The Green Bay Packers struck in free agency, adding a home-run threat at tight end by signing Jared Cook.
According to a source, Cook agreed to a one-year deal worth up to $3.65 million late last week. On Monday morning, he arrived in Green Bay to take his physical and sign the contract.
“I spent a lot of time with Jared Cook and he’s a fine, fine young man," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said last week at the spring owners meetings. “I was impressed with him.”
Cook, who was released by the Rams on Feb. 19, provides the athletic tight end the Packers have lacked since Jermichael Finley’s career ended prematurely with a neck injury sustained during the 2013 season. They tried to acquire Cook at the trade deadline last year but the Rams wanted at least a second-rounder in return.
With the Rams last season, Cook caught 39 passes for 481 yards, with his 12.3-yard average ranking among the leaders at the tight end position. In seven seasons, Cook has averaged 12.8 yards per catch and scored 16 touchdowns — with three of those scores covering at least 59 yards.
Cook (6-5, 254) would provide some of the game-breaking element the Packers lacked with Richard Rodgers the past two seasons. Beyond stretching the field, Cook has averaged more than 5.0 yards after the catch in four of his last five seasons. Rodgers averaged 2.75 in 2014 and 3.78 in 2015.
Cook ran a 4.50 in the 40-yard dash with a 41-inch vertical jump at the Scouting Combine in 2009. At the 2014 Combine, Rodgers ran his 40 in 4.87 seconds with a 31.5-inch vertical. At this year’s Combine, South Carolina’s Jerell Adams was the fastest tight end with a 4.64 in the 40 but paired that with just a 32.5-inch vertical. Arkansas’ Hunter Henry, the consensus best tight end in this draft, ran his 40 in 4.68 with a 31.5-inch vertical at this month’s pro day.
The Packers reached out to Cook at the start of free agency, according to a source, but it took almost three weeks to get the deal done. Ultimately, the Packers offered Cook a two-year contract but Cook wanted a one-year deal, with the potential of putting up big numbers with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback to get him back on the market and in position for a long-term contract.
Playing with Rodgers was the major reason why Cook chose the Packers after receiving strong interest from several teams — with the Bears, Panthers and Texans among the suitors. With the deal in place last week, Cook struck up a phone conversation with his new quarterback.
If he reaches his potential, Cook could be the missing link in Green Bay's offense. With receiver Jordy Nelson out with a knee injury last season, the Packers lacked the ability to stress the deep middle of the defense. That was a huge factor in last season's offensive dysfunction, McCarthy said last week.
“Big people running down the middle of the field — I’ll make no secret about it, I think that’s a key to offensive success,” McCarthy said. “Whether that’s a big receiver or big tight end or a big man running down the middle of the field, making those safeties cover you, it’s an important part of playing in today’s NFL.”
At 6-foot-4 3/4, Cook is that big man who can run down the middle of the field. Rodgers averaged 8.8 yards on his 58 receptions last season and boasts a career mark of 9.4 yards per reception for his career. Contrast that to Cook’s career average of 12.8 yards per reception. Of his 39 receptions last season, seven went for at least 20 yards, and he averages one 20-yarder for every 5.69 receptions for his career. Rodgers averages one 20-yarder for every 8.67 career receptions.
Cook’s catch rate was only 52.0 percent last year and 52.5 percent in 2014 after hauling in 59.3 percent in 2013, his first season with the Rams, when he signed a contract that included $16 million fully guaranteed — a record at that time for a tight end.
Cook caught 142 passes with 15 drops during his three seasons with the Rams, according to STATS. In four seasons with the Titans, he caught 131 passes with seven drops. He caught at least 60.0 percent of his targets in each of those four years.
In Green Bay, Cook will have a chance for some stability should this one-year deal become something longer. During his first seven seasons, he’s had six offensive coordinators — three with Tennessee and three with the Rams — and nine starting quarterbacks.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.