Spagnola: Here's Something You Need To Know


FRISCO, Texas – Here is what you need to know about Randall Cobb, and think you're going to like what you hear.

Morse so than the ninth-year veteran wide receiver simply chose the Dallas Cowboys to sign that one-year, $5 million free-agent contract, stuffed with more money-making incentives.

More so than how he wore out the Cowboys over the five times they played the Packers since he arrived in Green Bay as a second-round pick in 2011 from the University of Kentucky, where he switched from a Tennessee high school state champion quarterback who also was an all-district basketball player and sprinter, leading his Alcoa team to a second-place finish in the state meet as a junior, to wide receiver.

And more so than he was one of Aaron Rodgers' favorite receivers, catching 471 passes during his eight-year career with the Packers for 5,524 yards and 41 touchdowns, earning Pro Bowl honors during the 2014 season when his clutch 12-yard catch on third-and-11 closed out the Cowboys in that 26-20 playoff loss at Lambeau Field, better known in Cowboys lore as the "No-Catch" game.

So, let's start here: The 28-year-old wide receiver still can run. And fast.

"Yes, yes," said Cowboys wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal when asked after watching Wednesday's first observable OTA workout if Cobb still had that speed.

"I don't think he's lost a step."

And if he hadn't said so, all you had to do was watch the practice. The soon-to-be 29-year-old (Aug. 22) was giving those young cornerbacks fits. His routes are smooth, rarely if ever a misstep. In fact, a casual observer wandered over about halfway through the workout to proclaim, "Boy, Cobb can still run."

Fist-bump that.

Now then, even though the Packers gave up on their veteran wideout, much to Rodgers' chagrin, Cobb certainly doesn't seem in search of a retirement job.

Just ask Sanjay. Ask him what he looks for when an eight-year NFL veteran comes through for a free-agent interview.

"Is he hungry and does he still think he can get better," Lal says. "I don't ask about the hunger things, but I ask, 'Do you still want to get coached? Do you still feel there is room for improvement? Or are you so set in your ways and tapped out?' You just don't want that.

"So he's been great about it. He wants to get better. Everyone can get better, no matter how old you are."

Then there are the incentives. Not just the ones in his contract, where he can earn an extra $62,500 for every time he's on the game-day 46-man roster, and another $500,000 for 75 receptions and a Cowboys playoff berth.

See, when an accomplished veteran receiver signs just a one-year, free-agent deal, the guy is betting on himself to rejuvenate his career when few folks out there aren't offering him something close to what he's worth or what he previously was earning. And his 2018 salary-cap hit in Green Bay was $12.531 million.

Laying groundwork for a bigger contract down the road can be a great motivator. So is pride.

"I mean, he has a chip on his shoulder because people think he's washed up," Lal says. "Those are his words."

Those perceptions are by-products from a frustrating 2018 season when the raw numbers say Cobb caught just 38 passes for 383 yards and two touchdowns. That's the first time since his injury-shortened six-game 2013 campaign that he caught fewer than 60 passes in a season and was the fewest touchdown catches since his 2011 rookie year.

Those numbers need varnishing. Cobb suffered a severe hamstring injury in Game 3, then a concussion toward the end of the season, limiting him to just nine games after playing no fewer than 13 in any of the previous four years.

"But it was Week 3 when I initially hurt my hamstring, missed a few weeks (3), came back too early, missed a few more weeks (3) and then the concussion at the end of the season," Cobb recounts. "It just wasn't my year. Just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes."

And his cookie couldn't have crumbled at a more inopportune time, coupled with his production in 2017 sliding some but knowing he had to play nine games with rookie quarterback Brett Hundley starting after Rodgers suffered his broken collarbone in Week 6.

"I understand the business side, so when you miss games and don't produce in your contract year, that's just the way things go," Cobb says. "Unfortunately, I was in that situation, so it is what it is at that point."

But now it is this: While he's betting on himself, the Cowboys are betting on a look-see contract that Cobb still is the same Randall Cobb, signing him with the intent of the veteran wideout replacing long-time slot receiver Cole Beasley, who chose in free agency the several more guaranteed million dollars Buffalo offered than the Cowboys did.

Green Bay? The Packers decided it was time to get younger. Plus, in comes a new head coach. General manager, too. All that piled atop of Cobbs' expiring contract.

Them's some crushed cookies, you know.

One more thing about Cobb, illustrating he's all in. He is a willing punt returner, usually a job for younger guys, not someone who has started 73 of his 105 career games played. Cobb returned 74 punts his first four seasons in the league (just three in the shortened 2013 season), but just 15 in the last three seasons (seven of those last year before the hamstring injury).

"I've always enjoyed it, always enjoyed it, punt returns," Cobb says, "so if there is an opportunity to do that … if I can help out, I'm willing to."

As for Lal allowing his projected starting slot receiver to also return punts, he says he's learned over the years a lot of guys say they want to do it, "but they really don't. He does."

Well, when the Cowboys were practicing simulated punt coverage, Cobb was back there catching the thrown tennis balls and giving the coverage guys a real workout while they were trying to keep him hemmed in.

Just get the feeling, and I know it's only been one practice, and without pads at that, that Randall Cobb will do whatever it takes to prove he's still the Randall Cobb who terrorized the Cowboys over the years.

Remember the chip.

"That's nothing new. I've always had a chip on my shoulder," Cobb said, and vowed, "I'm going out with the mindset to get better."

And to prove he's still got it, saying, "For sure, I'm always going to be Randall Cobb, whether it's playing football or not. So I don't care what other people say."

There you have it, and just for you, on a need-to-know basis.