Houston’s Randall Cobb signing has more than a whiff of panic

Reeling from the backlash they were receiving from pretty much every sphere of NFL media, the Texans quietly agreed to terms with long-time Packers wideout Randall Cobb late Monday night. Cobb, who is coming off an empirically solid season with the Cowboys, was targeted 83 times, caught 66% of his passes, and had a 5.5% DVOA. If you look at this move solely in the context of “the Texans traded away a great receiver and needed some sort of guarantee out of his replacement,” it has some sense to it. But if you poke at the veneer harder on any area of this signing, it starts to fall apart. Particularly at the price tag: a reported three-year, $27 million deal with $19 million in guarantees.

— Cobb’s 5.5% DVOA was 33rd among starting wideouts last year, but with the Cowboys having a dynamic offense, it clearly puts him at the bottom of their pecking order. Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup had higher receiving DVOAs. Ezekiel Elliott had a higher receiving DVOA. Blake Jarwin had a higher receiving DVOA. Jason Witten did not have a higher receiving DVOA, but he also can’t do anything but catch the ball and fall down, and his DVOA was still a perfectly average 0.0%. Cobb wasn’t adding a lot to his offense last year.

— If you look at the Next Gen Stats, Cobb was given more cushion than any other Cowboys receiver last season, at 6.2 yards on average. None of their other primary receivers even got to 6-flat.

— Cobb is no longer an elite separator like he was early in his career. He was above average on expected yards after catch, generating 6.2 against expected.5.8. But to put that in to perspective, D.K. Metcalf got that same amount over average and it took him a week to run the three-cone drill. He was also only 0.1 yards after catch over average in 2018, in a much worse offense.

— Cobb ran almost all of his routes inside the numbers, meaning that he lessens the ability of a Will Fuller to go inside and get some easier targets in 3WR situations.

— Cobb doesn’t fit the typical Texans signing of a young player they can mold. He’ll turn 30 in August. His list of PFR similar players is daunting as far as good expectations: Alfred Jenkins, Danny Abramowicz, Dwayne Bowe, Alshon Jeffery, Jeremy Maclin, Brett Perriman, Eddie Brown, Darrell Jackson, Doug Baldwin, Carl Pickens. Only one of those players had even an 800-yard season after turning 30. (Perriman wrecked shop with the 95-96 Lions after a complex career arc.) Many of them didn’t even play at age 30!

To go out and sign Cobb on the first day of tampering and give him $19 million guaranteed when a similar receiver like Danny Amendola signed for $3 million total reeks of desperation. To do it before they figure out where potential turn-around candidates or rising players like Robby Anderson or Breshad Perriman — more typical Texans-type targets — were going to go is malpractice. And if you’re looking at that sentence saying the Texans were only looking for an inside receiver type, I’ve got news for you: Fuller is never healthy and Kenny Stills missed plenty of games last year. They very well might need someone who can play outside! Keke Coutee sure as hell won’t be catching passes here next year, he doesn’t practice right!

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Of Cobb’s 83 targets last year, Sports Info Solutions documented 25 of them as curls, passes to the flat, or out routes. 48 of his targets came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He turned exactly zero of them into 20 yards, and those passes averaged 5.8 yards per attempt. I think it’s fair to say he still has some elusiveness, but it’s not like once he evades a tackler he’s taking it to the house. He’s just not that kind of athlete at this age. He’s better at creating separation in routes, though some of his longest completions of the year were kinda horseshit in retrospect:

If you focus more intently on his 11+ yard targets, you hit the reason I think he was signed. The Cowboys ran deep cross and posts a lot last year, and because Bill O’Brien would make an honest lady out of the Yankee concept, I think he saw what Cobb could do in that sort of scenario and was rather smitten with it.

Two other big things came up to me while watching his targets. One: his drops (second in the league with 10) in a new offense — how will that translate?

Finally, the scheme and design of Dallas-motion heavy offense helped Cobb create separation. Look at how much headway he has against Micah Hyde just because of how the Cowboys ran this play:

I think the Cowboys put Cobb into a very optimal role for him last year, up to and including a tissue-soft schedule that had only two terrific pass defenses (New England and Buffalo). Unraveling how Cobb will look without the same sort of offensive design help and clearly better receivers is a bit more complex, but I definitely learn towards pessimism on it.

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Now, I want to be clear that I very much like Randall Cobb as a person. I think the Aaron Rodgers State Farm ads jumped the shark the moment they took Cobb out of them, as he was actually funny. He’s had a good NFL career. He seems to be, by all accounts, a stand-up, solid guy. I’m almost positive that factored into the decision to sign him because there’s no other logic I can think of that would matter to the Texans.

It’s just such a wonky note compared to the tune that the Texans normally play that, from the outside, there’s no way I can look at it and not see the desperation. The team trades a star and immediately feels the need to sign someone old to a consequential contract right away for the first time in the O’Brien era?

I’ll be pulling for Cobb, it’s nothing personal. But I think this deal — isolated from Hopkins, just on its own — has a massive chance to blow up in Bill O’Brien’s face. I would not at all be surprised if Cobb made it just one season with the team.

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