As the Patriots enter the offseason, Brandin Cooks’ contract situation, and whether or not he’s worth the roughly $8.5 million he’s due next season, has surprisingly become a storyline.
The fact that we are even talking about this is ridiculous. So ridiculous that I felt compelled to prove to you all that Cooks’ 2017 season was far from a disappointment, and that his fifth-year option is actually great value for the Patriots in 2018.
Cooks’ cap hit is tied for 22nd among wide receivers for the 2018 season and ranks sixth on the Patriots behind Tom Brady, Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, and Dont’a Hightower.
And that salary cap hit is more than fair value for a player that by almost every relevant metric was a top 20 wide receiver in the NFL last season.
As we know, Cooks ranked 11th in the NFL last season with 1,082 receiving yards, two yards short of teammate Rob Gronkowski to land in the top ten. Cooks also hauled in seven receptions of 40-plus yards last season, which was tied for second-most in the NFL with some guy named Antonio Brown. Only Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill had more receptions of 40 or more yards than Cooks in 2017 with nine.
When you look at the advanced metrics, Cooks’ rankings prove that he’s easily in the top 20 at his position as well. Cooks ranked in the top 20 in Football Outsiders’ DYAR metric (13th) and DVOA metric (17th), which measure a players efficiency on a down-to-down basis. The Pats wideout also ranked 15th in PFF’s yards per route run stat (1.78) and eighth in passer rating when targeted (106.9) among 45 qualified wide receivers.
Those are solid numbers for any receiver, but when evaluating Cooks’ play in 2017, you also have to take into account that this was his first season playing in the Patriots’ complicated scheme and with quarterback Tom Brady, where production in year one is not always a given.
In fact, out of the 122 receivers that have caught a pass from Tom Brady in his career, only three other players have eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in their first season catching passes from Brady: Randy Moss (1,493 in 2007), Wes Welker (1,175 in 2007), and Troy Brown in Brady’s first season as the starter in 2001 (1,199). That’s pretty good company.
Oh, and only six receivers total including Cooks have eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in a season with the Patriots since 2001 (Welker, Gronk, Moss, Edelman, Brown, and Cooks).
Despite all that, Cooks’ first season in New England was seen as a disappointment by many.
However, the Patriots actually got great return on their investment when they traded their 2017 first-round pick and moved down 15 spots (#103 to #118) in the draft to acquire Cooks.
To put it simply, the Patriots essentially traded the 30th overall pick in the draft for Cooks according to the NFL Draft value chart.
In the Belichick era, only five of the teams 15 first round selections had a higher approximate value in a single-season as a member of the Patriots than Cooks’ 13 AV in 2017, according to Pro Football Reference: Logan Mankins (four times), Richard Seymour (three times), Dont’a Hightower (once), Jerod Mayo (once), and Vince Wilfork (once). So check that box off as well.
Cooks’ cap hit next season is pricey considering what the Patriots typically pay at the wide receiver position, but when you break it down, whom on the Patriots roster deserves more money than he does?
The only players in that discussion are free agent left tackle Nate Solder, defensive end Trey Flowers, and fellow wideout Julian Edelman who’s value to the team is undeniable. Solder will make more money than Cooks next season once he signs his new deal and Flowers is a bargain on the last year of his rookie contract.
As for Edelman, the Patriots’ slot machine has a cap hit of $4.7 million in 2018, which is significantly less than Cooks. However, Edelman signed his current deal in June of 2017 at age 31; Cooks is 24. Edelman is also predominantly a slot wide receiver which lowers his value on the open market, and the perception is that he wouldn’t be as productive outside of the Patriots’ slot-friendly system. Plus, Edelman likely took a small pay cut to remain in New England where he has flourished, competed for Super Bowls, and caught passes from best friend Tom Brady. In other words, comparing Edelman’s current market value to Cooks’ isn’t an apples to apples comparison.
And who knows? Maybe with Edelman demanding attention in the middle of the field, Cooks has an even better 2017 season, and the Patriots offense certainly would have been worse off given Edelman’s injury if they hadn’t acquired Cooks. Cooks actually helped keep the offense rolling after significant injuries to Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Malcolm Mitchell last season.
Brandin Cooks didn’t put up Moss-like numbers like some predicted entering last season, and like the entire Patriots team, the season ended poorly for Cooks when he was knocked out of the Super Bowl with a concussion.
However, after a successful regular season, Cooks’ game-high 100 receiving yards in the AFC Championship Game helped the Patriots punch their ticket to Minnesota, and the expectations for Cooks were too high to begin with comparing him to a first-ballot Hall of Famer like Moss.
After the 2018 season, we can have an honest discussion about Cooks’ value to the Patriots given that he’ll likely command upwards of $11 million per year in free agency. But in 2018, Cooks’ deal is actually below his market value, and any talk of cutting him is absolute insanity.