Brandin Cooks’ emotional reaction to running back Mark Ingram, one of his best friends, being traded to the New Orleans Saints for a 2024 seventh-round draft pick, was raw and angry.
“This is (expletive),” Cooks wrote on social media minutes after the trade happened last week “Such a joke.”
Cooks didn’t understand the trade initially and the fact that the Saints’ Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton initiated the trade with Texans general manager Nick Caserio for the Pro Bowl running back to be reunited with Alvin Kamara in New Orleans. The transaction caught Cooks off guard, and it happened during the same week that he and Ingram and the players’ wives attended the Astros’ World Series game against the Atlanta Braves at Minute Maid Park.
Days later, Cooks’ feelings haven’t changed fundamentally. However, he has also calmed down after talking with Texans coach David Culley, among others, and gets the reasoning behind the deal and that Ingram had a choice to remain in Houston if he had wanted to stay.
“I mean, it's tough,” Cooks said Sunday after catching a team-high six passes for 83 yards and one touchdown during a 38-22 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at NRG Stadium. “You talk about a guy I came into the league with, one of my best friend, a guy that’s a huge leader. So, I'd be sitting up here lying to say it didn't hurt, and it was frustrating. But talking with coach about it, I understood what they were doing. But I'm human, and I love that dude.
“He helped me lead men in this locker room. It was frustrating, but at the same time, got to let it go and keep on pushing on. I'm happy for him. He got a chance to go break that record, that all-time rushing leader. So, yeah, I’ve just got to keep on pushing.”
A former Saints first-round draft pick who has been traded three times previously from the Saints to the New England Patriots, to the Rams and to the Texans, Cooks has been the subject of trade rumors. Although NFL teams are interested in Cooks, league sources not authorized to speak publicly emphasized they don’t expect Cooks to be traded because he’s a valuable part of the Texans’ rebuild. It would likely require at least a second-round draft pick for Cooks to be traded.
Cooks said at the close of last season that he didn’t want to be traded unless it’s with his approval and involvement. And Cooks emphasized that he doesn’t want to be traded.
“I said I won't be traded if I'm not involved,” Cooks said. “I'm all-in on this thing. It would be pretty special to be a part of something that's turned around. How that looks, I don't know. I've got to trust that.
“My job is to come in every single day and be the best teammate that I can be, be the best example I can be, continue to work on my game and just continue to work. Like I told you before, that's all I know. And that's what I'm going to continue to do.”
During the offseason, the Texans restructured Cooks’ five-year, $81 million contract that they acquired in the trade from the Rams.
They created $6.53 million in salary-cap space by paying Cooks a $10 million signing bonus, according to NFL Players Association documents. The Texans lowered Cooks' $12 million salary cap figure to $5.468 million with the $10 million signing bonus and he is due a fully guaranteed $2.5 million base salary in 2021.
They also added voidable years in 2023 and 2024 to spread out the impact of his signing bonus. The deal automatically voids if he's on the roster 15 days prior to the start of the 2023 league year, meaning he could become a free agent after the 2022 season when he’s due a $12.5 million base salary.
Cooks could be due a raise this offseason.
Cooks channeled the mantra of other franchises that have been through the painful rebuilding process.
“The biggest thing, the message for us players is that we just got to trust the process,” Ingram said. “You look around teams in different sports that was in this position at some point and turned it around. You look at the Golden State Warriors, it's a huge example. You look at those examples, and sooner or later you see it through. You’ve just got to trust the process and the people that's making those decisions, I guess.”
The Texans are 1-7 and on a seven-game losing streak. Cooks is part of the solution, not a problem. He leads the team with 51 receptions for 555 yards and two scores.
“I mean, I’m handling it the best I can,” Cooks said. “ It hurts. I would be sitting up here lying if I said that it didn’t. All I know is work. Most of these guys, all we know is work hard and keep on fighting. Keeping hope regardless of what’s going on. It hurts in the moment, but when you go to sleep and wake up, you know you have to do it again, because quite frankly, that’s our job. Obviously, you want it a different way, but we’ll see it through sooner or later. It’s a part of life.”
The Texans keep getting beat every week. The losing takes its toll, but the Texans did score 22 points in the fourth quarter to avoid a shutout after falling behind 38-0 to the Rams before Matthew Stafford was taken out of the game and replaced by John Wolford with the game out of hand.
“The fact that we continue to go out there and fight regardless of the score, that's where the hope comes from,” Cooks said. “It shows that we've got a bunch of guys that are willing to fight and keep trying to get better. So, that's where I find it at.
“To be able to finish the way that we did, there's no moral victories, don't get me wrong. But to be able to finish the way that we did, that gives us hope that we can do this. We've just got to be more consistent, more disciplined and be better earlier.”
Cooks called the Texans an undisciplined team weeks ago after a loss to the Indianapolis Colts. That hasn’t changed. The Texans committed six penalties against Los Angeles.
The season is hard to accept, but no one expected the Texans to be very competitive after a 4-12 season last year and Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson requesting a trade.
“It's tough, it's one of the toughest ones,” said Cooks, a deeply spiritual California native. “At the end of the day, we're not winning. But it's building me, perseverance. God talks about how that perseverance creates something through the trials.
“My faith is my foundation. It may be hard in the moment. I genuinely feel there's light at the end, and I've got to continue to trust that, be a light in dark moments.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.