HOUSTON -- Houston Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly was at home in April, riding on his Peloton, when he got a call from former coach and general manager Bill O’Brien that the team had traded for wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
Less than a month after trading wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals, Kelly said he was excited when he got the phone call because, he said, “I knew that we had a proven player who was dangerous.
“He is a guy who can run, who can get down the field, who can really threaten defensive backs with his speed,” Kelly said. “I knew he had really good hands. I knew he was a good route runner and I knew he was reliable. I was encouraged and really, he’s kind of fit every single one of those initial thoughts exactly the way that we thought.”
Because Cooks was traded during a year in which teams did not have on-field offseason programs and a full training camp due to the coronavirus pandemic, it took Cooks and quarterback Deshaun Watson some time to build the chemistry the quarterback already had with wide receiver Will Fuller. But once it clicked -- from “spending time in the film room and getting live reps during practices and games,” Cooks said -- the receiver became a consistent target for Watson.
“To me, I think the hardest part is really just building that chemistry with the person that’s throwing you the ball,” Kelly said of the challenges for Cooks after being traded three times. “Obviously, this season being a little bit unique without having really an offseason, without having a true training camp, it kind of made that process a little bit more difficult.
“But obviously by his stats, it isn’t something that’s held him back. He’s still found a way to go out and produce at a very high level, which I think is just a testament to him and his work ethic and the type of person and the type of player he is.”
In three games since Fuller was suspended, Cooks has 25 catches for 265 yards and a touchdown and missed one game with a neck injury. With 16 yards in Week 17, Cooks would become the second receiver in NFL history to have at least 1,000 receiving yards in a season with four different teams (New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams and Texans), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
After being traded from the Rams for a second-round pick, Cooks has 70 catches for 984 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games.
“With a couple of the other guys not here anymore, more focus is on him and they’re putting more coverage towards him and he’s still able to make plays and help us move the ball,” interim head coach Romeo Crennel said.
That group of “guys not here anymore”? Fuller, who was suspended for six games in November, Kenny Stills, who was waived because he wanted more playing time, and slot receiver Randall Cobb, who has been on injured reserve since Nov. 25. The Texans have four wide receivers under contract for 2021: Cooks, Cobb, Isaiah Coulter and Keke Coutee. Fuller was playing on his fifth-year option.
Although Cooks has three seasons left on the contract he signed with the Los Angeles Rams in 2018, none of the money left on the deal is guaranteed. He has a cap hit of $12 million next season and said Friday he “would love” to continue to play and “grow” with Watson. He also said that he has no interest in being traded a fourth time and that he’d “caution” the Texans “to think twice because quite frankly I’m not going to accept any more trades.”
“For me, if you want me off your team, you’re just going to have to let me walk and choose my destination,” Cooks said.
While the Texans will need to cut salaries to get under the expected 2021 cap, if they cut Cooks, Watson will likely be depending on young talent. Coulter, a 2020 fifth-round pick, has played only six snaps this season.
Houston could sign Cooks to a contract extension to guarantee him more of his contract and lower his cap hit going forward, but that’s likely a move for the Texans general manager, who owner Cal McNair is expected to hire before hiring a head coach.
Kelly said he’s “excited to see [Cooks] and Deshaun [Watson] continuing to grow together.” In his first season in Houston, Cooks has impressed.
“He’s versatile,” Kelly said. “He can work every area of the field. That’s just talking about Brandin and what he brings us on the field. The leadership that he brings off the field – his work ethic, the way that he prepares, the way that he practices every single day, it’s really been good for this team and really for Deshaun [Watson] to be able to have a guy out there that’s running every day.”