What’s the price tag for potential? How much money should an NFL franchise give to a tight end who, after four seasons, has 131 career catches for 1,717 yards and eight touchdowns? How long of a commitment?
Those are some questions that Tennessee Titans general manager Ruston Webster must answer. In a few weeks, Jared Cook is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The Titans must decide on whether they’ll give Cook a long-term contract, a franchise tag or a farewell letter.
Why does management have such high expectations for Cook? At age 25, Cook is often compared to Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley. Both tight ends are incredibly athletic and can play wide receiver. They’re both poor blockers who lose playing time in games that emphasize the ground game. They both create ruckuses with their mouths.
Why does that matter? Yahoo! Sports writer Jason Cole wrote a column about how Cook played 79.4 percent of all offensive plays at slot receiver or outside receiver in 2012. If Cook were recognized as a wide receiver, his estimated franchise tag price increases from $6 million to $10.5 million.
Would the Titans pay $10.5 million to keep Cook? In 2012, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski signed a six-year, $54 million contract extension. That made him the NFL’s highest-paid tight end. On a per-year basis, that’s less than what Cook would make in 2013.
Webster doesn’t anticipate any problems. Then again, Nashville Predators general manager David Poile was confident before he lost an arbitration battle to Shea Weber in 2011. The Predators offered Weber $4.75 million. Weber wanted $8.5 million. He got $7.5 million.
This is important: how will Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains use Cook? In 2011, Chris Johnson received a four-year, $53.5 million contract extension. That came before Johnson had ever played a down for former offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. Palmer’s inability to incorporate Johnson into his offensive system was a key reason for why he was dismissed before the 2012-13 season ended.
It’s the same thing here. If Loggains intends to use Cook at wide receiver 50-plus percent of the time, then why not save that money and sign a wide receiver? Free agents include Wes Welker, Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, Danny Amendola and Domenik Hixon.
Even without Cook, the Titans have two tight ends who they like. Craig Stevens often plays ahead of Cook because he’s a superior blocker. In 2012, Stevens signed a four-year, $15 million contract. Management is excited about Taylor Thompson, a defensive end who converted to tight end during his rookie campaign.
Does Cook want to play in Nashville? On multiple occasions, Cook has shown his frustrations on local radio talk shows and with the media. He seems unhappy with the coaching staff and the direction of the franchise. Does management want to make a long-term commitment to a disgruntled player?
Webster shouldn’t get suckered into overpaying for a one-dimensional tight end. Starting tight ends for the last three Super Bowl winners were Andrew Quarless (Finley was injured), Jake Ballard and Dennis Pitta. None of those players are significant receiving threats. Stevens wouldn’t be the worst tight end in that group.
Let Stevens become the full-time tight end. If Webster wants a pass-catching tight end, then draft one. Cook isn’t worth $6 million. He certainly isn’t worth $10.5 million. A marriage could turn into another divorce without a money-back guarantee.
Save the money and use it elsewhere. Areas of need include wide receiver, interior offensive line, backup running back, pass-rush specialist, safety and run-stuffer on the defensive interior.
Not a part-time tight end who steals playing time from Nate Washington, Kendall Wright or a healthy Kenny Britt.