While many fans are clamoring for a new wide receiver, acquiring the former Tennessee Titans tight end would make more sense.
The NFL draft deadline usually comes and goes without much activity, but the 2018 season looks to buck that trend. Big names such as Amari Cooper, Carlos Hyde and Eli Apple have already been shipped to new teams, and there are indications that more moves are on the way. Naturally, this has Tennessee Titans fans looking at players around the league to see who might represent a good trade opportunity. While his first stint in Nashville left Titans fans feeling unsatisfied, I think that Jared Cook represents the best trade opportunity for the Titans.
Before we discuss Cook, let’s talk about the Titans and their offense. Marcus Mariota and the play calling have been questionable, but neither will be addressed via trade or signing. So the next logical scapegoat is the wide receiver group. They have been inconsistent in their route running, dropped crucial passes and generally seemed out of sync with their QB. But, with Cooper off the table, there aren’t a lot of great options out there. Perhaps the only feasible move for a WR would be to trade for Demaryius Thomas. While he hasn’t played up to his supposed superstar potential, he is a solid WR who would certainly help the offense.
However, Thomas’ contract would not be favorable for the Titans: They would either have to take his cap hit of $17.5M in 2019 or release him and still have a dead cap total of $3.5M. Is half a season of above average play worth the probable mid-round pick that would be lost in the trade, plus $3.5M in dead cap? I don’t think so.
So, if there aren’t trade good options at WR, we have to consider how else the offense can improve. Mariota needs help, plain and simple. Since the RB duo of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis is locked in, the last frontier is the TE position. The combination of Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firsker and MyCole Pruitt have not filled the void left by Delanie Walker: the group has only combined for 143 yards on the season. Walker was a focal point of this offense and I don’t think it’s been discussed enough how much of an impact his loss has had on the overall offensive production.
So why Cook? For a guy who has all the physical tools in the world, some might say his career has been a bit of a disappointment. I’m not arguing that, nor am I saying he has the ceiling of someone like Cooper. But he has three things going for him: He presents a clear position upgrade, has great production this year and would be good value for the Titans.
There aren’t any WRs available outside of Thomas who could clearly jump into the top three WRs on the Titans’ depth chart. Cook, however, would easily be the best option the Titans have at TE. Smith has been extremely disappointing, Stocker is a blocking TE and Firkser, while promising, is not ready to take on a starting role. Trading for a TE instead of a WR would mean the Titans would be able to continue their development of Corey Davis, Tajae Sharpe and Taywan Taylor. The Titans will need those guys not only for this season, but in the future, and I feel better taking snaps away from a struggling Smith than any of those WRs.
I know Cook was a source of frustration during his Titans tenure, but there is no denying that he is having a great year. His 32 receptions and 400 receiving yards (through just six games) would both rank first on the Titans. He has the fifth-most receiving yards of any TE in the league, and his 7 plays of 20+ yards rank second at the position. Cook would bring a needed element of athleticism to the Titans with his 6’5 frame and top-end speed. The Titans offense does not currently present many matchup problems, but with his size and athleticism, OC Matt LaFleur would have a weapon to exploit mismatches against defenses. Additionally, he brings value in the form of slot play, a position where no Titans WR has really excelled. An impressive 225 of Cook’s yards through Week 5 had come from the slot, making him the third-most productive slot receiver at the time.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a trade for Cook would make a lot of sense in terms of value and cap flexibility. Cook’s contract expires after this season, so the Titans would not be on the hook for any additional dead cap. This also means that the Raiders, who we already have seen are obvious sellers at this point in the season, won’t be too attached to him. He will be 32 next offseason, so I doubt they are planning to invest long-term. At this point, Oakland is probably looking to get something for Cook before letting him leave in free agency – I would guess a sixth or seventh round pick would get the job done. This possible low asking price, paired with future cap flexibility, would be extremely attractive to the Titans. Better players might be available, but I doubt the Titans could find better value.
I’m well aware that seeing Cook’s name discussed probably induced much groaning and eye-rolling from Titans fans, but we have to remember that it is a seller’s market and options will be limited. There aren’t many available players who a) have solid production in 2018, b) are on a team like the Raiders that are outright sellers at this point, and c) would be cheap to acquire and not hamper the cap moving forward. Cook checks all those boxes, and I think it would be smart for Jon Robinson to give his fellow Jon (Gruden) a call.