Raiders head coach Jon Gruden wasn’t happy about losing Jared Cook to the Saints. The veteran tight end was Derek Carr’s top target a season ago, someone Gruden moved freely across the formation to great effect.
Gruden may not have liked Cook signing elsewhere, but he knew full well it was coming. The Raiders weren’t going to pay competitive market value for a soon-to-be 32-year old, even coming off a career year.
Cook’s market was subdued somewhat, and he still signed a two-year, $15.5 million contract with $8 million guaranteed in 2019. The Raiders weren’t going there, and didn’t try too hard to keep him around.
They have restocked offensively, acquiring Antonio Brown in trade and Tyrell Williams in free agency. Cook would’ve fit well with those two, but the Raiders still let him walk.
Gruden called it “sickening” to lose players like Cook, but are ready to move on without him.
“We lost a really good player, man,” Gruden said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting. “It’s sickening to think that we lost that guy. That’s what I don’t like about free agency. You can’t keep all the guys you want. (Losing Cook), that’s a lot of production to replace.”
They have several tight ends under contract, including block-first starter Lee Smith, versatile backup Derek Carrier, first-year player Paul Butler and a potential Cook clone in Darren Waller.
Waller has speed and athleticism to spare, traits showcased after he was signed late last season off Baltimore’s practice squad. The 26-year old converted receiver has been suspended twice for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy but seems committed to making the most of his chance with the Raiders.
“This Darren Waller is very interesting,” Gruden said. “We’re going to give him the chance of a lifetime. So, if you’re listening out there Darren, let’s go brother. I really think he’s intriguing. It will be an interesting training camp for him.”
It’s still possible Waller has some competition, even after Gruden’s nice words. The Raiders could look to the draft for help there. Iowa’s Noah Fant is an interesting prospect and a dynamic receiving talent and could be an option with one of the Raiders’ later first-round picks. San Jose State’s Josh Oliver is another athletic option. So is San Diego State’s Kahale Warring.
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The Raiders will keep their eyes peeled for value and fit at this position.
“We’ll keep looking,” Gruden said. “Stepping in for Cook, those are some big shoes to fill.”