Brandin Cooks Trade Too Little, Too Late for Bill O'Brien to Salvage Offseason

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystApril 10, 2020

Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Buffalo Bills Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

In a sports world that is mostly frozen in place, the NFL offseason has been a respite for sports-starved folks everywhere. It's a bit of normalcy in a time that's anything but, a reminder there are still some certainties in life during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Certainties like wide receiver Brandin Cooks getting traded and Houston Texans head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien making ill-advised personnel moves.

As ESPN's Lindsey Thiry reported, the Texans acquired Cooks, who hauled in 42 passes for 583 yards and two scores in 14 games for the Los Angeles Rams in 2019, for a second-round pick in the 2020 draft. Los Angeles also sent a fourth-rounder to Houston.

At first glance, the move looks sound.

Prior to last season's injury-marred campaign, Cooks had peeled off four straight campaigns with over 1,000 receiving yards, including a career-best 1,204 yards in 2018. The 26-year-old went to one Super Bowl with the New England Patriots in 2017 and played in another (against the Pats) with the Rams the next year.

It's on the second and third glances where things start to fall apart.

To his credit, Cooks has shown the ability to consistently do damage vertically when healthy. He topped 15 yards per grab three years running from 2016-18, and at February's combine, Rams general manager Les Snead talked up his ability to take the top off a defense while simultaneously downplaying last season's diminished numbers.

"For his sake and for us, you always want players to catch more balls or have more yards. The one element that I think Brandin does not get credit for is that he can really run and he can stretch the defense vertically," Snead said, per Josh Edwards of CBS Sports.

John Hefti/Associated Press

But while Cooks has piled up receiving yards over his career, he's also racking up the frequent flyer miles. Heading into his seventh NFL season, he's already on his fourth team.

Each and every time, he was traded. From New Orleans to New England to Los Angeles and now to Houston.

Then there's that down 2019 season. Cooks' numbers a year ago were the worst of his career in every category except yards and yards per catch. His targets per game were also a career low. And while the two games he missed were his first since 2014 (his rookie season), the two concussions that caused that absence bring the known total he's suffered in six NFL seasons to five.

The numbers and injury history are both massive red flags. They're red flags O'Brien decided to ignore because he painted himself into a corner and had to do so.

O'Brien's decision to send wideout DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona in exchange for running back David Johnson (and a pick swap that will be addressed soon) was the most-lambasted move of the 2020 offseason. His own mother put him on full blast after he dealt away arguably the most dangerous receiver in the game.

There's no actual evidence that happened. But we can hope, right?

Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

Well, this was an attempt to erase that trade from the memory of fans, pundits and, most assuredly, his maybe-unhappy franchise quarterback. Literally. The Texans got a second-rounder from the Redbirds and sent one to the Rams. Houston gave a fourth-rounder to Arizona and got one back from Los Angeles.

Nothing to see here folks. Just a wide receiver swap. O'Brien even got a running back with 2,000 all-purpose yards in the process.

Trust the process.

The problem is that the process would look a lot better if this was 2016. And as much as we all might wish it was, it ain't.

In addition to the down year Cooks just had, Johnson didn't hit 350 rushing yards and lost his starting gig to Kenyan Drake. He hasn't averaged four yards per carry since that big 2016 season, and his cap hit in 2020 is $11 million and change.

Which brings us to the money.

As reported by ESPN's Sarah Barshop, O'Brien indicated that finances played a part in shipping Hopkins to the desert.

"I would say the deal with Arizona was a deal that we felt was in the best interest of our team," the head coach said on a Friday conference call for Texans season-ticket holders. "DeAndre Hopkins was a great football player here. He made so many plays for us. We love DeAndre Hopkins. But he had three years left on his deal, and he wanted a raise. And we weren't going to be able to go in that direction."

In August 2017, Hopkins signed a five-year, $81 million extension with Houston that carries a $12.5 million cap hit in 2020. He'll soon get a new deal from the Cardinals, largely because he has two 1,500-yard and three 100-reception seasons.

Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

In July 2018, Cooks signed a five-year, $81 million deal with the Rams. His cap hit in 2020 is lower ($8 million), and there's an out after the season, largely because his total of 1,500-yard or 100-catch seasons is the same as mine.

In the days to come, there's an excellent chance O'Brien will say this was the plan all along: two for the price of one. That Johnson and Cooks together will get the Texans closer to a Super Bowl than Hopkins could.

Trust the process.

Except the one the Texans lost (Hopkins) is more valuable between the lines than the two they got (Cooks and Johnson). The two Houston received (at least in the short term, which is all that should matter to the always-a-bridesmaid Texans) will cost more than the one it gave up.

Maybe it was the fans. Or his quarterback. Or that he's, from all indications, a much better coach than a general manager. Whatever the reason. O'Brien decided he had to make a splash.

Too bad it won't erase the last one.

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