One can hardly blame Derek Carr for looking immediately at Jared Cook when the ball after the snap. The tight end became the Oakland Raiders quarterback’s most reliable receiving weapon in a season in a rough season.
“Jared was awesome,” Gruden said of Cook after the team’s victory two weeks ago. “He clearly is our MVP. In my opinion, he is phenomenal.”
Cook, earning his two-year, $10.6 million pact he signed with the team before the 2017 season, set new career highs (63 catches, 848 yards, four games over 100 yards and six touchdowns) in 14 games this season.
Despite all that, however, coming off a productive two-year span in Oakland — and the best season of his career — Cook will attract plenty of suitors in free agency as an unrestricted free agent.
“Hopefully it’s on a high priority. Whoever the general manager is, we’ll show him some tape of Jared Cook,” Gruden said on Monday after the Raiders fired McKenzie. “This guy has been dazzling as a receiver. We’ve been able to put him in so many different positions – in the slot, at wide receiver.His conditioning, his stamina, his competitiveness, his running after the catch. I’m really excited about the season he’s had. Hopefully we get him back.”
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However, perhaps, Gruden will holler at Waller — Darren Waller. When they stand next to each other with helmets on and no jersey number, it is difficult to discern Cook from Waller.
Waller stands at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds and is a converted Georgia Tech wide receiver. The 26-year-old (27 in September) offers similar athleticism at a much more cap friendly price of $720,000 in 2019. It took time for the 2015 sixth-round pick to find snaps in Oakland after a stint on Baltimore’s practice squad. Yet, when he touched the ball twice against Cincinnati (a 21-yard end around and almost housing a 44-catch catch and run on a shallow cross), it opened some eyes.
“His speed stands out,” Carr said of Waller. “You don’t see many tight ends, besides Cook, take it up the sideline.”
“I was really pleased with him,” Gruden said. “We’re excited about him. You see the speed. He caught a shallow cross and turned the corner. I was really pleased with his ability to learn quickly. That’s where these kids are.”
Of course, Waller’s quick entrance could see an even quicker dismissal. But if he can develop and hone his craft, the Raiders could cushion the blow of Cook choosing somewhere else to play in 2019.