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By CHRIS HAVEL
Thompson adds legit weapon, increases draft flexibility
Hooray! Hooray! NFL free agency starts today!
That is the case in Green Bay where Packers’ GM Ted Thompson signed former St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook to a one-year deal reportedly worth $3.6 million.
Clearly, head coach Mike McCarthy is on board. Earlier in the offseason McCarthy offered a fairly impassioned statement of the obvious: The Packers’ offense lacked the big-bodied playmaker to establish control of the middle of the field.
Jordy Nelson’s absence due to injury coupled with injuries and underachieving play by key weapons reduced the offense to a mere shadow of its former self.
Cook’s presence should provide the Packers a reliable, veteran pass catcher with speed at the tight end position. Before signing Cook the tight end position lacked veteran leadership, reliability and speed. He adds all three.
ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, who broke the story of Cook’s signing, noted that McCarthy was truly impressed with the tight end dating back to last season’s trade deadline, when the Packers reportedly tried to acquire him. After the Rams released Cook this offseason the Packers brought him in for a visit.
“I spent a lot of time with Jared Cook and he’s a fine, fine young man,” McCarthy told reporters at the NFL combine. “I was impressed with him. So we’ll see what happens. It’s in the business phase of it, and that’s where it stands.”
The business side was very good to Green Bay. The Packers didn’t have to part with a draft pick. They didn’t have to guarantee big money. They didn’t even have to agree to a long-term contract.
They waited. They didn’t blink. Then, they signed Cook to a one-year deal worth $3.6 million that has the potential to be mutually beneficial to both.
The Packers add a big, fast weapon on offense. Cook gets an opportunity to play with Aaron Rodgers, which should allow him to put up big numbers. In turn, that should enable him to be a more valuable commodity next offseason. Cook has a chance to cash in again after one season.
The Packers have solved a significant problem on offense – the lack of big-bodied speed threats down the middle – and they aren’t on the hook beyond this season. They get an up-close look at Cook, and if they choose to keep him they can always strike an in-season extension. If they are less than thrilled they can walk away at season’s end.
Furthermore, Cook’s signing enables the Packers to be truly flexible in the fast-approaching NFL Draft. Perhaps, as ESPN’s Demovsky suggested, the Packers weren’t thrilled with the 2016 class of tight ends. They sign Cook to provide immediate help and bridge the gap until next April.
Who knows? Thompson already may have his eye on an underclass tight end that could be available next year, or perhaps he already knows the 2017 class is special.
At any rate, Cook’s signing gives hope that the Packers’ offense isn’t merely banking on Nelson’s and Ty Montgomery’s return from surgery, Davante Adams’ and Randall Cobb’s return to form, and Jared Abrederis’ and Jeff Janis’ continued improvement. The Packers have hedged their bet going into this season.
Another byproduct is that it surely will be noticed by the Packers’ incumbent tight end, Richard Rodgers. McCarthy has been patient with Rodgers to this point, but if the third-year pro doesn’t show improvement he has a viable option.
Cook caught 39 passes for 481 yards without a touchdown last year in St. Louis. It was a disappointing performance, but atypical of how he has performed during his career.
Cook, a third-round pick with the Tennessee Titans in 2009, is an angular 6-foot-5, 250-pound athlete with above-average speed. He has big-play ability, but equally important, he is an experienced player who shouldn’t take long to get on the same page with his new Pro Bowl quarterback.
He has 273 catches for 3,503 yards and 16 touchdowns in seven seasons. He has missed just five games in that span.
McCarthy should be fairly giddy today. At the recent NFL owners’ meetings, he discussed the importance of quality tight end play.
“You want as many tight ends, you want as many people to stress the field as you can,” he told reporters. “Let’s be honest, the middle of the field is open now. League rules … 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 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.”
Just as important is occasionally playing in free agency, which is what the Packers did to acquire a player like the one McCarthy just described.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.