Brian Allee-Walsh

The Saints may have found exactly what they were missing on offense

If reports are true, the New Orleans Saints finally stepped out in free agency, signing well-traveled tight end Jared Cook.

Once the leagues signs off on the multi-year deal, the Saints will have addressed a major off-season need. Spotrac estimates Cook’s market value at $7.2 million annually.

The news was first reported by NFL Network.

Nothing against recently retired TE Ben Watson — he was a class act and a solid contributor during two stints with the Black and Gold — but that position has been underwhelming since the blockbuster trade of Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks in 2015.

That observation is based largely on two mostly unproductive seasons turned in by TE Coby Fleener, whom the Saints signed to a five-year, $36 million contract in March 2016. After two pedestrian seasons when Fleener had more drops than touchdown catches, the Saints released him with three years remaining on his deal.

Saints officials continue to pay for that mistake. He stills counts $3.2 million in dead money against the team’s current salary cap; $5 million last season.

Cook comes by way of the Oakland Raiders where he caught a team-high 122 passes for 1,584 yards and eight touchdowns the past two seasons, including 68 for 896 yards and six TDs, all career highs in 2018. He was named to his first Pro Bowl as a replacement for Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce.

By comparison, Graham posted 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 TDs in 2014, his last season in New Orleans. A veritable steal in the third round of the 2010 draft, Graham left an indelible impression in five seasons with the Black and Gold, catching 386 passes for 3,572 yards and 51 touchdowns.

He hasn’t come close to matching that productivity in Seattle (2015-17) and Green Bay (2018), accounting for 174 catches for 2,684 yards and 20 touchdowns playing with quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, respectively.

New Orleans will be Cook’s fifth stop in the NFL, his 11th season overall. Originally a third-round pick by Tennessee in 2009, he also has played with the Rams (2013-’15) and Packers (2016) and established himself as one of the game’s best pass-catching tight ends.

Look for Cook, who turns 32 on April 7, to flourish in the Saints’ passing game. At 6-foot-5, 254 pounds, he should give QB Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton a big target up the seam and in the red zone.

In addition to constantly targeting big-play WR Michael Thomas, it appears Brees now can go to Jared.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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