The 2017 season ended in disappointment for the New England Patriots, but the acquisition of wide receiver Brandin Cooks was a huge success. Cooks finished second on the team in yards, receptions, and touchdowns while starting all 16 games. However, despite this, some view Cooks season as a letdown, with some calling for his outright release. This misconception is due to a variety of factors, but make no mistake, Brandin Cooks had a great first season with the New England Patriots.
Brandin Cooks Had a Great First Season with the New England Patriots
When the Patriots first acquired Cooks from the New Orleans Saints, Patriot Nation went nuts. Cooks was a big play machine in New Orleans, and a lot of people thought the next Randy Moss was coming to town. Some of that hype came from owner Robert Kraft himself, and it created unrealistic expectations for what Cooks could do.
Cooks is no Randy Moss, and he never has been. That’s no shot against Cooks; Moss is the most physically gifted receiver in the history of football. Jerry Rice is the only receiver in history to exceed Moss’ greatness, so anyone expecting to get 2007 Moss out of 2017 Cooks was asking for disappointment.
Take a look past those unrealistic expectations and look at what Cooks did, relative to other first year Patriots wide receivers. In the Brady-Belichick era, only three receivers have ever broken 1,000 yards in their first season with the team.
Two of them are pretty easy guesses. Randy Moss put up an absurd 1,493 while Wes Welker added 1,175 in that wild 2007 campaign. The third receiver? Brandin Cooks, who recorded 1,082 yards in his first season.
This doesn’t take into account penalty yardage. Even when Cooks didn’t haul in Brady’s bombs, he was still good at drawing pass interference calls to keep drives alive. It doesn’t go towards his stat sheet, but a 50-yard pass interference call is just as good as a 50-yard reception.
Disappearing Down the Stretch
Some acknowledge that Cooks had a great season, but are frustrated that he disappeared down the stretch. There’s some validity to this criticism, as Cooks didn’t play his best at the end of the season. From Weeks 13-16, Cooks recorded just nine catches for 134 yards. That is a rough stretch, especially for the top receiver in the offense.
However, when looking at the situation around Cooks, the dip in production makes sense. Cooks was acquired to be the deep threat this offense was missing, and to be the perfect complement for a stacked receiving core. However, injuries to Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell ended that dream before it could happen. Cooks took on a larger role, and defenses focused more resources on stopping him.
Quite frankly, it worked. Cooks isn’t a transcendent talent like Moss or Rob Gronkowski. His play slipped in the second half of the year because he was essentially the only wide receiver worth defending. Chris Hogan missed almost all of the second half of the year, and Danny Amendola was on a limited snap count.
Additionally, the passing game as a whole was out of tune down the stretch. Quarterback Tom Brady was clearly suffering from an Achilles injury and wasn’t himself. It’s truly no wonder that Cooks’ stats took a hit near the end of the year. Between a hobbled Brady and no receivers to take pressure off him, Cooks never really stood a chance.
The Super Bowl
The NFL has a short-term memory, and a lot of people are judging Cooks based on his final performance of the season. There’s no denying it, Cooks had a bad Super Bowl. His failed hurdle on third-and-one was an incredibly poor decision, and he got knocked out of the Super Bowl after his first catch.
The Patriots offense got on track once Cooks left the game, leading many to think that the offense is better off without him. This logic falls in on itself pretty quickly. For one, Edelman didn’t play a snap this season, yet Tom Brady won MVP and the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl. Does Edelman make the team worse? Should he be cut?
The Patriots lost Super Bowl 52 with a healthy Gronkowski, yet won Super Bowl 51 with Gronkowski on the sidelines. Would it be best for New England if Gronkowski retires? The obvious answer to these questions is no. These are great players, and having them in the lineup makes the Patriots better. Just because the offense succeeded without Cooks doesn’t make him worthless, just like how Gronkowski and Edelman aren’t worthless.
Cooks displayed his value in the AFC Championship Game, just two weeks earlier. The first-year Patriot put up 100 yards on six catches and added an additional 68 yards on pass interference penalties. Cooks did this against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who boasted arguably the best cornerback duo in the league.
What’s more impressive is that most of Cooks’ production came without Gronkowski on the field. The big tight end suffered a concussion late in the first half against the Jags and didn’t return. Cooks was the number one wide receiver all season, but now he was the number one offensive weapon. The Jaguars did everything they could to slow him down, but they couldn’t do it. Amendola was the hero of that game, but the Patriots don’t win it without Cooks.
After playing the first four years on his rookie contract, the Patriots extended the fifth year option on Cooks. He was a bargain last year, but is set to have a cap number of $8.5 million, per OverTheCap. This is a lot of money to invest in a wide receiver, and some say the cap space could be spent better without Cooks.
First off, it’s only February. The Patriots sent over a first rounder to acquire Cooks, and they wouldn’t do that if they only wanted him for two years. New England is surely trying to work out an extension for Cooks that will reward him for his play while also lowering his cap number. It would be a surprise to see him go into the 2018 season without an extension.
Even if he doesn’t, look at the players that are making similar money. Per OverTheCap, Jarvis Landry, T.Y. Hilton, Randall Cobb, Demaryius Thomas, Kenny Stills, Golden Tate, Pierre Garcon, and Robert Woods are all scheduled to have bigger cap hits than Cooks. Cooks is just as good as or better than every single receiver on that list.
Yes, $8.5 million is a lot to invest in one player who’s not quite a superstar, but it’s manageable. It’s not 2009 anymore; cap space is far more plentiful than it used to be. Cooks at $8.5 million is still a fine market value, and certainly wouldn’t be burdening the team.
Simply put, Brandin Cooks makes the Patriots better. He gives the offense a vertical threat, and his strengths match up perfectly with the rest of the offense. He’ll cost more this year than he did last year, but his contract isn’t terrible by any means. Cooks had a great first year as a Patriot, and he should only be better in 2018.
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