As we continue our examination of the Green Bay Packers’ 2016 roster, we look to the tight end position. The Packers added a single player to the roster at the position last offseason, and he more than lived up to his billing and contract value.
Now that same player is hitting free agency once again, after fulfilling the one-year contract that he signed last April. We examine the contributions that Jared Cook made to the Packers in 2016 and look ahead to what he might expect in free agency this spring.
How Acquired: Street free agent (released by Rams)
Contract: One year, $2.75 million total; $825k signing bonus
Regular Season: 10 games, 5 starts — 51 targets, 30 receptions, (59% catch rate), 377 yards, (12.6 Y/R), 1 TD
Playoffs: 3 games, 3 starts — 32 targets, 18 receptions, (56% catch rate), 229 yards (12.7 Y/R), 2 TDs
Before this season, Jared Cook hadn’t been on a playoff team in his entire career. He barely even sniffed the postseason and although he had put up some decent numbers in his career (including a four-year streak of 40-plus catches and 500-plus receiving yards), he was unceremoniously released by the Rams last offseason as a salary cap casualty.
Cook was brought in with the intent of making him a focal point in the middle of the field, stretching the seam and pulling coverage away from other receiving options. Essentially, he would be to the 2016 Packers’ offense what Jermichael Finley was from 2009 until 2013.
The numbers weren’t astounding; Cook missed six games with an ankle injury, and racked up his fewest catches and receiving yards since 2010, his second year in the NFL. However, his impact was clearly felt. Without him, the Packers went 2-4, but they were 8-2 in the regular season with Cook on the field, including the six-game winning streak down the stretch.
What Cook wanted more than anything was a shot at the playoffs, something he eloquently explained in The Player’s Tribune this January. He got his wish as the Packers ran the table to win the NFC North. Furthermore, Cook more than doubled his per-game production in the playoffs, going from just under 38 receiving yards per game to 76.
All told, Cook absolutely lived up to his very modest price tag, and has expressed a desire to remain in Green Bay in 2017 and beyond. His stats likely would not require a huge investment, and the Packers may find him more valuable to the team than he would be elsewhere. Although Spotrac’s projection sees a four-year deal in the cards for a little over $3 million per year, I expect Cook to come back on a shorter but slightly higher-value contract. Perhaps something in the two- or three-year variety for around $4 million per season would be a good fit.