Packers columnist Pete Dougherty and reporter Weston Hodkiewicz discuss the team's signing of free-agent tight end Jared Cook to a 1-year deal. (March 28, 2016)
Mike McCarthy spoke feverishly at last week’s NFL owners meetings about how recent rule changes have opened up the middle of the field for the passing game.
Now, the Green Bay Packers head coach finally might have a tight end who can take advantage of it.
The Packers agreed to terms Monday with eighth-year tight end Jared Cook, who signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with another $900,000 in incentives that could boost the total to $3.65 million. True to general manager Ted Thompson’s form, a league source said the agreement had been in place since Thursday.
Although the Packers offered a two-year deal, the two sides eventually settled on a one-year deal that could total $3.65 million with incentives, USA TODAY Sports reported.
Cook, who turns 29 next week, visited with the Packers two weeks ago. At the owners meetings, McCarthy confirmed he met with Cook during the visit and gave a glowing report of the 6-foot-5, 254-pound tight end.
"I spent a lot of time with Jared Cook and he’s a fine, fine young man," McCarthy said. "I was impressed with him."
Cook, a third-round pick of Tennessee in the 2009 draft, also received interest from Atlanta, Chicago and Carolina before choosing to sign with the Packers.
After spending the better part of three years trying to fill Jermichael Finley’s void in-house, Thompson finally gave in to pursuing outside reinforcements at the position. In Cook, the Packers get a big and fast (4.50-second time in the 40-yard dash at the 2009 NFL combine) receiving target still in his prime.
Cook's primary objective is giving the Packers a difference-maker at tight end that the offense has lacked in recent years.
“Let’s be honest, the middle of the field is open now,” McCarthy said. “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."
Cook has 273 career catches for 3,503 yards and 16 touchdowns in seven NFL seasons split between Tennessee and St. Louis. He had 39 receptions for 481 yards (12.3 yards per catch) last season for the Rams before being released Feb. 19 in a cap-cutting move.
Cook never has had a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, though. More recently, he has been through the gamut with the Rams since signing a five-year, $35 million contract in March 2013. In Green Bay, he’ll have the chance to work hand-in-hand with Rodgers, who could use a tight end in Finley’s mold. USA Today reported that Cook already has been in touch with the Packers’ two-time MVP.
The Packers had some of the lowest tight-end production in the league last season with second-year tight end Richard Rodgers handling more than 1,000 offensive snaps. He finished the year with 58 catches for 510 yards, but averaged only 8.8 yards per catch. Cook has averaged 12.8 yards per reception over his seven-year career with the Rams and the Tennessee Titans.
One reason the Packers probably were so keen on Cook was because he won't count toward the equation for compensatory draft picks since the Rams released him last month. So the Packers will get the full benefit of whatever unrestricted free agents they lose this offseason (so far, cornerback Casey Hayward and quarterback Scott Tolzien).
Once he signs, Cook will be the first veteran addition Thompson has made to the offense during the free-agent period since signing journeyman tight end Matthew Mulligan in April 2013.