The Tennessee Titans could use their franchise tag on tight end Jared Cook this offseason, at least according to Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com. Kuharsky says he "fully expects" Cook to get the franchise tag, despite a somewhat disappointing season in 2012.
Then again, the Titans as a whole were disappointing. It's hard to look at a team that went 6-10 overall with both Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker throwing the football and really take it to Cook for his lacking stats. The quarterback situation in Tennessee isn't the worst in the NFL, but it's not exactly a model for consistency.
But at the same time, Cook did have some high expectations. His yardage totals for his first three seasons, in order, were 74, 361 and in 2011, he had 759 yards and three touchdowns off of 49 receptions. He was expected to continue his progression this season, but fell short.
In 2012, Cook caught just 44 passes for 523 yards and four touchdowns. The latter stat was a career best, but everything else was worse than the prior season.
When it comes to the Titans in general in 2012, though, Cook wasn't alone. Nate Washington led the team with just 746 yards and four touchdowns. Kendall Wright was behind him with 626 yards and four touchdowns, while Kenny Britt had just 589 yards and four touchdowns.
Everybody performed below expectations on offense. The quarterbacks were inconsistent, running back Chris Johnson had his bad days, (plus he had no backup to speak of) and nobody was truly explosive in the passing game. So does that make Cook worth it?
Not necessarily, but his potential is still something the Titans are banking on. The team fired tight ends coach John Zernhelt (despite Cook's protests), and will clearly try to bring someone in who can take advantage of Cook's raw talent to make him a truly dynamic threat. At just 25 years old, and a former third-round pick, the Titans likely feel that Cook will be worth the cost.
So what exactly will the cost be? Well, the numbers aren't set in stone, but some tentative projections have put the tight end cost at $5.962 million for the franchise tag this season. This is a bit higher than past seasons, but that's because tight ends are becoming more dynamic players across the board and the contract numbers are steadily going up.
Lewis (2010): 58 receptions off of 88 targets for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns
Davis (2011): 59 receptions off of 88 targets for 796 yards and three touchdowns
Lewis followed up his 700-yard season by picking up just 460 yards the following season, with zero touchdowns. Davis was banged up this past season and only played in seven games, picking up 325 yards in said games.
Needless to say, the franchise tag hasn't necessarily worked out for tight ends lately. Davis is recovering from surgery and his future with Washington is in doubt, while Lewis managed to cash in after his tag, receiving a five-year, $35 million contract.
For Cook, it's hard to determine what these numbers mean. He's younger than both players, hasn't had too many significant injury concerns and appears to have the right skill set, but he hasn't really produced the numbers to warrant a big payday.
That being said, coming in under $6 million for a starting tight end and theoretical top target in one's offense isn't a stretch if the Titans think he can perform. Add to that the possibility that Cook plays exceptionally well searching for that bigger contract after a taste of the tag's payout, and it might just be worth the gamble for the Titans, who are not overburdened with potential tag options.