Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson might have caused some heartburn and sweaty palms among the faithful, but he struck a four-year, $40 million deal to retain free-agent receiver Randall Cobb on Saturday — the day when players could begin negotiating with other teams.
To state the obvious, it was a critical transaction for a team with legit championship aspirations.
Without Cobb, the Packers would have had to spend a premium draft pick on a slot receiver and hope either that rookie or Jared Abbrederis, who missed all of his rookie season with a torn ACL, could pick up at least some of the slack. A passing game already with a limited arsenal of weapons would have been incredibly watered down entering 2015. Frankly, without Cobb, it’s hard to imagine the Packers getting over the hump in the NFC next season. Now, with Aaron Rodgers signed through 2019 and receivers Jordy Nelson and Cobb inked through 2018, the Packers’ championship window is wide open for at least the next four years.
With Cobb signed, general manager Ted Thompson can focus on trying to retain right tackle Bryan Bulaga and then improving the roster, rather than having to plug the sizable hole left by the NFL’s premier slot receiver.
From the Packers’ perspective, retaining Cobb has been a no-brainer for months. For a draft-and-develop outfit, Cobb is the perfect building block. He’s young — he’s still only 24. He’s a team player and a budding leader. And he’s obviously really, really good.
Especially in the slot, where he’s downright lethal.
According to ProFootballFocus.com’s breakdown of slot-receiving production, Cobb caught 75 passes for 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns. That crushed the competition. Eagles rookie Jordan Matthews was next with 64 receptions and only two others caught even 50 balls. Matthews was second in yards with 835 yards, and Cobb had at least double the yardage of all but seven players. Matthews was second with eight touchdowns. Nobody else had more than five. Cobb also was No. 1 in yards per pass route.
Give Thompson credit for drafting great players but also finding players who have the big picture in mind. While Rodgers is the league’s highest-paid player, the two-time MVP will have just the sixth-highest cap charge among quarterbacks in 2015. At receiver, according to OverTheCap.com, Cobb ranks 10th in the league with an average of $10 million per season and Nelson ranks 11th with an average of $9.76 million. Would you rather have Cobb and Nelson or malcontent Percy Harvin ($12.85 million average per year), Mike Wallace ($12 million; finished 32nd among receivers in receptions and yards), Dwayne Bowe ($11.2 million; finished 43rd among receivers in receptions and yards and didn’t score a touchdown) or Vincent Jackson ($11.1 million; finished 27th in receptions and 21st in yards and scored just two touchdowns)?
That’s three of the team’s most important players earning less than they probably should. If there’s such a thing as a “hometown discount,” Nelson and Cobb certainly provided one to the Packers over the past eight-and-a-half months. Rather than four years and $40 million, Cobb might have gotten five years and $60 million by Tuesday afternoon, when he would have been free to sign elsewhere.
So, what’s next? These are the big questions:
— Is Bulaga worth $7 million per season? That’s the average salary for the two highest-paid right tackles in the NFL: the Colts’ Gosder Cherilus and the Chargers’ King Dunlap. Bulaga played to that level in 2014 but it’s hard to ignore the injury history.
The Packers entered free agency about $33 million under the cap. That’s a lot of money, but you can see how quickly it can go. The Packers probably can’t keep everyone. But at least they reeled in the irreplaceable Cobb. From that perspective, it’s already been a winning offseason.
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