What's next for WR Brandin Cooks and Houston Texans: trade or extension?

The Houston Texans see WR Brandin Cooks as a leader, but they have some big decisions to make as he enters the final year of his contract. Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire

HOUSTON -- As general manager Nick Caserio continues to rebuild the Houston Texans, his attention must now turn to his most talented offensive player.

Wide receiver Brandin Cooks, whom the Texans traded for in 2020 for a second-round pick, has just one season left on his contract. Cooks is owed a $12.5 million base salary in 2022 as part of a deal that was signed with the Los Angeles Rams in 2018 and restructured by Houston last year.

Cooks was a key target for quarterback Deshaun Watson in 2020 and a key part of rookie quarterback Davis Mills’ development last season. The receiver has played in at least 14 games in all but his rookie season (2014) and has shown consistency throughout his career. The wide receiver has hit the 1,000-receiving-yard mark in six of his eight NFL seasons, playing on four different teams.

While Houston could let Cooks play this season and then hit the open market in 2023, it seems more likely the Texans would want to sign him to a contract extension to keep him in Houston, or trade him to get the most value if both sides cannot agree to a new deal.

Houston has received multiple calls with interest in Cooks, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. If the Texans do trade Cooks, it is expected to take at least a second-round pick, a source told ESPN.

“Brandin has been a great player in this league for a long time,” Caserio said. “I have a lot of respect for him, personally and professionally. He's an important part of our program.

“If there's a conversation [about a contract extension] that we feel merits taking place, then we'll go ahead and do that. Brandin has been a good player for us, and he could certainly help us.”

What could a contract extension look like?

Two March trades and contract extensions reset the wide receiver market, with the Las Vegas Raiders trading for Davante Adams and signing him to a five-year, $140 million contract ($28 million average per year). Later, the Miami Dolphins traded for Tyreek Hill and signed him to a four-year, $120 million contract extension ($30 million APY).

There are currently eight receivers making an average of at least $20 million per year. Could Cooks fall into that category for the Texans?

“It seems like whenever you talk about Brandin, anyone, they talk about leadership,” said Texans coach Lovie Smith, who was promoted from defensive coordinator. “You don’t say that about everybody. You have to do something really well in order for people to describe you that way.

"And for me, being in a different role last year and just seeing him from afar. … I knew about him before I got there. Just saw how he handled his business each day. The professionalism that he had. The routine. All the things I know the good football players I’ve been around do on a daily basis is what I saw from Brandin.”

On cutdown day in 2021, the Texans had an average age of 26.8, which was the second-oldest in the NFL. Smith said the team is now “transitioning” from a team made up of mostly veteran players to one Caserio said he expects to have “an influx of younger players,” compared to last season.

Smith pointed to depending on veterans like Cooks in the locker room to help develop their younger teammates.

“We’re transitioning,” Smith said. “There are young players coming in. How are we supposed to do that? They have the perfect guy to look at. So, excited that he’s on the football team. He’s exactly who I thought he was before I got a chance to be on the same team as him.”