As Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead began laying out the plan for their approach to free agency, one X factor loomed over the whole process.
They had their thoughts and ideas on which players would be targeted and they knew what positions needed to be addressed but it can often be difficult to account for the actions of other teams.
One thing Fisher knew for sure was that there was a certain former tight end of his in Tennessee that would shoot straight to the top of the team’s wish list if he became available.
“We just didn’t know what was going to happen or how it was going to work out whether he was going to be franchised or not,” Fisher said. “So once it was clear that he was not then obviously it was very, very important for us that we get things worked out. There were some tense times there as you would expect in this process but at the end of the day we got things put together.”
When things did get put together only a couple of hours after the start of free agency, Cook was the recipient of a five-year, $35.1 million deal with $19 million guaranteed. The deal could be worth $38.5 million should Cook reach a series of incentives.
Fisher and Cook reunite in St. Louis four years after Tennessee traded a second-round pick to move up into the third round and use the No. 89 pick overall in the 2009 NFL Draft on Cook coming out of South Carolina. Cook played his first two seasons under Fisher in Nashville.
Soon after it became clear that the Titans were not going to use the franchise tag to keep Cook, whom had argued that he should be tagged as a receiver instead of a tight end based on where he lined up most often, the Rams made him their top target.
When the free agent market opened on Tuesday, Fisher called Cook and told him how much he wanted him in St. Louis. Cook said he didn’t need any form of sales pitch.
“He didn’t have one,” Cook said. “I know the guy. What does he have to say?”
In other words, Cook already knows what to expect from Fisher and clearly liked what his first NFL head coach brought to the table.
Much like last year when Fisher worked quickly to get a deal done with cornerback
“It is really exciting,” Cook said. “Just like you said: young, fast and talented players we’re bringing in, and we’ve got a goal set out. We’ve got guys on defense. Our defense is tremendous. We’ve got guys that are going to get the job done. We’re bringing in guys who will continue to get the job done. Like I said before, it’s clear skies. I’m excited and I think a lot of people in St. Louis should be as well.”
Cook figures to be a prominent part of that emerging offense in St. Louis. With
In many ways at 6’5, 248 pounds, Cook is an oversized, uberathletic slot receiver capable of creating mismatches all over the field. When the Rams sat down to explain their concepts for how they’d use him, Cook couldn’t help but feel like he has a chance to become a top, if not the top, target for Bradford in the passing game.
“They have a defined vision,” Cook said. “(Offensive Coordinator) Coach (Brian) Schottenheimer and (Tight Ends) Coach (Rob) Boras, they know what they want. They know what they’re going to do with me. Sitting down with them yesterday in the meeting room going over plays, going over schemes, it had me ready to go. I was ready to line up yesterday. I still am ready to line up right now, just seeing the vision and seeing the layout that they have in this offense for me.”
While Cook preferred to play it coy about what, exactly, that vision is, Fisher said the Rams won’t hesitate to move Cook around, line him up in the slot and use him in tandem with Kendricks on a regular basis.
“Offensively he fits in a lot of different places,” Cook said. “It’s about creating mismatches with him and taking advantage of his ability.”
That’s something that never quite materialized in Cook’s time with the Titans. Although he regularly displayed the ability to stretch the field down the seam and make big plays – he’s third among tight ends the past two seasons with 15 catches of 25 yards or more – Tennessee didn’t give him as many opportunities as his tight end brethren.
Although Cook posted 93 catches over the past two seasons, he was only targeted 153 times. Fifteen tight ends were thrown at more than Cook in that time span.
Needless to say, the Rams have much bigger plans in store for Cook, who Fisher said brings the total package to the table in St. Louis.
“It was his production, his size and his speed, his ability to stretch the field and hand eye coordination,” Fisher said. “He has got giant hands and he makes the tough catches. He’s a smart young man, he understands offense and he creates mismatches. That was the reason (we wanted him).”
Growing up in Suwanee, Georgia, Cook said he always dreamed of being the guy who would one day be a prominent player in the NFL with the paycheck to match. He reached that goal this week but he’s clearly playing the game for reasons far beyond the dollars.
“You play for the excitement,” Cook said. “You play to line up on Sundays…You play for the love of the game, and that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to play and get better and be a great tight end and look good doing it.”
Cook will turn 26 on April 7 and is already one of the most tenured veterans among the team’s skill position players. But that doesn’t mean he’s done getting better.
Set in St. Louis for the better part of the next decade, reunited with a coaching staff that has big plans for him and now in position to be the focal point of a passing game for the first time in his career, Cook sees big things ahead.
“I see the word potential as you really haven’t done anything,” Cook said. “I don’t see that as myself, so I think I’m on the elevator going up. I don’t see myself looking back at all and I’m excited about the future here in St. Louis.”