We’ve spent the last week talking about the wondrous Brandin Cooks. Just 23, he can threaten the defense at three levels, he’s caught 162 balls for 2,211 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons and, as opposed to most players producing at that level, he’s affordable since he’s still on his rookie deal.
He’s going to be fun to watch.
So why didn’t New Orleans want to keep him?
Was it all linked to Cooks getting pissed after the Saints 49-21 win over the Rams in which Cooks saw zero targets, reportedly squabbled with the coaching staff after the game and then took to Twitter to say he was going to become a “businessman?” That’s all it took for the Saints to get fed up and ship his ass out? Seems excessive.
- Curran and Perry: What’s next move for Patriots?
- Patriots to lose fourth-round pick they receive in Cooks deal
- Nick Underhill: Why were Saints willing to give up Cooks?
- Curran and Perry: Breaking down what Cooks brings to Patriots offense
The Saints dealing Cooks is far more hard-lined than the Patriots dealing Jamie Collins during the season. Cooks was actually playing well and wasn’t a looming free agent. Collins was brilliant one week, invisible the next and had an expiring contract that was weighing on his performance and his trust-level with the team.
In December, Saints head coach Sean Payton went as far as calling a report Cooks would be traded “garbage.” After he was dealt, Saints teammates lined up to passive aggressively tsk-tsk at the front office headed by Mickey Loomis.
So is the Cooks move a simple case of addition by subtraction by the Saints? Pick up a first-round pick from a deep draft who’ll contribute for years, clear cap space (a mild $1.6M) and get Cooks out before his attitude contaminates Willie Snead and Mike Thomas. (Amazing aside: Cooks is actually younger than Snead and Thomas but has three years in the league while Snead has two and Thomas was a rookie).
Or are the Saints getting into the player-leasing business that the Patriots are gravitating toward where they use a guy for a while but trade him in for something new before he gets too expensive?
Either way, the circumstances of Cooks' Los Angeles freeze out are odd. If you look at Cooks’ week-to-week targets, it’s obvious a message was being sent by either Drew Brees, Sean Payton or offensive playcaller Pete Carmichael.
In the first 10 weeks of the year, Cooks averaged more than eight targets per game and was never targeted fewer than five times. Then he didn’t even see a pass against the Rams. After that, he averaged nearly nine targets per game until the end of the year.
And the Saints went 7-9 for the third straight season and Cooks is now a Patriot.
Moving forward, it will be a moot conversation if Cooks simply understands that A) the Patriots offense isn’t where receivers go to get fed and B) what’s good for a player’s personal “business” isn’t always readily apparent.
In 2016, Cooks was targeted 117 times, 28th in the NFL. Julian Edelman led the Patriots with 159 targets, third in the league. Next on the Patriots came James White (86), Martellus Bennett (73), Chris Hogan (58), Malcolm Mitchell (48) and Gronk (38).
I can see Cooks chewing into Edelman’s targets – and I’m all for it since I don’t want Edelman turned into sawdust – but it’s hard to envision Cooks getting as many throws as Edelman did in 2016, which is what the big-ticket wideouts (other than Edelman) get.
The top handful of targeted wideouts last year were Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Edelman, T.Y. Hilton, Antonio Brown, Jordy Nelson, DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Robinson and Larry Fitzgerald. Cooks was tied for 28th.
You can question whether Cooks will even be in the top three Patriots targeted. A healthy Gronk saw 128 passes in 2015. Edelman isn’t going to have his looks shaved that much. Meanwhile, Malcolm Mitchell played himself into Brady’s circle of trust, as did Hogan. Further, Cooks has to prove he can work outdoors in the elements in a diverse, precise offense that morphs a lot more than the chuck-it-up Saints’ “Just Let Drew Do It” offense. And Tom Brady has to believe he’s going to get good yield from Cooks when he throws it to him in terms of completion percentage and fighting through contact.
How will Cooks like entering the final year of his rookie deal and seeing his numbers dwindle?
Obviously, Cooks hasn’t peed a drop in the NFL relative to Brady, Belichick, Gronk or Edelman. And the team is coming off its second Super Bowl in three seasons, so it kind of knows what it’s doing. No one in Foxboro will need Cooks telling them about winning football.
This is an opportunity for image rehab, a chance to make sure whatever dustup in New Orleans led to his being traded is marginalized by just being a good Patriots drone for a year or two.
Players a lot better and older than him came to New England, dummied up, had large amounts of success and then either went on to get the big dough they wanted.
Martellus Bennett and Darrelle Revis are good contemporary examples.
All Cooks has to do for a season or two is play well and avoid being a divisive moron. Then – at 25 – he’ll be in position to hit free agency with production and playoff experience on his resume and seven more years of potential prime ahead of him.
What could go wrong?