Playing with Justin Herbert main reason Jared Cook signed with the Chargers

Jared Cook caught 16 touchdown passes in his two seasons with the Saints and is expected to give Chargers QB Justin Herbert an athletic red zone threat. Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Jared Cook is big -- standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 254 pounds -- fast (he ran in his last 40 in 4.49 seconds) and has arms for days. He is also a two-time Pro Bowler.

He’s everything the Los Angeles Chargers want and need at tight end to replace another standout player in Hunter Henry, who signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots after five seasons with the Chargers.

But there was one big reason why Cook chose to sign a one-year, $6 million contract with the Chargers and leave the New Orleans Saints, where he spent the past two seasons of his career, which enters its 13th season.

"Justin Herbert," Cook said. "He can sling the ball, man, and he came on last year unexpectedly, when nobody was expecting him to be a starter."

Cook is a proven veteran who has produced everywhere he's played since being selected as a third-round pick by the Tennessee Titans in 2009. Along with the Titans, Cook has played with St. Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders and the Saints. The Saints cut him loose after two seasons in which his snap-count percentage fell to 47 and 43 percent, respectively, according to Pro Football Reference after starting all but two games for the Raiders in 2017-18.

The Chargers will miss Henry's durability and experience, but Cook provides the Chargers an athletic presence even at 34 years old. In his career, he has caught 505 passes for 6,673 yards and 41 touchdowns. He's emerged as a red zone threat late in his career, as he's hauled in 22 touchdown passes since 2018, second among tight ends to the Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce.

But will Cook be as effective and as popular as Henry? Likely and likely.

It helps that he's going to work with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who he's familiar with from his time with the Saints. Lombardi was the quarterbacks coach in New Orleans the previous five seasons before leaving for Los Angeles this offseason.

"I know what Joe brings to the table," Cook said. "He's a grinder. Joe stays up until four or five in the morning, making sure the offense is ready to go week in and week out. He puts in the effort. I've seen it first hand."

Cook has also seen the work ethic of new running backs coach Frank Smith, who was the tight ends coach with the Raiders when Cook was in Oakland.

"He's the type of coach that's not going into a meeting room and telling you how it should be," Cook said. "He asks you, 'What did you see right here? Why did you do this?' He gets to understand your thought process."

That seems to be a trend among the assistants hired by new head coach Brandon Staley, who is a big fan of interactive coach/player relationships. It's what helped him rise so quickly to become an NFL head coach, as he was a college defensive coordinator at Division III John Carroll as recently as 2016.

"Talking," Cook said. "Not just back and forth, but creating a dialogue -- you understand [each other] and talk things out.

"You don't get that a lot of places," Cook told Chargers.com. 'I want to continue to make high-level plays."

It will also help that Cook will be playing alongside Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen -- who is fresh off a 100-catch season in 2020 -- and running back Austin Ekeler, who is an adept pass-catcher out of the backfield. If anything, their presence figures to take pressure off of Cook to make plays.

"Keenan's a pretty cool dude," Cook said, "So it shouldn’t be too hard."

Cook has caught passes from future Hall of Famers such as Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers and is looking forward to working with Herbert, who set an NFL rookie record with 31 touchdown passes last season. But that's not all that impresses his new tight end.

"He can escape situations with his legs,” Cook said of Herbert. "And that's the way the game is evolving."