Among the many teams making a splash early in the 2013 edition of NFL free agency was the St. Louis Rams, who took steps to address a passing game that faces a great deal of uncertainty this offseason.
With wide receivers Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson both hitting free agency, the Rams desperately needed to upgrade the weaponry at quarterback Sam Bradford's disposal.
The Rams attempted to do just that, agreeing to terms with tight end Jared Cook on a five-year contract.
Jeff Darlington of NFL.com was one of the first to point out the signing, saying that it marked the first time on Tuesday that the free-agent slap-happy Miami Dolphins hadn't gotten their man.
First swing and a miss for Dolphins today: Jared Cook heading to the Rams. Tight end remains a priority for Miami. Nice pickup in St. Louis.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) March 12, 2013
Jim Thomas of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch took to Twitter to point out that Cook, who averaged more than 13 yards a catch during his four seasons in Tennessee, was one of the more dangerous downfield threats available in free agency this year.
Jared Cook, by the way, is the second-fastest receiver _ tight end or wideout _ in free agency this year. Ran a 4.49 at 250 pounds.— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) March 12, 2013
Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports pointed out that Cook will be reunited in St. Louis with head coach Jeff Fisher, who was in Nashville when the Tennessee Titans drafted Cook in 2009.
I remember how fired up Jeff Fisher was when the Titans drafted Jared Cook. Could be a breakout player in 2013...— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) March 12, 2013
Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio echoed that reunion while applauding the move, although he didn't do so great when it came to spelling Fisher's name.
Rams land TE Jared Cook.Great get.They have massively upgraded roster since Jeff Fischer arrived.— Colin Cowherd (@ESPN_Colin) March 12, 2013
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated also lauded the move, grading it as an "A-", although Burke also admitted that Cook's hefty salary carries with it a fair amount of risk.
Cook, an athletic 6-foot-5, nearly 250-pound tight end never did ascend from good to great during his four years in Tennessee. However, his talent is rather undeniable. And if Cook winds up being the player just about everything feels he can be, then Sam Bradford and the Rams’ offense will benefit.
Cook will need to be that player to justify his contract — reportedly somewhere between $7 and $8 million per year. That’s more than the Rams likely would have needed to pay Danny Amendola to keep him around.
Bleacher Report NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland didn't assign his grade to the Cook signing yet, but as Langland points out, after something of a part-time role with the Titans, Jared Cook is going to get a chance to earn that fat paycheck.
Over the course of his career, Cook has caught 131 balls, amassed 1,717 yards receiving and caught eight touchdown passes. He has done all this while only starting 11 games. His chance to shine as a full-time pass catcher is now. With the money he will be making, St. Louis can't afford to keep him off the field—nor would they want to.
The athleticism that Burke referenced was also brought up by ESPN's Mike Sando, who referenced a report by Scouts Inc. that tells you just about all you really need to know about Jared Cook.
"Cook is a tight end with prototypical size for the position and rare physical tools. He has struggled with a lack of consistency and hasn't lived up to his potential. He has the speed to be a consistent downfield threat and the athleticism and agility to be a solid route-runner on short to intermediate routes."
It's that lack of consistency that led to some criticism of the Cook signing by the NFL Network's Jason Smith.
Jared Cook to the Rams. STL will love his 12 weeks of no production followed by a hot December.— Jason Smith (@howaboutafresca) March 12, 2013
But that's the risk the Rams took. Much like many of the teams that spent big early in free agency, a Rams team badly in need of help in the aerial attack gambled.
If Cook's production lives up to his potential, then the Rams will have acquired a player who could join the likes of Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots as tight ends that present matchup nightmares for opposing defenses,
In a division with two playoff teams that improved before free agency even started, apparently that's a chance the St. Louis Rams felt they had to take.