In the first few days of the new NFL year, the rush of free agency news will always produce the biggest waves. But in retrospective, we rarely look back and view those deals as bargains. The value contracts come in the second week of free agency or even later.
One player who signed last week and has a chance to be the best value pick up in free agency is new Oakland Raiders tight end Jared Cook.
The Raiders agreed to a two-year deal with Cook, but upon the signing, the tight end received all of the $5 million guaranteed money included in the $10.6 million deal. Essentially, that means it’s a one-year deal because if Oakland decides to release Cook at the end of the 2017 season, there will be no dead money allocated to the cap.
It can basically be thought of as a one-year deal with a team option for a second. That substantially lowers the risk of the deal for the team. The money Cook received is also quite reasonable.
The average annual salary Cook will make on this deal is $5.3 million, which currently ranks 14th at tight end according to Spotrac.com. Cook also sits 15th in signing bonus, so he is middle of the road in both important money categories.
While the soon-to-be 30-year-old posted an underwhelming 30 receptions for 377 yards and a touchdown last year, it was due, in large part, to only playing 10 games. Assuming he would have maintained that pace over the course of an entire season, Cook would have recorded 48 catches and 603 yards.
As the year went along, he also improved. In the last three regular season games, Cook registered 13 catches and 178 yards. Then in three playoff games, he posted 18 receptions, 229 yards and 2 scores.
Remember, 2016 was only Cook’s first season in Green Bay. It takes any player, especially receivers, some time to adapt to a new system (in this case, a quarterback). After three games, Cook went down with an injury and didn’t return until Week 11. But by mid-December, he became one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite targets.
Expect the same in Oakland with Derek Carr. The Raiders featured a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in 2016, but besides those two targets, their passing game didn’t possess a reliable third option. Behind Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts finished third on the team with 397 receiving yards. Second-year tight end Clive Walford ranked fourth with 33 catches and 359 yards.
The Raiders will have to figure out a new backfield rotation with Latavius Murray leaving, but the biggest improvement this team needed to make on offense was the No. 3 receiver/tight end spot. They accomplished that with very little risk by signing Cook.
He will be 30 before the season begins, but Cook was a 650-yard, 5-touchdown guy just a couple of years ago with the Rams. Although it was a small sample size, he appeared to be capable of that and maybe even more in a good offense last season. Cook has a strong chance of becoming Oakland’s third-best pass catcher.
The tight end will be particularly useful in the red zone. Last season, the Raiders finished 13th in red-zone touchdown percentage at 58.6 percent. That’s completely respectable, but the team took a step back from its 60.9 percentage in 2015. Oakland struggled particularly badly at scoring touchdowns in the red zone on the road, where the team submitted a 51.5 percent touchdown rate.
Adding Cook to this offense should help fix that. Although he has never tallied more than 5 touchdowns in a season, he is another viable receiving option and an above average blocker to help in goal-line situations.
And again, this essentially comes on a bargain one-year deal. If all goes according to plan, he will remain with the Raiders for 2018 as well.