The official numbers are in for Brandin Cooks thanks to Ben Volin and the contract certainly lives up to the hype. At $81 million over 5 years, Cooks is now tied with DeAndre Hopkins for the 3rd largest receiver contract by APY in the league. It’s a massive investment for a player who has been traded two times in two years and hasn’t played a down for the team he is currently under contract with. So lets look at the deal.
First of all lets look at the top contracts signed in the last two years.
|Player||Year Signed||Years||Age at Signing||Total||APY||Guaranteed|
Clearly that is strong company for Cooks. His deal looks even better when you dig deeper and get into the new money cash flows of the contract.
|Player||Year 0||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Year 5|
Cooks will walk away with the largest year 1 take home among all players. After two years he will earn less than only Brown. His three year is less than only Brown and tied with Mike Evans. He dips further in year 4 and 5, however Cooks also has incentives in his contract that can make him the highest paid receiver in the NFL so if he lives up to the contract he will rise above Evans and Hopkins. Structurally he will receive massive bonuses that really make the contract incredibly strong compared to his peers.
Financially he is being paid as a number 1. The question is does he fit the billing? Lets first look at the general stats for the players above. Stats are for the two years leading up to the new contract.
|Player||Year Signed||Age||Avg. Pt||Games||Tgt||Rec||Yds||Tds|
Over the two year period Cooks certainly fits in with the group. He has been healthy has good yardage numbers and reasonable touchdown production. Where his numbers drop though are in his targets. At just 231 he is second to last among the set of players only ahead of Watkins. Cooks has had a benefit of playing in two high powered passing offenses something that many of the other players do not have. Lets look at his production as a percentage of the team offense.
|Player||Pct Team Tgt||Pct Team Rec||Pct Team Yds||Pct Team Tds|
Here Cooks ranks ahead of only Watkins in the first three categories and dead last in touchdowns. Considering Watkins is hurt so much if we did everything on a game by game basis my guess is he will rank dead last among all of these players. These are the kind of numbers that make me think he should be graded a tier down (the 1A tier) rather than the pure 1 tier. The difference is a few million a season.
Where Cooks does stand out is that he is a home run hitter type. His 9.7 yards per target and 15.8 yards per reception ranks tops among the group. His catch rate is a bit low relative to the teams he has played on but that’s to be expected when you are taking more downfield shots.
Will that fit with the Rams as Jared Goff develops? I guess its possible. He fits the same mold as a Watkins who is also a 15+ yards per catch type and the Rams took a shot with Watkins last season. It didn’t work with Watkins but Goff will be a year older this time around and things can change.
My feeling is for the Rams to get value out of the contract they need two things to happen. One is that Cooks maintains his ability to stretch the field. I think that can be hit or miss. DeSean Jackson certainly kept that up for his career. Other players haven’t been able to. If he can’t can he reinvent himself as more of a possession type?
The second thing is that the Rams are going to have to run a more open offense. If Watkins failure was a byproduct of the offense rather than the player its not a good sign. Based on what they ran last season and what Cooks typically does you would likely be looking at a 850 to 900 yard season which is in no way going to justify the contract. He has to be over 1,000 yards to make this work. But again you have a QB a year older and a player you expect to improve the offense not have it remain status quo. That should be a reasonable expectation as Cooks is better than Watkins and QBs generally improve from year 1 to year 2. But it is a risk for the Rams who had a large number of big contracts to get done.
The contract is really a byproduct of the changing dynamics of the receiver position and the fact that the Rams really were not in a position of strength. On the Rams front they have a number of potential free agents/contract worries and they have given up a lot for Watkins and Cooks. They may not have the franchise tag at their disposal next season and to lose all the draft picks and not have Watkins or Cooks to show for it would look bad. This avoids that issue.
The market for receivers changed dramatically over the last two years. What had been pretty firm for ages is that the market more or less was capped off for top players at $14-15 million a season, 2s were capped off at $8 million, and 3s around $4 million. Things began to slowly shift in 2016 when the Seahawks and Broncos did $11M+ contracts for veteran receivers Doug Baldwin and Emmanuel Sanders, who were not traditional 1’s, moved into a somewhat vacant 1A territory.
The big shift in my mind then occurred last December when the Eagles did a $13 million a year contract for Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery would be 28 in 2018, was basically an 800 yard player, and had not had a full great season since 2014 when he played alongside Brandon Marshall in Chicago. Not surprisingly the Eagles deal set in motion Davante Adams $14.5 million contract, which helped lead to Allen Robinson’s $14 million contract, the absurd $16 million contract for Watkins and a $15.1 million contract for Cooks. I think without those deals this one never comes close to happening at this number.
Id expect the WR market to really cram up from this point forward. For whatever reason Hopkins and Evans both accepted the Brown contract as a market capper. You can’t argue with Brown being the best receiver in the NFL, because he is, but he was also 29 when the contract was signed, not 25 or 26. Age should play a major role when evaluating the players and it is not as if the best player at position has not seen contracts surpassed before- Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tyron Smith, and Rob Gronkowski to name a few- all saw their contracts surpassed by lesser players.
When things happen like what is going on with the receivers now its when you get a very inefficient marketplace. This is what happened with QB’s in the years prior to the Derek Carr extension and has been the case with tight ends pretty much since Jimmy Graham and Gronkowski set limits at $9 or $10 million a season. If you look at the spreads at those positions the difference between the best and 13th best player on the field was pretty large but the salary was very close.
While things can change with an Odell Beckham extension he would need to sign a massive extension just to allow room for growth. In the past the mega extensions (i.e. Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald) didn’t really have that kind of impact but at least it leaves room for argument. If Beckham signs for say $17.1M a year you are going to likely see more than half the league with a wideout between $14.5 and $17.1 million.
This will be an interesting time for the Rams moving forward and may be the start of a juggling act for the Rams. This is the first mega extension the team has on the books, but it wont be the last. Upcoming free agents include Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Lamarcus Joyner next season with Todd Gurley and Marcus Peters the following year (both likely angling for extension this summer). That is a lot to spend over two years. The team also has to revamp its offensive line that will be filled with veteran free agents over the next two years and it has gotten expensive to sign linemen.
While the Rams certainly have the benefit of Goff on a rookie contract they probably need to structure their deals in a way where guys are low cap numbers this year, high in 2019, and began to get low again in 2020 when Goff will likely be extended if he lives up to the billing. That is a tightrope act to balance signing bonuses and roster bonuses to frontload cash and backload cap in a reasonable manner. The fact that they used an option on Cooks that is gigantic likely indicates that their long term contracts will truly be long term to make everything work and will result in some sacrifices along the way and a real need to hit in the draft the next two seasons.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.