Everyone does player grades.
Ours are different.
We do ours on a salary-cap curve. After all, the salary cap largely determines long-term success in the NFL. Players with big-money contracts must be big-time performers. Those highly paid players must be supplemented by several small-budget but high-production players.
With that, we continue this series with the tight ends. Salary comparisons are from OverTheCap.com. Stats are from STATS and league data.
2016 cap: $2.75 million (tied for 25th at position)
In 2011, the Packers scored 560 points — the second-most in NFL history at the time. That was the last year in which receiver Jordy Nelson and tight end Jermichael Finley played at least close to full seasons. With the return of Nelson and the addition of Cook, big things were forecast for this season.
Cook’s six-game absence due to an ankle injury made that type of production impossible. But once Cook returned, the offense hit its stride. That 2011 team averaged 35.0 points per game. During the final four games of this season, Green Bay averaged 34.3.
Cook finished with 30 catches for 377 yards (12.6 average) and one touchdown in 10 games, then added 18 catches for 229 yards (12.7 average) and two touchdowns in the playoffs. After catching six passes in the three games before the injury, Cook had a pair of six-catch games upon his return and two more in the playoffs. Cook caught 58.8 percent of targeted passes and had two drops (drop rate of 3.9 percent). He averaged an impressive 5.3 yards after the catch. In the final 10 games (including playoffs), Cook had seven receptions of at least 24 yards.
“He’s been a big part of our success,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said before the NFC Championship Game. “He’s done a great job for us. Not crazy red-zone stats or huge production, which I think he’s capable of, but just his presence out there has really meant a lot to us, given us an option down the middle and an option splitting him out to his own side, as well, which we haven’t had around here in a while. So, he’s done a great job for us. He’s very versatile with his route-running abilities — vertical, in-breakers, out-breakers. He’s a big man, he’s a tall, strong guy. He does a good job separating from coverages. The comments I heard before he got to us was about his hands and we haven’t had any problems with that.”
Cook joined Green Bay with a one-year deal. He must be an offseason priority, though his big-time production down the stretch will do nothing to dampen demand.
2016 cap: $739,004 (61st at position)
Cook’s production came at Rodgers’ expense. In 2015, Rodgers caught 58 passes for 510 yards (8.8 average) and eight touchdowns. In 2016, Rodgers caught 30 passes. That’s as many as Cook caught, but Rodgers finished with 271 yards and averaged 9.0 yards per catch. Cook beat those figures by 106 yards and 3.6 yards per catch.
Rodgers was noticeably slimmer compared to last season but it didn’t show up with explosive play. He went nine games without a gain of longer than 14 yards until he shockingly beat Sean Lee, the Cowboys’ All-Pro linebacker, for a 34-yard touchdown in the divisional playoffs. While Rodgers beat Cook in touchdowns with two, he averaged only 3.6 YAC. The statisticians at STATS were kind to Rodgers and charged him with only one drop (drop rate of 2.1 percent). A beefy Rodgers was a terrible blocker; a slimmer Rodgers was no better.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.