Ask Adam Jones what Mike Zimmer has done with “troubled” players in the past.
Jones, once known as Pacman, arrived in Cincinnati in 2010 looking for one last shot. Jones’ reputation was in tatters after a series of absurd off-field incidents and some less-than-inspiring performances on the field.
It got so bad, Jones was even forced to sign a contract with a CFL team, just to keep playing.
In work outs for NFL teams, Jones showed that he could still run. But could he keep out of trouble? Would he work? Would he be a good locker room guy?
The Bengals elected to take a chance on Pacman Jones. ADAM Jones rewarded their faith by staying out of trouble, and more importantly, performing on the field.
It wasn’t always a smooth road to redemption for Jones. Physical problems, including a serious neck injury requiring surgery, threatened to derail his comeback. His legendary bad attitude flared up at times, and he occasionally battled with defensive coordinator Zimmer, a guy known for not taking crap.
Despite the hiccups, the Bengals brought Jones back for 2012. That season, his legal problems behind him and his body fully healed after the 2010 neck injury, Jones played at a near Pro Bowl level. PFF ranked him the 11th best cornerback in the league overall for the season.
In 2013, Jones signed a three year contract with the Bengals. Whom did he credit with his turnaround as a football player and a man? Mike Zimmer.
“I respect Zim; he’s a father figure,” Jones said. “Last year, those things [clashes with Zimmer] you don’t want to happen. I’m going to do whatever it is in my willpower to make sure that we don’t get into that situation ever again.
“That’s life. You go through things and if you don’t learn anything, you’re going to end up in the same situation. I won’t let that get in the way again. I’m just doing my job and let my play speak for itself. These guys have done a great job tuning me in to be the player I am now.”
Hearing stories like that, it’s easy to buy into the notion of Mike Zimmer as some kind of guru. Some Cornerback Whisperer. Some Midas touch guy who can take the biggest headcases and turn them into functional football players if not totally redeemed human beings.
It’s easy to look at a player like Chris Cook and think Zimmer can pull off the same kind of reclamation job.
If Adam Jones can be saved, why not Chris Cook?
Chris Cook has had his own problems. Two years ago he was arrested and charged with domestic assault, charges that were eventually dropped. He returned from that incident allegedly determined to prove his “doubters” wrong, but in the two seasons since, he seems to have only regressed.
He bottomed out in 2013. Injuries – the eternal issue for Cook – got him again, reducing his playing time and diminishing his performance. In Week 13, he was badly torched by Alshon Jeffery, and let his frustration boil over into an incident with an official that led to his being ejected from the game.
Mike Zimmer was on the opposing sideline for a Week 16 game where A.J. Green made mincemeat of Cook, exposing his poor technique.
By season’s end, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the impending free agent Cook was on a fast track out of Minnesota. Then Mike Zimmer was hired as head coach.
So strong is Zimmer’s reputation that Cook, a man once seen by most rational people as beyond help, is now being seriously looked at as a potential bounce back player.
Consider this: Cook is only 26. He is 6-2, 212 pounds – very good size for a corner. He is not seen as a hot free agent commodity, meaning his price will not be high.
It’s impossible to just forget the other things we know about Chris Cook. He comes with baggage. He has attitude problems. He has an ugly legal history. In his time as a Viking, he’s regressed from promising second rounder to near-wash-out.
He is a disaster in press coverage. He has shown zero ability to adjust to the ball in the air. He has never intercepted a pass in the NFL. There are times when he looks like he doesn’t even belong in the league.
But you look at Cook and you look at Zimmer’s track record and you think to yourself, maybe this could happen. Maybe Chris Cook can still be salvaged.
This says more about Zimmer, and how eager we are to accept the idea of Zimmer as a savior, than it does about Cook.
Zimmer’s reputation as a fixer, his tough-love thing, his hard-nosed no-nonsense football guy image…Viking fans are ready to buy it hook, line and sinker. Zimmer has us so won-over, we’re even willing to revisit Chris Cook, a guy we were ready to ship to Siberia about a month ago.
I remain skeptical about Cook’s future value, even in light of the Zimmer factor. If Rick Spielman wants to bring him back on a one-year deal and let Zimmer lift the hood and poke around, sure, go ahead.
It’s fine as long as we recognize that Chris Cook is no Adam Jones. He never had that kind of talent. The realistic ceiling here is functional #3 cornerback.
If Zimmer can even make a reliable third corner out of Cook, then I’ll gladly bow down to him. That would be some accomplishment. That might be even a greater achievement than plucking Pacman Jones from the trash heap, dusting him off and turning him into Adam Jones.
If Zimmer can perform that kind of makeover magic with Cook, I might even start believing there’s a Super Bowl in our future. Make Chris Cook not suck, and I’ll believe anything is possible.