Via Last Word On Pro Football, by Jim Weidner
When it comes to signing free agents, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson avoids it like most people avoid jury duty. Because of this, Thompson has drawn the ire of Packers fans, who feel like Thompson isn’t doing whatever he can to help take the Packers back to the Super Bowl. What makes Thompson’s disliking for free agency even more curious is that when Thompson does dip into free agency, which is rare, he has shown that he is good at it.
In season’s past, Thompson has signed free agent players such as Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett, and current Packers outside linebacker Julius Peppers. Woodson and Pickett were both integral parts of the Packers’ defense when they won the Super Bowl back in 2010. The Packers signed Peppers before the 2014 season after being released from the Chicago Bears. Since arriving in Title Town, Peppers has registered 25 sacks and has given the Packers a legitimate pass rushing threat opposite of fellow outside linebacker Clay Matthews. This offseason, Thompson was hoping that he found another success story when he signed tight end Jared Cook.
Signing Tight End Jared Cook is Paying Off for the Green Bay Packers
The Packers haven’t had a tight end who could stretch the middle of the field since former tight end Jermichael Finley wore the green and gold. Finley, who was just entering his prime, suffered a spinal injury during the 2013 season. The injury was so severe that it forced Finley into an early retirement. The Packers spent a third round draft pick in 2014 on tight end Richard Rodgers. Rodgers has proven to be sure handed, but lacks the speed to stretch the middle of the field. Because of this, the Packers looked to Cook last off-season to fill that need.
Cook, a seven-year veteran who had spent time with the Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis Rams, was known for his down the field speed but was also known for his inconsistency. Although blessed with superb speed and size, Cook’s best season came in 2014 with the Rams where he had 51 catches for a career high 671 yards receiving and another career high five touchdowns. Although for some tight ends, those numbers would be solid, but for somebody who has the natural ability that Cook has, it was a bit underwhelming.
Some blame for his lack of production can fall on the quarterbacks he played with when he was with the Titans and the Rams. That is one of the biggest reasons that drew Cook to the Packers, to play with a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers. Cook signed a modest one year “prove it” deal with the Packers this past off-season, betting that his value could be helped out by playing with Rodgers. It appears that Cook’s bet is paying off.
This season hasn’t been totally smooth going for Cook. In week four of this season against the Detroit Lions, Cook suffered a high ankle sprain which caused him to miss the next six games for the Packers. Cook would make it back to the lineup on November 20th and he made his presence felt right away. In that game against the Redskins, Cook caught 11 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Cook showed the type of play that the Packers had hoped he would bring this season, stretching the middle of the field and giving Rodgers a big target. It shouldn’t be considered much of a coincidence that the Packers offense started to bust out of their season long offensive funk once Cook made his way back into the lineup. Cook was the piece that the Packers had been missing.
Although Cook’s regular season numbers don’t blow you away, 30 catches for 377 yards with one touchdown, he has made his presence felt during the Packers playoff run. In the Packers two playoff wins against the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, Cook caught 11 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. He has become a favorite target of Rodgers, which was evident on the last offensive series of the Packers upset playoff win over the Cowboys last week.
With the game tied at 31-31 and only 35 seconds to play, Rodgers and the Packers offense were trying to get into field goal range to win the game in regulation. On third and 20, Rodgers drew up a play in the huddle to try and make this possible. On the play, Rodgers rolled left and threw a dart to Cook, who did a masterful job of controlling the ball and dragging both feet inbounds, giving the Packers a first down and setting Mason Crosby up for a game winning 51 yard field goal.
Until this season, Cook had never played in a playoff game. Not only have the Packers helped him end that streak but Cook in return has helped the Packers earn a trip to the NFC Championship. Thompson might not dip into free agency often, but it appears he has found a key piece to giving the Packers a chance to get back to this season’s Super Bowl.