On one level you have probably the biggest Cooks supporter that exists among Saints fans, but in this case I’m coming out as a writer not an ORST alum. Some of the criticisms for Brandin Cooks recent tweets about needing to be a ‘businessman’ after having 0 targets in 40+ snaps last Sunday. Some of that is warranted as the Saints are a closed door organization that doesn’t put up with guys pandering to the media to get what they want, however a lot of it is simply ridiculous. I’m going to address this on both levels, on the field and off because the reality is that this issue impacts both.
On the field:
There is a legit issue with a player complaining about touches when the team just put up 49 points and 555 yards on a top 5 defense. However, it’s also fair for that player to say that in general they would like to see the full repertoire of their skillset. This isn’t the only game where Cooks has been used as a distraction and it won’t be the last, both Payton and Brees are guys who generally prefer to attack the weakness of a defense. Neither is inclined to go to a player the defense is focusing on unless they have to, they’ll take easy yards and the ‘smart’ play every time. This was true last Sunday, it was true a couple of years ago when Jimmy Graham didn’t have a catch against the Steelers (who the Saints also picked apart), and it will be true the next time it happens as well. Brandin is going to have to come to terms with that. Mike Thomas barely got targeted against the Panthers recently, Willie Snead is Drew’s first read some games, and his last on others. That is simply how the Saints offense works and if Brandin can’t come to terms with that he is going to be ‘frustrated’ a lot.
What he needs to remember, and what Saints fans and some ‘bloggers’ need to remember is that when opponents DON’T specifically scheme to take him out of the game he is a major part of the game plan. Cooks has 736 yards so far this year and the Saints have Tampa Bay twice and the Atlanta Falcons who have lost their best corner. There is a very real chance that Cooks could rack up 364 yards and 3 TD’s in those 3 games ALONE. Those figures would put him at 1100 yards and 10 TD’s, and if he got 100 yards combined in the other 2 games he would reach the 1200 yard mark. Those figures would not only entitle Cooks to a sizable contract in a couple of years, but would also establish him as a top level receiver in the league. Glory, fame, and a big payday are on the horizon for Cooks which is something EVERY player wants. If Cooks wants to be a household name, if he wants to be a ‘features’ guy in the offense then he has to understand that in THIS offense the ‘featured’ guy is whoever has the best matchup. However, with Cook’s abilities he is going to be that player very frequently, and his ability to beat opponents deep and flip a game in a single play is one that teams fear greatly. He shouldn’t be bothered by his role, he should be proud of it, and so should fans.
Cooks not only owns two of the most explosive plays in the NFL this season, but has also shown the ability to dictate coverage to opponents which is a CLEAR indicator of being a featured option. I do believe that Payton can and will find ways to get Cooks a few more touches, and he will get him involved in the slot and some deep crossing routes to vary things a little more, but Sean will only do that in a way that still fits within the confines of the offense. Brandin isn’t a Randy Moss whose talents were so extreme both opponents and his coaches to bend to his whims, but he is an impactful player who scares defenses and is a tremendous help to the team. Cooks opens up the running lanes for Ingram, he opens up the middle of the field for Willie and Mike, and in case anyone has forgotten his tremendous TD against the Broncos a couple of weeks ago he can make big plays when the Saints need him most.
Off the field:
This side of things is at once more complicated and more simple that the ‘on the field’ side of things. On the one hand what it seems (and I use the word seems here because nothing is confirmed) like what we have here is a 23 year old young man whose role has been changed 3 times in 3 years as a pro. He was drafted as an explosive playmaker to both compliment and feed off of their dominant tight end. Then Jimmy was traded away and suddenly Brandin was the most dynamic threat in the offense and was now responsible for being the primary playmaker and threat, he responded by giving the team 1100 yards and 9 TD’s. This year he is still the ‘number one’ option, but he is also the responsible for creating opportunities for his teammates by drawing coverage so they can prosper.
Imagine if you will that you were brought in to a company to fill one of the most coveted positions in the world, and just as you start to become acclimated they move you over to a new department, and then the next year they move you over again. This is similar to what has happened to Cooks. He is the player whose role has changed each year, he is the player who isn’t sure how much the team values him and whether he is given the chance to flourish to the best of his abilities. Of course he’s a little frustrated, I’m 27 and I would be, Brandin is only 23. I’m not excusing it, and if he is putting his own ‘numbers’ over the team then his value to said team does decrease greatly. But brushing off what is likely a legitimate feeling of hurt pride, not feeling like you are valued as you should be, and wanting to prove all the naysayers wrong (even Saints fans can’t help themselves by constantly bringing up his size, same as Drew). I will damn near guarantee that Cooks plays with a chip on his shoulder, and if he is feeling underappreciated then to a degree its up to the coaches to let him know he’s valued. The other side of it is that he has to grow up and decide that being a part of a great unit, is more important than likely a couple of hundred yards.
The one thing I caution EVERYONE against is deciding for ourselves what a young man should and should not feel is important. Brandin’s issues for now are between him and his coaches. Unless him, Sean, or Drew come out in an interview and make things public…then for now assume that this is the work of agent’s and or friends who are trying to pressure the team. I have no problem with him being disgruntled with his role as long as he continues to fill it and work as hard as he has up to this point, I have a problem if he takes it to the next level. For now…that is not the case.