The Chicago Bears are in need of a playmaker at the tight end position and the latest free-agency rumors have the team targeting Jared Cook, formerly with the Tennessee Titans, in the open market. The fact a talented player like Cook escaped the franchise tag designation leaves you wondering where he comes up short.
Reportedly, Cook would have challenged his designation as a franchise tight end, saying instead that he deserves to be paid like a wide receiver. Since he spent over 70 percent of the time lined up in the slot, instead of inline like a traditional tight end, he wants the money that comes with that franchise tag.
The Titans balked and didn't want to challenge his assertion, choosing instead to let him hit the open market, free to cash in on a big-time free-agency deal. Cook should easily be able to achieve his goal of a big payday once free agency begins next Tuesday, so much so that he may price himself right out of Chicago.
To find out precisely what Cook is worth, I decided to break down the tape on the player who may be the best free-agent TE available this year.
At 6-5, 248 pounds, Cook has the size and speed to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He can run any route in the route tree, which is exceptional for a player of his size. He gains separation in and out of his breaks, and his speed is elite for his position.
To illustrate Cook's pass-catching prowess, let's analyze a 25-yard completion against the Texans this season. This single play demonstrates just how complete Cook is as a receiving threat, from route running to hands and speed.
(I chose the Texans game because Cook was targeted 10 times in the game, so it just happened to be the second play of the game during which Cook's made his big catch.
Cook is lined up inline in the tight-end spot. He draws former Bears safety Daniel Manning in coverage. Cook runs a post corner, running five yards up the field, cutting in at about two yards and then breaking back out before he catches the ball 25-yards down the field. His route is so crisp that Manning gets completely turned around. Cook has separation from the defender but, because Manning himself is an exceptionally fast player by NFL standards, he closes the gap in coverage. Titans QB Jake Locker throws the ball over the top of the trailing safety and Cook goes up and snatches the ball out of the air.
In this single play we witness the speed that no linebacker can keep up with, but also the height and leaping ability with which no safety can compete.
There are some legitimate concerns about Cook's consistency, yet he had only five drops in 2012. Of the 10 targets Cook had against the Texans in this game, there wasn't a single drop. There was, however, inaccuracy by Locker, and at least two batted balls at the line of scrimmage by J.J. Watt. Four receptions out of 10 targets would lead you to believe that Cook suffers from inconsistency, but the quarterback play in Tennessee has been awful during his three years in the NFL.
In our next clip, we see Cook's straight-line speed and his willingness to lay out and get the football.
He runs up the field, hesitates, and then explodes past the secondary for the diving touchdown. Honestly what more can you ask for from a receiving threat at the TE position?
These next two clips show his route-running ability, which is better than most tight ends in the NFL.
They are simple out and post patterns, but the separation he gains in these routes are better than most other players at his position. He's better than former Bear Greg Olsen and Martellus Bennett, the other top free-agent TE on the market.
Cook obviously isn't perfect. If he was, he wouldn't be playing 70 percent of his snaps lined up like a receiver. While he's a quality pass catcher, he's a liability as a blocker. Cook's 248-pound frame is not built for him to square up against NFL defensive ends. He was not asked to block as a TE during his time with Tennessee.
Essentially what the Bears would be getting in Cook would be a very big, fast, H-back player who primarily works out of the slot as a receiver.
Having gone over the tape of Cook, there are two conclusions to draw from his game. First he has the receiving ability to be one of the three best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL. There is absolutely no reason he can't go out and catch 60 to 80 balls a season and come close to 800 to 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns. His speed and athleticism is only matched by a scant few TEs in the NFL.
However you're going to make a big sacrifice with Cook as a blocker, and you have to question why he hasn't caught more than 40-plus balls during his first two seasons. Are there legitimate work-ethic or character concerns with Cook? Can he be the type of player that can bring the level of effort needed to be one of the Top 5 tight ends in the NFL?
If the Bears are willing to sacrifice what he doesn't bring as a blocker, which is 180-degrees the opposite of what he is as a receiver, then they can justify investing big money in Cook. It is however going to be a very precarious balance in figuring out how much Cook is worth. In the NFL, you pay players based on their future earnings potential and Cook's potential means he can command top dollar.
But based on what I've seen on film, you may not get all you pay for. Still, he's a dynamic playmaker capable of taking the Bears' offense to another level. Cook would be worth the extra coin.
Brett Solesky has worked in TV, newspapers and, for the last seven years, in radio. He also co-hosts the best Chicago Bears podcast on the Web, Bear Report Radio, which appears on BearReport.com and his blog MidwayIllustrated.com.