Connor Cook couldn’t have realized it at the time, but when he practiced and played against the Detroit Lions as a member of the Oakland Raiders last August he was auditioning for a possible future job with the Lions.
That future arrived on Jan. 1, when the Lions signed Cook to a reserve/future contract. Under NFL rules, he can be put on the 90-player roster on March 13, the date of the official start of the NFL’s 2019 league year.
Regardless of what the fine print means regarding NFL roster moves, the bottom line for Cook is that he has an opportunity to compete for a backup job with the Lions. It’s a chance to restart a career that ran aground in Oakland after being drafted in the fourth round out of Michigan State in 2016.
General manager Bob Quinn said during his postseason press conference that he saw some promising signs from Cook in the Lions’ combined training camp workouts with the Raiders and in the first preseason game that followed it.
Cook completed 11 of 19 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. He had a passer rating of 98.8.
“We had a pretty decent grade on him coming out of college that year,” Quinn said. “We saw him up live and personal at those joint practices, and that’s really where I kind of said, ‘Oh, yeah. Connor Cook’s here.’
“You sit there and watch practice, and he made some really good throws for a couple of those practices and played decent against us in a game.”
For Cook, the preseason performance was the last of the few hurrahs he had as a Raider. He was released in the cutdown to 53 players and wound up spending time on the practice squads of the Panthers and Bengals.
Players on practice squads can be signed to the regular rosters by any team, including their own.
Cook had a solid career at Michigan State as a full-time starter his last three seasons. He had some detractors, which is why he lasted until the fourth round of the draft when many analysts had him rated somewhat higher.
With the Raiders, Cook’s only playing time other than in the preseason was in his rookie season, and it was under extreme pressure.
With the Raiders preparing for the playoffs, Cook was forced to take over in the final regular-season game when starter Derek Carr went out with a broken leg. Cook gave a decent performance. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown with one interception in a 24-6 loss to the Broncos.
He started in the wild card playoff game at Houston the next week and went the distance in a 27-14 loss. Cook performed poorly, completing 18 of 45 passes for 161 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
View photos of the Detroit Lions' 2018 quarterbacks.
In Detroit, the backup job could be open but there are no guarantees for Cook. The job has been held the last three years by Dan Orlovsky, Jake Rudock and Matt Cassel.
Quinn has said that he likes to add a young quarterback to the roster because of the potential equity it produces. He has twice drafted quarterbacks in the sixth round – Rudock in 2016, and Brad Kaaya in 2017 – but neither panned out.
Rudock’s only full season on the 53-player roster was 2017. He was on the practice squad most of his rookie year and all of 2018. Kaaya never made the regular roster.
Quinn made reference at his postseason press conference to the many roster moves he and his staff make year-round to upgrade the talent level at all positions, including quarterback.
“Every day of the year, we’re looking at waiver wire, other teams’ practice squads, trades,” Quinn said. “Connor’s a guy that we had our eye on all season -- kind of talked to him when their (the Bengals’) season was over.
“He wanted a change of scenery, and we’re looking for a young quarterback to develop, and it worked out.”