Patriots

Film review: Cooks gives Patriots versatile big-play threat

Film review: Cooks gives Patriots versatile big-play threat

Brandin Cooks sounded like a player who felt he wasn't being used to his full potential.

Nearly four months after he wasn't targeted in a Saints win over the Rams and told NOLA.com that "closed mouths don't get fed," Cooks spoke to members of the New England media on a conference call and indicated that he could've been used differently in New Orleans.

"As a young guy, I think there were some things that I would’ve liked to have done more," the newest Patriots receiver said. "Not like I wasn’t able to do them. We just had great guys doing those other things so if it’s not broken why fix it?

"But coming to New England it seems like it’s an offense that guys do a bunch of different things and I’m looking forward to being able to do some things that I didn’t necessarily have to do in New Orleans, hopefully to get the chance here and do it here."

When pressed for specifics on what he wished he could have done with the Saints, Cooks said that he didn't want to get into details.

That Cooks was at all frustrated with his role -- barring that one target-less game last season -- is noteworthy because he has been on a historically-productive pace over the course of the last two seasons.

Only three players in each of the last two years have recorded 75 catches, 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns. Cooks was one of them, joining Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.

Perhaps the best window into Cooks' feelings last year came courtesy of this piece from ESPN's Mike Triplett in November. In it, Cooks pointed out that he wanted to show the Saints coaching staff that he can be more than a deep threat.

“I know that’s what I can do,” Cooks said. “It’s just a matter of having the opportunities to do it, and when they present themselves, taking advantage of it, to be able to put that on film for the coaches.

“To get them to understand -- which I think they already do -- that I’m a tough player, and I’m gonna continue to work at that, to not just be one-dimensional. And as I continue to remind them, I feel like they trust me and they will continue to put me in those positions when the time comes.”

Cooks may have been disappointed in the number of opportunities he was asked to serve in certain roles, but a review of his tape from 2016 reveals that he was actually anything but one-dimensional in New Orleans.

For a glimpse at what he may be asked to in New England -- where the long-standing mantra has been "the more you can do..." -- let's have a look at the variety of ways in which he was used while with the Saints.

DEEP THREAT
Cooks didn't want to be put in a box as strictly a down-the-field target in New Orleans, and he wasn't. (Per Pro Football Focus, 21.2 percent of passes sent his way were "deep passes," meaning they traveled 20 yards or more down the field.)

Had he been? He still would've been one of the league's top game-breaking threats.

Only five wideouts caught more deep targets than Cooks (11), and only DeSean Jackson -- who caught five more deep passes than Cooks -- picked up more total yardage on those types of passes. Cooks didn't drop a single deep attempt.

Cooks ran the fastest 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, and his speed stresses corners and safeties alike. During his 98-yard score against the Raiders in Week 1 of the regular season, he was checked at the line of scrimmage by corner Sean Smith with safety Reggie Nelson shaded over the top. Cooks quickly beat Smith at the line, and he simply ran by Nelson's help despite the fact that Nelson was cheating in that direction.



The speed with which Cooks gets on top of defenders and his quickness in and out of his breaks also makes him a double-move demon. Post-corners, stop-and-gos, out-and-ups all gave opposing defensive backs fits with Cooks bearing down on them.

He burned the Broncos twice in Week 10 on long-developing plays, hitting them for a 37-yard gain on an out-and-up and a 32-yard touchdown when he sold a post and then headed straight up-field past a flat-footed TJ Ward.



In Week 14, Cooks victimized the Bucs with a stop-and-go move out of the slot that allowed him to beat both corners in the area. It also subjected him to a massive hit from the on-coming safety, but as he did at the end of both big plays against the Broncos, he protected the football and finished the catch. 



In his quote to ESPN back in November he alluded to the fact that he wanted to prove to coaches that he was a tough player. Hanging on in those types of situations should have done just that.

SLOT WORK
Cooks isn't considered a slot receiver, but according to PFF, more than a third of his routes came from inside. 

He ran a variety of patterns from that spot -- including quick-outs, slants, stops and shallow crosses -- and was targeted often in the short-to-intermediate passing game upon which the Patriots offense has relied for years under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. 

He was targeted 48 times (out of 113) in the area between zero and nine yards from the line of scrimmage. Twenty-seven of his targets, and three of his eight touchdowns, came over the middle of the field between the numbers from the area between the line of scrimmage and 19 yards down the field. 

Cooks isn't always used inside -- perhaps in part because he's not as prone to forcing missed tackles (three last season) as someone like Julian Edelman (14) -- but his short-area quickness allows him to find small openings quickly when things get crowded.

"I definitely think I can do that at a high level," he said of playing in the slot. "It’ll be all about what coach [Bill] Belichick and the offense think I can fit well at and just doing my job the best that I can."

Cooks also has the rare ability to catch a pass close to the line of scrimmage and turn it into an explosive gain.

In Week 15 against the Cardinals, Cooks emerged from the bunch formation on the left side of the line of scrimmage and broke over the middle with Tyrann Mathieu trailing in coverage. Once Drew Brees' pass found its mark, Cooks turned up the field and out-ran the rest of the Arizona secondary.



SWISS-ARMY SPEEDSTER
Though the Saints had plenty of other offensive weapons, they tried to find creative ways to get Cooks the football -- or fake getting him the football while opposing defenses were zeroed-in on his speed. 

As the Patriots often do with all of their receivers, big or small, Cooks was used in the screen game and was targeted eight times behind the line of scrimmage. 



He was also used out of the backfield as a receiver, catching one of his touchdowns when aligned next to Brees out of the shotgun with a 49ers linebacker on him in coverage. His wheel route up the right sideline was easy pickings. 



Cooks was also used on a half-dozen jet sweeps last season. He never broke one for a gain of longer than 11 yards, but he posed a problem for back-side defenders forced to stay home and honor his speed. Saints coach Sean Payton often asked Cooks to serve as a decoy, dialing up fake jet-sweep handoffs when the ball was headed in the opposite direction.  



Cooks has rare tools that will allow the Patriots to deploy him in whatever manner they deem fit based on the opponent or the situation. Need someone to stretch the field and take a safety with him? He can do that. Need someone to work the slot in the red zone and take advantage of a small opening in coverage? He's done it. Need someone to provide the occasional gadget play out of the backfield? No problem. 

It may not have been a lack in variety of roles that had Cooks less than pleased in New Orleans -- he did damn near everything but run the triple-option. It may have been the frequency with which, or lack thereof, he was used creatively that bothered him. 

It's unclear exactly how the Patriots will use Cooks, but if history is any indication the coaching staff in New England won't hesitate to exploit the versatility of its newly-acquired 23-year-old dynamo. The more you can do...

Cam Newton, Julian Edelman joke about Patriots' playbook on Instagram

Cam Newton, Julian Edelman joke about Patriots' playbook on Instagram

Before Cam Newton suits up for the New England Patriots, he has some homework to do. And he's already opened his textbook.

The veteran quarterback, who reportedly signed a one-year contract with New England in late June, shared a photo Tuesday via Instagram of himself with a cup of coffee and what appears to be the Patriots' playbook.

"This s--- calculus!!" Newton joked.

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The Patriots have a notoriously complex playbook, and it appears Newton is finding that out after nine seasons in Carolina.

Our Tom E. Curran reported there's "no concern" in New England that Newton won't master his new offense, though, and the 31-year-old QB already digging into his playbook helps explain that confidence.

Newton also tagged Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, the team's longest-tenured offensive player (not counting special teamer Matthew Slater). Edelman responded on Instagram with his own acknowledgment that figuring out New England's playbook is like decoding a tricky math problem.

If Newton can return to full health after undergoing offseason foot surgery and pick up the offense quickly, that should add up to a successful season for the three-time Pro Bowler and 2015 NFL MVP.

Patrick Mahomes contract will be an albatross for dynasty-chasing Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes contract will be an albatross for dynasty-chasing Chiefs

“We’re chasing a dynasty.”

That’s how Patrick Mahomes closed his ode of gratitude after signing the richest contract in pro sports history.

Of course you are, Patrick. You and everyone else.

But are you chasing “a” dynasty? Do you just want to be mentioned along with the Packers, Steelers, Niners, Cowboys and Patriots, the only dynasties of the Super Bowl era?

Or are you using chasing as in following? As in the dynasty that came immediately before you? Specifically, New England. The only dynasty of the salary cap era.

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Because if you’re chasing the Patriots, modeling yourself after the Patriots, thinking you and the Chiefs might be the Patriots and go to four Super Bowls in one decade and five in the next, you and your team just made a fundamental mistake. You went “pig at the trough.”

That phrase is one I heard from key folks in the Patriots organization several times in the early 2000s. Tom Brady? Not a pig at the trough when it came to contract time. Peyton Manning? Pig at the trough.

What difference does it make?

Without a piggish quarterback, you can still go 11-5 because there’s talent all over the roster. The Patriots did that in 2008. But when you have to feed and feed and feed that position? The roster gets so thin elsewhere that – without the quarterback – a team might go, say, 2-14 after nine straight seasons of double-digit wins as the Colts did in 2011 without Manning.

This isn’t to say that the Chiefs did the wrong thing in signing Mahomes. Business-wise, they win. And Mahomes wins as well. But lack of funds because of fat cap hits will inevitably make the on-field product suffer and make the chase for a dynasty that much harder.

You can’t blame the Hunt family.

Mahomes is the most important and impactful player in the NFL.

What he authored in the 2019 playoffs is unprecedented - erasing a 24-0 deficit and winning 51-31 in the Divisional Playoffs, going on a 35-7 run in the AFCCG to erase a 10-point deficit then score 21 unanswered in the fourth to erase another 10-point deficit in the Super Bowl. All that coming after the AFCCG nut punch from the Patriots at Kansas City when Mahomes did all he could in the second half to resuscitate KC but came up short because the Chiefs defense sucked.

Having Mahomes sewn up for a dozen years makes their already-skyrocketing asset that much more valuable.  

Consider this: According to Forbes, the Chiefs were the 28th most valuable franchise in the NFL with a total value of $986 million in 2011. By 2018, they were 24th in the league worth $2.1 billion and last September they were still 24th worth $2.3 billion. That will likely rise to nearly $3 billion when Forbes' new list comes out given the Super Bowl win and the presence of Mahomes, which will bring in way more revenue over the next 12 years than the $503 million they pay him.

The Chiefs made the deal as easy-to-swallow as they could in the first two years. Plus, the so-called “guarantee mechanisms” give the Chiefs an escape hatch they can use basically every year.

As for Mahomes, what’s he going to do, turn down a half-billion? Take the money and run, especially since the NFL could be approaching a bit of a recession.

The cap is going down in 2021 because local revenues are going to suffer with the pandemic. The changing media landscape, the financial fallout networks may experience because of COVID-19 and the fact this season may not deliver the same product the networks signed up for all may serve to diminish the next TV deal. The wrangling over how to deal with the drops has just begun.

So the deal is good for the Hunts and it's good for Mahomes.

But the cap hits begin getting big in 2022 ($31.5 million) and they are around $40 million for the next five seasons after that before ballooning to $60 million. If the NFL spreads out the revenue loss and cap decline it’s going to realize this season over a three-year period to soften the blow, the cap is not going to rise at the anticipated level.

And that’s not that good for the football team. Right now, defensive end Chris Jones is playing on a $16 million franchise tag and is pissed about it. Travis Kelce will make about $9 million the next two years as the best tight end in football. The Chiefs have six players this year with cap hits over $15 million. They can do that because Mahomes is a bargain with a $5.3 million cap hit.

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“If the Kansas City Chiefs can keep all the players together, we’re going to be a dynasty,” Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins said on Tuesday. Yeah, well, about that.

It’s virtually impossible to keep all the players together when A) one guy is making a huge percentage of the cap and B) your team starts getting pilfered because it plays well every year.

There will be pooh-poohing about Mahomes’ cap percentage and insistence on TV and gambling money rolling into the coffers. Again, post-pandemic, I don’t see the cap rebounding that quickly.

And if the cap gets to $225 million by the time Mahomes starts seeing his $40 million hits beginning in 2023? That’s 17.7 percent of the cap.

Tom Brady’s highest cap percentage in the past decade was 12.2 percent in 2018. His average cap hit since 2011 was 9.8 percent.

Brady’s willingness to take less for so long enabled the Patriots to pay Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Stephon Gilmore, Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Donta’ Hightower really well (ever notice how many of the fat deals are on defense for Bill Belichick?). And it also allowed them to make sure the so-called middle class was squared away too.

By the end of it, when Belichick blanched at every Brady request to give him a bump, it was obvious the head coach was dying to be unburdened of a big-ticket quarterback.

We’ve gone over this at length already this offseason. And the benefit of Brady allowing himself to be lowballed was annually highlighted at Super Bowl time by national media.

People (Mike Felger) want to pretend the cap isn’t real. It is. You can ignore it. You can delay it. But eventually bills come due as they have for the Patriots this year.

New England’s stay in cap hell should be short. Meanwhile, a team like the Ravens who will now have Lamar Jackson using the Mahomes contract as a comp? Hell is on the horizon. Same for the Cowboys and Dak Prescott. Teams like the Rams, Raiders, and Eagles are already in hell now or approaching it next year having paid maybe really good but maybe not first-round picks like Jared Goff, Derek Carr and Carson Wentz huge amounts.

Mahomes is a unicorn. We can all agree on that. But his contract is going to be an albatross.