Later on this morning in just a few short hours from now, the New Orleans Saints will be hosting a visit from the #1 rated tight end inn this year's 2019 Free Agency Class: 10th year veteran Oakland Raiders tight end Jared Cook, at the team's Practice Facility in Metairie.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 13, 2019
So why should this matter if you're a Who Dat fan?
Quite simply, it's because if you asked any NFL analyst what the Black and Gold's #1 priority in the current 2019 Off-Season should be right now, chances are that you'd get a majority of answers that they'd all agree on: which is that the franchise desperately needs a brand new new starting #1 tight end for their offense, following the official retirement of former starter Benjamin Watson at the end of the Playoffs.
Going to go ahead and say it #Saints WILL land Jared Cook.
They must or it will be hard to say they’ve done enough to upgrade offense.
Each playoff loss the last 2 years ended with the O not being able to keep the D from needing to save the day.
I’m sure that irks Payton...
— Ellias J Williams (@ElliasJWilliams) March 14, 2019
So it stands to reason that the team would likely target a player at the position who can come in immediately and fill that role, and perhaps no one player in this year's list of available players at the TE spot is better-suited for that task than the 31-year old Cook is.
And with most of this Off-Season's better-rated available tight ends having already signed elsewhere in the first few days of the "1st Wave" of Free Agency, the Saints would be wise to not allow him to leave NOLA without making a reasonable offer for his services.
Originally drafted by the Tennessee Titans back during the 2009 NFL Draft, the 6-foot-5, 255 pound Cook is still performing at a high-level after an entire decade of NFL experience.
Cook is expected to be looking for a contract that pays anywhere between $7.5 and 9.5 million dollars per season; which is the going rate that top-tiered tight ends are getting this Off-Season.
Whether Saints brass will shell out that much for the former University of South Carolina star (under then-former Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier) is anybody's guess at this moment.
But as NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported this morning: with Saints QB Drew Brees agreeing to restructure his contract last night, the Saints should have the money needed to pay Cook.
The #Saints have restructured Drew Brees' contract to clear $10.8 million in salary cap space, as they try to lock down backup QB Teddy Bridgewater and host TE Jared Cook on a free-agent visit today. It's a simple restructure. Brees is still due $23M cash in 2019.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 14, 2019
As a younger player with the Gamecocks under Spurrier, Cook emerged as an offensive weapon for the "Old Ball Coach", as Spurrier featured him in the South Carolina offensive attack that saw him eventually start 15 of his last 36 games for the Gamecocks and ended up finishing his college career with 73 receptions for 1,107 yards and 7 TD's.
Cook would then go on to display wide receiver-like speed at the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine, wowing observers with his (4.49) 40-yard dash, an impressive accomplishment for a man of his size and stature.
A few months later, Cook was taken with the 89th overall selection by the Titans in Round 3.
Additionally besides the Titans, Cook has also played for the Los Angeles Rams (during their previous years in St. Louis before they eventually moved back to Los Angeles) and the Green Bay Packers before he signed with the Raiders prior to the 2017 Season.
Despite the Raiders’ overall poor performance season that saw them finish with a (4-12) record, Cook himself managed to put together an outstanding performance last season; and he ultimately ended up making it to the Pro Bowl after he set career highs in yards, receptions, and touchdowns.
— Raider Posts (@RaiderPosts) January 11, 2019
Many considered Cook THE top option in the Raiders passing attack for QB Derek Carr in each of the past two seasons, as the still-dangerous Cook led Oakland in receiving yardage throughout that very same period.
In 10 NFL seasons, the 6-foot-5, 252-pound Cook has played in 149 games (with 77 starts) and has caught 425 receptions (on 711 total targets) for 5.464 yards and 25 TDs. In 2018, Cook caught 68 passes on 101 total targets for 896 yards and 6 TDs.
Make no mistake about this much: Cook is considered to be the #1 ranked tight end in this year's 2019 Free Agency Class; since he's regarded as the best pass-catcher at the position even though he turns age 32 in April.
Even in his early 30's now, Cook still remains as one of the more athletic tight ends in the League. Cook still possesses an adequate amount of speed which allows him to beat linebackers, and his NBA "power forward"-like size makes him too big to defend one-on-one against most safeties.
No, he probably isn't nearly as good as Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz, but he definitely is a reliable weapon for a QB in the passing game (imagine him with Drew Brees) and is a solid if not spectacular blocker in the running game.
Bottom line: while there's no denying that Cook has some "mileage" physically after 10 NFL seasons, he's managed to avoid any major injuries and still appears to have another 5 to 6 good years worth years of playing time.
While some NFL players at that position seem to regress over the years, Cook seems to actually have gotten better with age. And he seemingly would be the one missing piece that New Orleans currently still has in their offense.
As a matter of fact in his column two weeks ago for the Houma (La.) Daily Comet, WWL New Orleans 870 Radio analyst Mike Detillier said that an anonymous NFL assistant coach that faced Cook and the Raiders last season told him that he thought Cook was a “perfect fit” for the Saints offense.
“Jared has some mileage on the football speedometer, but he is still a really good player and if he caught 68 passes for that offense in Oakland he would have caught 89 passes with the Saints,” the coach said to Detillier.
“That Saints offense runs much smoother with a big time talent at tight end and while Cook is a “rent player” for a couple of seasons he still has plenty left in the tank and you can groom a young tight end to take his place. There aren’t a lot of rookie tight ends that are difference-makers and while I like the group coming out this spring in the draft, the Saints need a seasoned vet like Cook.”
If Detillier's anonymous source is correct in his assessment, it stands to reason that Cook will likely receiver an offer from Saints team brass when the two sides meet later on today,
So naturally, the question now becomes just how much the Birmingham, Alabama native will actually be asking for.
For Oakland's part, Raiders management (General Manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden) were expected to do whatever it takes (a.k.a., offer him more money than any other potential bidder) to retain him, meaning that the Saints very likely would have to make him a substantial financial offer.
However, you'd have to imagine that a Saints team that was just one play away from playing in the Super Bowl last season, will be perfectly willing to spend money on a player that could help put them over the hump and win a Super Bowl next season.
If the Saints feel that Cook is indeed that player, there won't be any need to second-guess their decision and just let the chips fall where ever there may.
Simply put: the Saints are RUNNING OUT of time before Drew Brees too will soon be retired — which means that spending a few extra million on a player that you believe can help you reach your goal, is certainly very reasonable from that perspective.
And that more than anything, is exactly why that when Oakland Raiders unrestricted Free Agent tight end Jared Cook visits NOLA in a while from now, the Saints better not let him leave the building without making a deal....