How Much Money Should the Titans Give Jared Cook?

He'll be able to buy a lot of cookies soon.

Its been an interesting week here at MCM. The re-signing of Michael Griffin sparked several interesting debates and with him under contract, the Titans actually increased their cap space (to about 20 million if my estimates are correct). The biggest question to me now is what the Titans should do with Jared Cook. He has tantalized Titans fans for three years now, finally breaking out last season. Will he ascend into the upper tier of tight ends this year or will he continue to merely be a talent tease? He's also set to become a free agent after the year, so the Titans have a decision to make.

Let me first state that I have no idea if or when the Titans will attempt to re-sign Jared Cook. Perhaps this post will prove premature, or maybe they let him walk at the end of the season. I do want to take a look at the type of contract Cook might ask for, and that begins with looking at the contracts of the other tight ends. He finished 14th in tight end yardage this year, so I went through and looked at the contracts for the top twenty tight ends. Take the leap of faith to see the list.

*Note: All numbers are from Rotoworld.com, and dollar amounts are listed on per year averages.

Player Years Average Guaranteed
1 Rob Gronkowski 8 6.90M 13.17M
2 Jimmy Graham 4 0.61M
3 Jason Witten 5 7.40M 19M
4 Aaron Hernandez 4 0.60M
5 Tony Gonzalez 2 6.33M
6 Dustin Keller 1 3.05M
7 Brent Celek 8 4.25M 11M
8 Fred Davis 1 5.47M
9 Vernon Davis 6 7.12M 23M
10 Antonio Gates 6 6.63M 20.4M
11 Brandon Pettigrew 6 2.43M 9.37M
12 Jermichael Finley 2 7.00M
13 Kellen Winslow 6 6.02M 20.1M
14 Jared Cook 4 0.61M
15 Owen Daniels 4 5.50M 6M
16 Heath Miller 6 5.88M
17 Jake Ballard 1 0.54M
18 Jermaine Gresham 5 3.17M 9.6M
19 Greg Olsen 5 4.94M 8.7M
20 Ed Dickson 3 0.62M

I've tried to find what I think are some comparables for Jared Cook in this list, taking into account what type of contract they are on (read: excluding mammoth rookie deals or huge deals for the elite tight ends) and production.

Let's first start with Brent Celek, making 4.25M per year. His early career mimics Cook's, with two years of minimal production (178 and 318 yards) and then a breakout third season (971 yards). Cook had 74 yards his first season, 361 in the second and most recently 759. This looks like a good comparison, except that in the following two years Celek's numbers dropped by 400 yards and then rose by 300.

Next up is Fred Davis, coming in at 5.47M this year. Davis had a terrible rookie season (27 yards!), but had a strong fourth year. He had 796 yards in 12 starts (and 12 games played only). That number is far higher than any of his other years (about 500 and 300 yards in the previous seasons).

At 5.50M, Owen Daniels is the next tight end comparison. Even with two years of injury shortened seasons, his numbers are pretty good: 352, 768, 862, 519, 471, 677 from his first to most recent season. Ever since his first year Daniels has been very consistent. The two smaller numbers are a result of playing roughly half a season only. He was on pace to be right around that 700-800 yard mark again.

I'm not completely sure what the Steelers were thinking when they handed Heath Miller a six year deal at 5.88M each season. In his seven year career he has topped 600 yards twice, once registering over 700 yards. He seems to be good for 500 yards or so each season, but his deal looks excessive to me.

The last comparison is Greg Olsen. He is a 400-600 yard type of guy, but he had a pretty good first season in Carolina. My guess is that the Panthers organization feels with Cam Newton there he's set for a bump in yardage.

So we come to the dilemma. Jared Cook may break out and become the next Rob Gronkowski but no one in their right mind will argue he should be paid like him. I would love for him to get a similar deal to Celek, but its likely Celek's number is somewhat deflated because of the longevity of the deal. At ~4M a season, the deal is a no-brainer. Even if he doesn't improve, its still a friendly contract for the Titans. The Steelers are paying more for less. This is probably the ideal situation however, as I could see Cook asking for 5-6M a season, putting him alongside the other tight ends listed above. Now, when I initially started this post I was going to recommend holding off at anything over 4M, but it certainly seems like I didn't understand the market well enough. These other tight ends have helped set the market for Cook. Of the comparables, Owen Daniels is the tight end I respect the most, and would love for Cook to have that sort of season-to-season consistency. At 5.5M, I would still get a deal done. It is definitely a lot to pay for someone with one year of production. Everyone knows I hate "potential" but we don't have many options. As well, it doesn't look like there is a lot of variability in the per year numbers for what I would consider to be the second tier of tight ends. If at any point Cook wants Gronkowski/Witten/Gonzalez money, I have no problem letting him go. For the rest of the tight ends, the 4-6M dollar range is a good fit. I also think Cook has a better opportunity to put up 700 yards yearly with a pass-friendly offense.

I don't foresee the guaranteed money being an issue. Most of the tight ends got a good signing bonus, and the good ones got a portion of their deal guaranteed. Let's say we go with a 4 year deal, at 5.50M per year. Daniels got 6M, I'd expect the Titans to give Cook 8-9M and close the deal.

What do you guys think? Let's say he's signed for four years, 22 million dollars. Is it too high? Not enough? Will he demand even more than that?

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