The courtship of Brandin Cooks began in 2015 when -- after Cooks caught four passes for 117 yards and a 45-yard touchdown during a preseason game against the Patriots down in New Orleans -- Bill Belichick sought Cooks out for a handshake and brief on-field chat h
After the game, Belichick -- who usually has next-to-nothing to offer immediately after preseason road games -- singled out Cooks by saying, "I'm glad we don't have to play him twice a year, he's not in our division. He's a really good player."
Last summer, Cooks disrobed Malcolm Butler repeatedly when the Saints and Patriots again engaged in joint training camp practices.
“Woo,” Butler said after the session. “I got some work put in on me today, but that’s the goal to come out here and compete each and every day, go against the best, no matter who it is. I’m going to go all out. Got another day to get better . . .
“I’d say he got the best of me today, but we got another day to improve.”
Cooks, still just 23, does okay after August as well. He caught 78 passes for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He had 84-1138-9 in 2015 and 53-550-3 in 10 games as a rookie from Oregon State (20th pick) when he broke his thumb.
Saturday night, it was reported that the Patriots offered the 32nd overall pick in exchange for Cooks and another Saints pick. Josh Katzenstein of Nola.com reported that wasn’t enough to entice New Orleans, which is a good sign Saints GM Mickey Loomis hasn’t completely lost his mind.
Cooks is under contract for this season for $1.563 million and -- if his first-round tender is picked up -- he’ll make about $8 million in 2018. Trading Cooks will leave the Saints with $1.8 million in dead money on their cap.
Even though Cooks appeared miffed at midseason with his decoy role in the Saints offense, I still don’t get the urgency in trying to move a young player of Cooks’ ability. No matter how bad the Saints defense needs to improve.
Be that . . . as it may . . . let’s play this out from the Patriots’ side, because this isn’t just about Belichick’s appreciation for Cooks as a player but how they view their own depth chart at that position and tight end.
Danny Amendola’s 31. Julian Edelman’s 30. Chris Hogan is 28. Michael Floyd is 27, serving a 30-day sentence for DUI and is a pending free agent. Rob Gronkowski is returning from back surgery. Martellus Bennett is probably headed elsewhere in free agency. Malcolm Mitchell, 23, is the only Pats wideout you can say with certainty will be better in two years than he was in 2016.
Meanwhile, once Belichick develops a crush on a player, he’s hard to dissuade. That habit stretches back to 2003, when Belichick fell hard for Rosevelt Colvin during 2002 and gave the Bear a seven-year, $30 million deal (that used to be a lot of dough) in free agency the next season.
Through the years, the best way to get the Patriots in pursuit was to play well against them or show out well in joint practices or at the Pro Bowl when Belichick happened to be coaching. Wes Welker, Adalius Thomas, Akiem Hicks, Scott Chandler, Jonathan Fanene and Brandon Lloyd are just a few examples of players Belichick fell for after extended looks or seeing them victimize New England.
Cooks fits that bill.
Aside from Cooks, the possibility of dealing the 32nd overall pick after not having a first-round pick last year is intriguing.
How would the Patriots recoup a first-rounder if they deal 32? By trading. Who’s the player that could return a first-rounder? Jimmy Garoppolo. Or Tom Brady.
All that said, the level of conversation involving Cooks still makes me skeptical.
There’s usually nothing but the chirp of birds before the Patriots execute a deal. The Patriots' interest and -- even stranger -- their offer being broadcast is unusual. And it at least introduces the possibility they’re being used as a stalking horse either by the Saints (with the Patriots okay) or by Cooks’ agents, who were mentioned in the piece by Katzenstein. The agents may do that to light a fire under the Eagles and Titans who -- earlier in the week -- were the only teams linked to a Cooks deal by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen who said, "One scenario has the Titans simply trading their first-round pick (No. 18 overall) for Cooks . . . Another scenario, per sources, has the two teams swapping slots in the first round, involving the Titans moving from the No. 5 pick (acquired from the Rams) to the Saints' 11th pick, with another pick or two also in play."
So the amount of open discussion makes it clear something’s likely going to happen with Cooks. You can’t dangle a player like this and expect him to be fired up about returning to the team. Will the Patriots be the landing spot? They’ll have to get a bit more aggressive.