ATLANTA (AP) — In the past three NFL seasons alone, Brandin Cooks has caught passes from Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Jared Goff while playing for Sean Payton, Bill Belichick and Sean McVay.
“I guess I know how to pick ’em, right?” Cooks asked Tuesday with a laugh.
Cooks has racked up 3,786 yards receiving and 21 total touchdowns in that three-season span, which will include six playoff games and two consecutive Super Bowls.
He played for the Patriots in the big game last year, and he will play against them for the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. He is also the first player in NFL history to have three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons with three different teams.
But there are asterisks on this incredible resume.
Cooks was only able to accomplish these feats because he was traded before each of the past two seasons, changing teams twice before he turned 25 years old.
Two elite NFL franchises — New Orleans and New England — decided they could do without the speedy, dependable receiver, giving him up for first-round picks.
Although he has been asked about it almost daily during the Rams’ playoff run, Cooks insists he harbors no ill will against the Saints or the Patriots.
The Rams’ postseason could have been a personal revenge tour, but Cooks says it means nothing to him that his two former teams are Los Angeles’ final two playoff opponents: The Rams beat New Orleans 26-23 in the NFC championship game, and they will face the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
While Cooks claims he didn’t take it personally, he also acknowledges using the trades as motivation during his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season and the subsequent playoff grind.
“It’s fuel to the fire,” Cooks said. “I know that I can play this game at a high level, whether someone thinks it or not. For them to trade me, it’s part of the game, but it also gives me that motivation to keep going, too.”
This Super Bowl is a particular opportunity for Cooks, who realizes how fortunate he is to return to football’s biggest stage for a second straight year. Cooks caught just one pass for the Patriots against Philadelphia last season before he was sidelined with a concussion, missing most of the biggest game of his life.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about it like all year, offseason and training camp,” Cooks said. “But now that I’m here, I’ve got that thought process out of my mind.”
Cooks has avoided constant attempts to get him to compare the inner workings of the Patriots and Rams this week, deliberately giving simplistic, short answers such as: “They’re both great cultures. That’s the similarity.”
But it’s clear he has found a home in his native California with the Rams, who have lavished praise on him ever since his arrival. They even signed him to a five-year, $80 million contract extension before he played a game in LA, and he rewarded them with a career-best 1,204 yards receiving.
“I can promise you this: We’re not trading him,” McVay said Tuesday.
Cooks has showed his reciprocal devotion to the Rams in many ways: Just last week, he surprised team custodian Alfonso Garcia by paying for two tickets to the Super Bowl for Garcia and his 8-year-old son.
The Patriots have had only good things to say about their former receiver even though Belichick kept him for only one season before making the trade to maximize his value, rather than signing him to the type of long-term contract New England has often avoided. The Pats used the Rams’ first-round pick on offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn, who tore his Achilles tendon in the preseason.
Belichick, Brady and other Patriots praised Cooks’ work ethic and talent this week.
“He was a great guy to have in the room, a hard-working teammate, and he’s a real playmaker,” New England receiver Chris Hogan said.
Hogan said that although he was dazzled by Cooks’ speed, “when I’d see on film I was even with him or ahead of him, I made sure to point it out.”
Even though he has impressive numbers for Los Angeles, Cooks is sold on McVay’s culture of individual sacrifice for team success. In fact, Cooks is getting some of his biggest praise for a strategic drop in New Orleans.
On a third-down play with the Rams on the edge of long field-goal range in overtime, Goff threw a short backfield pass to Cooks with Saints defenders bearing down.
Instead of catching it and probably taking a 4-yard loss on a play that McVay immediately regretted calling, Cooks intentionally dropped it. Shortly afterward, Greg Zuerlein made a 57-yard field goal to send the Rams to their first Super Bowl in 17 years.
No matter what happens in his second shot at the Super Bowl, Cooks seems certain be a key component of Los Angeles’ offense next season along with Robert Woods and the injured Cooper Kupp, who formed one of the most potent receiver trios in the league when they were together this season. Cooks is also eager for another year to build chemistry with Goff.
“To be put with a young quarterback that’s the same age as me, and to know you have the chance to be together for a long time, that’s a blessing,” Cooks said.