Aaron Rodgers drew Jared Cook to Packers
There was “mutual” enthusiasm when Jared Cook and Aaron Rodgers had their first conversation as teammates, but the new Green Bay Packers tight end knew his place.
He is the reason for excitement this offseason, a potential savior for what had been the Packers most neglected position. He is not the league’s two-time MVP.
Those three letters inspire a certain appreciation from Cook, who has spent his first seven NFL seasons playing with quarterbacks named Rusty Smith, Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis — a list as long as it is depressing.
So while the Packers had an obvious attraction to Cook — he’s a fast tight end, something they haven’t had on their roster for three years — the eighth-year veteran had reason to be even more drawn to Green Bay. That reason was Aaron Rodgers.
“I think I was more excited than he was,” Cook said, “just to be able to play with somebody that’s so great at what he does, and somebody that’s proven. … It was more than the top priority I was looking for. It was imperative that I find a person that’s known for getting the job done, and is good at what they do. I think that he’s probably one of the best in the league at doing it, clearly.”
Rodgers will be the 12th quarterback to throw Cook a pass in the NFL. Before him, the best probably was Matt Hasselbeck.
Cook shared an offense with Hasselbeck for two seasons in Tennessee (2011, 2012). This was not the Seattle Seahawks’ Matt Hasselbeck, a quarterback who went to three Pro Bowls and started Super Bowl XL. This was late-30s Matt Hasselbeck, who grinded to an 11-10 record with 25 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Hasselbeck was an improvement compared to other quarterbacks who have thrown passes to Cook over the years. Vince Young had a respectable start to his career in Tennessee, but his tenure crashed and burned after one season with Cook. Sam Bradford has never lived up to expectations as the first overall pick in the 2010 draft. Same for Jake Locker, the eighth overall pick in 2011 who retired after just four seasons.
Nick Foles appeared to offer a rare glimmer of hope a year ago. He was a Pro Bowler in 2013 before becoming the Rams’ starting quarterback last season. The optimism around Foles quickly crumbled. He had 10 interceptions, seven touchdown passes and a 4-7 record before being benched for Case Keenum after 11 starts.
It’s no surprise Cook’s production dipped in 2015, given the Rams’ quarterback struggles. Cook had 39 catches after surpassing 50 in each of his first two seasons in St. Louis. He had 481 yards after receiving more than 600 in his first two years. Across the board, the Rams offense was dreadful. They finished 29th in scoring. Last in yards. Last in passing.
“Man …” Cook said Tuesday before pausing. “Last year was a rough year, man. It was just the luck of the draw. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. It’s just things didn’t pan out the way the organization had planned, or the way that coach (Jeff) Fisher or the offensive coordinator (Frank Cignetti) had planned. That’s just how things went. We had a new quarterback, a new offensive coordinator, a new offensive scheme. A lot of guys trying to get used to each other in a short period of time, that it was rough on a lot of people. I don’t think anybody on that offensive coaching staff last year really planned on the season going the way it did.
“It was tough, but those are the things that you have to deal with in this business. Not everything is going to be rainbows and ice creams. So you have to keep pushing and try to do the best you can to make things better for yourself and for your teammates.”
Cook might not have been the culprit behind the Rams’ offensive collapse, but he wasn’t the solution either. Three seasons into a five-year, $35 million contract, he was cut in a salary dump. Cook said he never saw his release coming, but nobody does. On Tuesday, he didn’t want to focus on the past.
No, Cook is looking ahead. He arrives in Green Bay with a sense of urgency. After five weeks of searching, it’s possible Cook found the perfect opportunity at the right time.
In 2016, he faces a crossroads in his career. While Cook didn’t want to call it a “prove-it” year Tuesday, there’s no other way to look at the one-year, $2.75 million contract he signed with the Packers.
“You always want longevity,” Cook said, “but the chance to play in an offensive system like this one and a chance to build a rapport, it could turn into something bigger in the long run. We’re just going to take this one year and grind it out and see what happens.”
Cook admitted signing with the Packers was among the most important decisions of his career. He studied the offense, dug into coach Mike McCarthy’s history. He’s seen the success Jermichael Finley had in Green Bay, developing from a third-round pick to a Pro Bowl-caliber talent before his career prematurely ended because of a neck injury in 2013. Yes, the chance to hunt a Super Bowl title was appealing.
But there is only one wild card. One deciding factor. His name is Aaron Rodgers.
“I think you’ve seen the history of tight ends become successful in this Packer offense from the past,” Cook said. “I think I bring the same sort of skill-set, if not anything better, and I just want to come in and just work hard and build a rapport with the quarterback and the rest of the players on the offense and just get better. I’m still fairly young in my career, so there’s still time for me to grow and learn and become a better player. I think that’s what I’m the most excited about, is being in a place where I can grow and get better as a person and as a player.
“I know what Coach McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers and Edgar Bennett and all those guys in this offense bring to the table for me and for the players to succeed in Green Bay as a whole. So it’s an opportunity that I intend to take the most out of.”