Packers had interest in Jared Cook all along, tried to trade for him

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Maybe any free-agent signing would excite Mike McCarthy, but the Green Bay Packers coach sure seemed enthusiastic when Jared Cook's name came up last week.

If the free-agent tight end, who signed Monday with the Packers, can impress McCarthy on the field the way he did off of it, then look for general manager Ted Thompson's only move in free agency to pay off.

"I spent a lot of time with Jared Cook and he's a fine, fine young man," McCarthy said last week at the NFL annual meetings. "I was impressed with him. So we'll see what happens. It's in the business phase of it, and that's where it stands."

It turns out that what McCarthy meant -- and no one knew at the time -- was that the Packers had an offer on the table to Cook. Once news of his visit broke, there was plenty of hand-wringing among fans (and perhaps even those inside Lambeau Field) over what took so long for this move to happen. However, Thompson made an offer immediately following the March 14 visit, then they waited while Cook tried to see if there was any other interest. A few teams called -- the Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers -- but it's unclear if any made offers, and Cook decided over the weekend to accept a one-year, $3.6 million deal with the Packers.

Everyone knows Thompson doesn't do much in free agency; last year, the Packers were the only team in the league that didn't sign someone from another team. But when he does, it often works out (see Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett and Julius Peppers).

The Packers' interest in Cook dates to last season. They made an attempt to trade for him at the deadline last year but couldn't get a deal done with the St. Louis Rams, who finally cut him after the season. The 6-foot-5 Cook played in every game last season but caught just 39 passes for 481 yards without a touchdown. He had two years left on a five-year, $35.1 million contract. For his career, Cook has 273 catches for 3,503 yards and 16 touchdowns and has missed just five games in seven seasons.

A third-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2009, Cook could be the pass-catching threat McCarthy wants down the middle of the field. With a career average of 12.8 yards per catch, he has a chance to be more productive than starter Richard Rodgers was last season. Although Rodgers caught 58 passes, he averaged just 8.8 yards per catch.

McCarthy said last week that he wants to attack the middle of the field more this season, and perhaps Cook's signing helps them do this.

"You want as many tight ends, you want as many people to stress the field as you can," McCarthy said. "Let's be honest, the middle of the field is open now. League rules. Big people running down the middle of the field, I'll make no secret about it. I think that's a key to offensive success whether that's a big receiver or big tight end or a big man running down the middle of the field, making those safeties cover you. It's an important part of playing in today's NFL."