The Texans backed up their words and paid Brandin Cooks like a core player

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After an offseason of mostly dull signings, the Texans did exactly what you could have predicted they’d do by their words: They re-signed Brandin Cooks to a two-year extension that is commensurate value for his performance.

We don’t quite have full details of the deal, but at the very least, this will likely tie Cooks to the Texans for the next two seasons. It’s possible that the third year is also onerous enough to latch Cooks on to the roster because that’s a large amount of guarantees, but we’d need the full contract structure to know for sure. (And there’s also the question of if the deal is guaranteed for injury or fully guaranteed … agents tend to promote whatever part of it looks best. We’ll see where this comes in.)

Cooks is the Texans player that everyone always calls underrated. But underrated is a buzz word used by people who don’t actually watch players and just see some line score stat compilations and don’t hear anyone else talking about the player. He’s in a perfect situation to be underrated. In his first year without The Quarterback Who Used To Play Here, Cooks morphed into a volume receiver. He finished sixth among qualified receivers in Targeted Air Yards at 36.7%. That was up almost 6 percent from 2020. He performed better with Davis Mills in the lineup and I don’t think that was a mistake — Mills started the year extremely focused on Cooks and often had problems getting to his second read. It also made some sense to focus on Cooks because, well, nobody else in the lineup was producing or winning often.

I think in an ideal world, Cooks would lose a little of his volume. His rate stats declined slightly under extra target duress this year — he gained just 3.8 yards after the catch, his lowest since 2017, and a career-low 50% of his catches went for first downs against a career average of 60.8%. That probably relies on the Texans getting more established weapons around him, something that they’re going to have to dream into existence via a Nico Collins breakout or a highly-drafted wideout.

I don’t have to admit it often over the past few years, but the Texans made a better evaluation of Cooks than I did when they traded for him. My major concern was about the concussions, and while I believe he has been evaluated once or twice for one in his Texans career, he’s been able to stay healthy for the most part. Now whether Cooks is more valuable than the player he was ultimately traded for, Van Jefferson on a rookie contract, is probably an open question depending on how you feel about tanking. Lance Zierlein pegged Cooks’ value at about a fourth-round pick now. That’s not what Texans fans want to hear, but it could also help explain why there was not a trade. Jeremy Fowler noted that teams were still worried about Cooks’ concussions in the past.

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Of course, if you actually listened to the way the Texans talked about Cooks, you’d realize that there was no way he was getting traded. It’s been a constant barrage of positivity about his leadership, to the point where Houston media began parroting what they’d heard and started asking other players about it often.

I will be honest, from the outside, I don’t get it. Cooks complained loudly about Mark Ingram getting traded, calling it “bullshit.” He pouted that he would retire if he was traded before the Nick Caserio hiring. He quipped “at least someone’s doing great things this year” about the Astros playoff run. I’m not saying he doesn’t work hard, and I’m not saying he doesn’t do other great things inside the building. But the leadership that we can see doesn’t quite mesh with what we hear about it.

Regardless of my own feelings about his leadership, it’s clear that everyone on the personnel side values who he is as a person. He was an Easterby guy in New England. He is, as far as I know, the only player on the team to directly be asked about Easterby and provide a fully positive response.

And thus, this extension felt like something that was always going to happen — it was just a matter of when.

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Where I ultimately come down on the issue of keeping him versus trading him is that I don’t think it actually matters. I know that’s kind of odd to hear about the Texans actually taking a stand on someone, but it feels like they took a stand on him so long ago that this didn’t change much. Would I have traded Brandin Cooks for a second-round pick if I were general manager? Probably. But I don’t think the team is going anywhere, and I would just be trying to accumulate long-term value. If all they could get was a three or a four, well, it makes sense to keep him.

I don’t think it’s a bad contract — it’s a contract that has some shock value, even to me, but when you compare it to other extensions signed this offseason there’s some sense in it. The other part of it is that the Texans still have a ton of cap space in 2023 and 2024, no matter what. This doesn’t lock them out of doing anything. And anyone who has had to be the face of this miserable last two years deserves to be well-compensated for it.

I don’t think there’s a reason to believe that Cooks is going to fall apart in the near future. His speed looked normal last year. There’s nothing in watching his sample of passes that gives me cause for concern. It’s just that they need many, many more players as good or better than him to create any momentum as a franchise.

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