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ATLANTA - Before leaving the Georgia Dome visitors’ locker room Sunday, Green Bay Packers tight end Jared Cook stopped to consider next year.

He will become a free agent in March when his one-year contract expires. Cook proved this season to be another successful free-agent acquisition for general manager Ted Thompson, who rarely signs players outside his locker room.

With the Packers' 44-21 loss at the Atlanta Falcons still raw, Cook reiterated what he’s said throughout the late season. Yes, he wants to be back with the Packers next fall.

“It would be good to come back and play in a familiar offense,” Cook said, “and learn even more from 12 (quarterback Aaron Rodgers).”

Asked if this was the best offense he’s played in during an eight-year, three-team career, the 29-year-old tight end laughed. “Yeah, no question,” he said.

It isn’t only because of Rodgers, Cook said.

“The receivers around me,” Cook said, “the running backs. A lot of people stepped up in big positions, like Ty (Montgomery) this year. Then just being around a different system, the coaches, learning from those guys was huge for my development.”

Cook was huge for the Packers offense.

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His return from missing six games because of an ankle injury coincided with the rise of Rodgers and the Packers. He caught six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown in his return at Washington. The Packers lost that game but won their next eight games to “run the table” into the NFC title game.

It’s no coincidence Rodgers tossed 27 touchdowns and two interceptions since Cook’s return.

“Jared Cook, I think, needs to be near the top of the priority list, the way he played this year,” Rodgers said after Sunday’s loss.

Cook’s return is likely, a source told PackersNews.com in December. That was before Cook became a playoff hero for the Packers. His 36-yard catch along the left sideline in Dallas set up Mason Crosby’s 51-yard, game-winning field goal, becoming one of the most memorable catches in the team’s recent playoff history.

There was a time Cook’s negotiations with the team might’ve been more interesting. In a prove-it year, missing six games with injury isn’t ideal. Since his return, Cook has shown how different — and better — he makes the Packers offense.

It should be enough for Cook to receive multiple years on his next contract, no matter what team signs him. Even if he was noncommittal about the importance for a long-term deal, Cook craves security as much as any NFL player.

“It’d be nice,” Cook said, “to have a home for a while with my family and stuff, but I haven’t even thought about the significance of that.”

He’d like that home to be in Green Bay.

rwood@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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