At such a low price tag, it would be hard to fault those who would want Thompson to give his head coach a player that he clearly values.
We might then question whether McCarthy’s earnest appraisal of Cook was really for the media or if it was at least as much aimed at Thompson himself.——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.