By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots’ trade of Brandin Cooks on Tuesday was certainly surprising but not altogether shocking. (“Certainly Surprising But Not Altogether Shocking” would be a great tagline for the entire Bill Belichick era, come to think of it.)
On the one hand, Cooks was very productive in his first year in New England, which is something that shouldn’t be discounted. Countless receivers — rookies and veterans alike — have tried and failed to assimilate quickly to New England’s offense. Some never made it through training camp. Others flamed out midseason. Still others were quietly shown the door after struggling through a whole season.
So the fact that Cooks hauled in 65 passes for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns, and the fact that he led the Patriots in yards from scrimmage with 1,122, and the fact that he drew another 141 yards of pass interference penalties in the regular season, and the fact that he had 100 receiving yards and drew another 68 yards in pass interference penalties in the AFC Championship Game? Those are all impressive figures, and ones that shouldn’t necessarily be dismissed outright.
In the hours since the trade has gone down, you’ve no doubt seen explanations of why Cooks didn’t exactly fit seamlessly into New England’s offense. There’s some element of truth to that. But still, the Joey Galloways and Chad Ochocincos and Chad Jacksons and Bethel Johnsons and Doug Gabriels and Aaron Dobsons and Brandon Tates and Taylor Prices would have loved to have “not fit in” to the Patriots’ system as well as Cooks.
But, almost entirely due to financial reasons, Cooks is a member of an exciting, young Los Angeles Rams team that is set to carry some lofty expectations into the 2018 season. The Patriots did very well to get a very good season out of Cooks on the field and then secure a first-round pick in return for a player with just one more year of team control left on his contract. And now Cooks has the rare distinction of being traded twice before his 25th birthday.
Cooks, who will turn 25 years old in September, was traded last year by the Saints, the team that drafted him as the 20th overall pick in 2014. At the time, he was a historically accomplished receiver for someone at age 23. And after a thousand-yard season with the Patriots, he continues to be one of the most productive receivers ever through his age 24 season.
For some perspective on how much Cooks has produced at his age compared to some of the greatest receivers of all time, here’s how they all produced through their age 24 seasons. Listed below are those who are either among the leading receivers of all time, are in the Hall of Fame, or both. Any player’s stats that surpass Cooks’ are bolded and italicized; stats that match Cooks’ are italicized and underlined.
280 receptions, 3,943 yards, 27 TDs
135 receptions, 2,497 yards, 18 TDs
95 receptions, 1,456 yards, 12 TDs
330 receptions, 4,544 yards, 34 TDs
308 receptions, 5,396 yards, 53 TDs
224 receptions, 3,391 yards, 23 TDs
Tony Gonzalez (tight end)
261 receptions, 3,041 yards, 24 TDs
62 receptions, 998 yards, 8 TDs
152 receptions, 2,136 yards, 10 TDs
64 receptions, 836 yards, 8 TDs
76 receptions, 1,061 yards, 4 TDs
208 receptions, 2,806 yards, 12 TDs
171 receptions, 3,012 yards, 14 TDs
89 receptions, 1,450 yards, 19 TDs
157 receptions, 2,000 yards, 9 TDs
229 receptions, 3,096 yards, 22 TDs
158 receptions, 2,516 yards, 22 TDs
93 receptions, 1,571 yards, 14 TDs
114 receptions, 1,691 yards, 9 TDs
Jason Witten (tight end)
252 receptions, 2,838 yards, 14 TDs
66 receptions, 1,174 yards, 10 TDs
104 receptions, 1,701 yards, 11 TDs
45 receptions, 803 yards, 7 TDs
78 receptions, 1,445 yards, 12 TDs
132 receptions, 2,666 yards, 27 TDs
Obviously, it’s a passing era in the NFL. So comparisons to some receivers from long ago aren’t apples to apples. Still, those numbers stand out. And here is how Cooks compares to some contemporaries, again through their age 24 seasons. The list includes some players who have led the league in receiving yards and/or appeared on All-Pro teams.
280 receptions, 3,943 yards, 27 TDs
80 receptions, 1,154 yards, 7 TDs
Odell Beckham Jr.
288 receptions, 4,122 yards, 35 TDs
156 receptions, 2,017 yards, 12 TDs
151 receptions, 2,062 yards, 7 TDs
200 receptions, 2,871 yards, 27 TDs
173 receptions, 2,685 yards, 25 TDs
309 receptions, 4,579 yards, 32 TDs
105 receptions, 1,353 yards, 15 TDs
161 receptions, 2,754 yards, 14 TDs
162 receptions, 2,407 yards, 18 TDs
226 receptions, 3,255 yards, 42 TDs
134 receptions, 2,423 yards, 12 TDs
132 receptions, 1,944 yards, 12 TDs
193 receptions, 3,071 yards, 21 TDs
97 receptions, 1,495 yards, 6 TDs
174 receptions, 2,737 yards, 20 TDs
288 receptions, 3,051 yards, 13 TDs
226 receptions, 2,899 yards, 15 TDs
54 receptions, 834 yards, 6 TDs
192 receptions, 3,052 yards, 25 TDs
Of that group of 20 receivers, only one was traded prior to his 25th birthday — Sammy Watkins.
Watkins is also included because the deal he just signed with Kansas City — three years, $48 million, with $30 million guaranteed — figures to be the reason Cooks was traded by the Patriots. Considering Cooks has nearly 100 more receptions and nearly 1,000 more yards, the Watkins contract has to be a starting point for negotiations on his next contract. The Patriots have paid top-of-the-market money to exactly one wide receiver; his name was Randy. Brandin is no Randy.
Still, when you take a step back and see just how productive Cooks has been as a young receiver in the league, it’s surprising to see a player of that caliber traded twice already. Plus, he’s certainly not cut from the mold of the “diva receiver,” a la Terrell Owens, and he’s been involved in no problems off the field. The man’s hobby is photography, for goodness’ sake. He hasn’t demanded top dollar, like Odell Beckham is currently doing. The one mark against Cooks is that one time, he said one thing: “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” Aside from that, there’s never been a peep about Cooks being a bad teammate or anything of the sort.
So, that’s really where it stands. Cooks has been uniquely productive at a very young age, trailing only some of the all-time greats (and Mike Evans). setting him to potentially climb very high on some lists of all-time receiving records. But he’ll also be playing for his third time in just his fifth NFL season.
It’s a pretty unique situation, but creating unique situations has come to define the impossible-to-predict Patriots over the past two decades.