Brandin Cooks had plenty of options. He could have explored them and attempted to lobby for a trade with multiple NFL teams interested in the Texans' veteran wide receiver.
Ultimately, that wasn't Cooks' preference. He wanted to stay in Houston and he agreed to a lucrative two-year contract extension worth $39.6 million with an average of $19.8 million annually and $36 million guaranteed.
It was a choice Cooks made knowing that the rebuilding Texans are coming off a 4-13 season during which he was the focal point of the passing game. Cooks has yet to discuss his new contract, but his decision spoke volumes to Texans coach Lovie Smith.
“It means a lot," Smith said. "Brandin has been through an awful lot. He’s a guy that’s done it a few different places, but what I was able to see from a different position last year was just how he went to work every day, too. You have veterans that you want on the team to show the younger guys how to play, how to handle themselves as a pro.
"Brandin feels really good about being here. We talked about those other players wanting to be here, Brandin is another one that wanted to be here. He believes in that vision for our football team and what we can do. I’m excited to have him back.”
A former 20th overall selection of the New Orleans Saints, Cooks had been the subject of trade rumors this offseason.
He was previously traded to the New England Patriots in 2017 along with a fourth-round pick in exchange for a first-round draft pick and a third-round draft pick. Then, the Pats sent Cooks to the Rams with a fourth-round draft pick for a first-round draft pick and a sixth-round draft pick. Lastly, the Texans sent a package to the Rams for Cooks two years ago. Now, he'll remain in Houston for the foreseeable future.
By having Cooks back for an extended amount of years, it gives second-year quarterback Davis Mills the opportunity to have a dangerous, reliable downfield target to throw to and rely upon as the Texans try to upgrade their offense.
“That means a lot," Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "I think that when you look at just the production that Brandin has been able to have over the last few seasons, but also over the course of his career, he brings a certain level of paranoia for our opponents and that’s going to open up the opportunity for us to balance out our attack. We have to improve our run game, but at the same time we go out with the objection to score. We want to outscore the opponent every game we play.”
Cooks, 28, is one of the Texans' most accomplished and reliable players. Cooks caught a team-high 90 passes for 1,037 yards and 6 touchdowns last season. He has recorded 171 receptions for 2,187 yards and 12 touchdowns in two seasons since the Texans acquired him from the Rams. Cooks has caught 573 career passes for 7,917 yards and 46 touchdowns.
"That's one of the most consistent and professional people I've ever met," center Justin Britt said. "He's been a steady presence for us. He's as good of a pro as I've seen."
The trade has worked out as Cooks has emerged as a team leader who was unanimously voted the Pro Football Writers of American team Most Valuable Player last season. He's one of the only dangerous and explosive deep threats on the roster.
During the NFL owners' meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., Texans general manager Nick Caserio expressed an openness to extending Cooks' deal.
"Yeah, we're going to have a lot of those discussions probably over the course of the spring with different players, but Brandin has been a great player in this league for a long time," Caserio said. "I have a lot of respect for him, personally and professionally. He's an important part of our program. If there's a conversation that we feel merits taking place, then we'll go ahead and do that. Brandin has been a good player for us and he could certainly help us."
A year ago, the Texans restructured Cooks' five-year, $81 million contract, creating $7 million in salary cap space by paying him a $10 million signing bonus and adding voidable years to the deal. Cooks was previously due a $12.5 million base salary, a $15 million salary-cap figure, and was scheduled to become a free agent after that season. In 2023, the Texans would carry $5 million in dead money for Cooks' contract.
"It seems like whenever you talk about Brandin, anyone, they talk about leadership," Smith said during the NFL owners' meetings. "You don't say that about everybody. You have to do something really well in order for people to describe you that way. And for me, being in a different role last year and just seeing him from afar, I knew about him before I got there.
"Just saw how he handled his business each day. The professionalism that he had. The routine. All the things I know the good football players I've been around do on a daily basis is what I saw from Brandin. So to have a veteran like that in our locker room, we're transitioning. There are young players coming in. How are we supposed to do that? They have the perfect guy to look at. So, excited that he's on the football team. He's exactly who I thought he was before I got a chance to be on the same team as him."
The former Saints first-round draft pick eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the sixth time in eight NFL seasons, making him the third player in franchise history to record consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons and one of eight active NFL players with at least six 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
"Cookie is a special guy," Texans receivers coach and passing game coordinator Ben McDaniels said earlier this offseason. "He's a great pro. He's a special person. He's a leader in the receiver room. He's a leader in our locker room. He's a leader currently for the receiver room, a pretty young room, and really I would say, for all our young players, he really represents someone that they should watch and learn from. So, I'm grateful to be in the room with him. I enjoyed it a year ago getting to know him both as a person and as a player and have the utmost respect for what he has done and what he will continue to do."
Mills praised Mills for being able to fill in for others when needed and explained how that has made such a positive impact on the offensive side of the ball.
"Cookie is reliable and he can step in for somebody else at another position in the whole offense and execute somebody else's job if he has to get thrown into that spot," Mills said. "That kind of explains how he is for this team. Just extremely consistent and diligent in his work, and he's able to go out there and he's played at a really high level at any position on the field receiver-wise because he knows the offense so well, can switch around spots.
He's been great for this team, great for the offense, and I obviously love going and throwing to him out there because he's a true weapon. I don't think there's anyone on the other side of the ball who can stop him."
Cooks was a finalist last season for the annual Art Rooney sportsmanship award. The award recognizes an NFL player who demonstrates qualities of sportsmanship, respect for the game, fair play, and integrity in competition.
"He's an outstanding competitor, outstanding player," Smith said last season. "You want a veteran player to show the young players how to be a pro. He's a receiver that can do it all. Seen a lot of good ones and I knew a lot about him before I got here and to see him every day, I know exactly what he can do and that's what he's done every game."
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and analyst and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.