Are the Rams set to trade Brandin Cooks in free agency?

After releasing Todd Gurley and Clay Matthews, could the Los Angeles Rams accept a trade for Brandin Cooks in free agency? How will a lack of production in 2019 impact his value?

After an interesting whirlwind of moves in the first week of NFL free agency, big name signings are expected to slow down from here on out. The Los Angeles Rams have been one of the more intriguing talking points so far, offloading running back Todd Gurley and linebacker Clay Matthews. Could they lose Brandin Cooks in free agency too?

Although they haven’t released the former first round pick of the New Orleans Saints, the Rams are taking calls about a potential trade for Cooks. Ian Rapoport reported on Thursday that multiple teams were interested in securing Cooks’ services. It would free up cap space further down the line for the Rams and would improve their position in the NFL Draft. The Rams currently have amongst the fewest draft picks of any team in the 2020 NFL Draft.

What would the trade market look like for Brandin Cooks in free agency?

Cooks is obviously no stranger to the trade block. After three years with the New Orleans Saints, he was traded to the New England Patriots in a deal that included multiple draft picks, including the Patriots’ 2017 first round pick. One year later, a bundle of draft picks again saw Cooks on the move. This time the Rams packaged their first-round 2018 NFL Draft selection, along with a sixth-round pick, to prise him away from New England.

There are several teams that need to add a wide receiver that could cut a deal with the Rams for Cooks in free agency.

The Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, and the Chicago Bears are just a few teams that could use a field-stretching playmaker at the wide receiver position. Although the Raiders have multiple first round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, it’s unlikely that a trade for Cooks in free agency would demand that level of capital this time around.

After a significant drop in performance in the 2019 season, it’s unlikely that a team would be willing to give up a first-round pick for Cooks in free agency again. He recorded career lows in receiving yards, touchdowns, and yards per game. The wide receiver class in the 2020 NFL Draft has too much talent to be using that amount of capital on a six-year “veteran”. Even if Cooks has four 1,000+ yard season and has been to the Super Bowl twice, the 2019 season is assuredly going to impact his trade value.

What caused Brandin Cooks’ drop in production in 2019?

On the face of it, just looking at box score statistics, it’s easy to explain Cooks’ lack of production in 2019 as being a by-product of an offense that favored Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. They had more receptions therefore they had more yards. Simple, right?

Well no, not really. Using our Offensive Share Metric (OSM) and NFL Next Gen Stats, you can see why Cooks dropped to the WR3 for the Rams during 2019.

Both Kupp and Woods were in the top 10 wide receivers by overall OSM for 2019. Kupp received a near elite overall grade of 38.41 (WR3) and Woods wasn’t far behind with an overall grade of 36.39 (WR9).

Brandin Cooks was the 58th ranked wide receiver with an overall OSM grade of 31.61.

Although Kupp and Woods had more receptions, the trio had a very similar percentage share of the targeted air yards. Kupp, with a 20.37% share, actually had slightly less than Cooks. Even when Cooks had a greater share, he struggled to do anything with it. Week 1’s win over the Carolina Panthers is a good example of this. Cooks had a 33.6% share of the targeted air yards but produced just 39 yards.

His inability to turn opportunity to production comes down to three factors.

Cooks’ catch completion percentage for the season was just 58.3%, the second lowest of his career. When you consider that is just 2% more than Nelson Agholor, who has been consistently ridiculed for his catch ability, it doesn’t paint a sexy picture. He had difficulties making any significant yardage after the catch, with a -1.0 yards differential between his expected and actual yards after the catch production. Finally, he struggled to create separation (3.1 yards) by comparison with Kupp and Woods (both 3.4 yards).

Not only is Cooks coming off an unproductive 2019 season, he also missed game time in the middle of the season with a concussion. It was the fifth reported concussion in his six-year career. He also carries a massive contract, having signed a 5 year, $80 million deal with the Rams in July 2018.

After two years in Los Angeles, a change of scenery may rejuvenate Brandin Cooks’ career and 2019 may just be an outlier in an otherwise productive career.

However, it would be wise for a team to be wary of making a blockbuster trade for Cooks in free agency.

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter @ojhodgkinson.