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Brandin Cooks is no Hopkins, but Texans building intriguing offense

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What does the Brandin Cooks trade say about O'Brien as a GM? (2:11)

Louis Riddick isn't fond of Bill O'Brien's offseason transactions, which includes his most recent trade to acquire Brandin Cooks from the Rams. (2:11)

HOUSTON -- In a vacuum, adding a player like wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Houston Texans' offense gives quarterback Deshaun Watson a welcome threat on the outside in Houston’s passing game.

Of course, it is important to take into account that last month the Texans traded perennial All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins because he wanted “a raise” and general manager and head coach Bill O’Brien did not think obliging was in the best interest of the team.

So while trading away Hopkins did not make the Texans' offense better, Houston improved a bad situation Thursday by adding Cooks. Because the Los Angeles Rams paid Cooks a $4 million roster bonus on the third day of the league year, Houston will be paying Cooks significantly less than Hopkins would have cost with a new contract, particularly if the Texans had felt forced to give Hopkins that raise with three years left on his deal.

And while adding Cooks is cheaper than paying Hopkins, the Texans had to part with one of their two second-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft. (They still have No. 40 from the Cardinals, obtained in the Hopkins trade; they dealt No. 57 to the Rams.) With either pick, the Texans could have selected a receiver in this deep draft class and saved a lot of salary-cap space in the process.

With Cooks, the Texans’ offense is built around speed with two deep threats in Cooks and 2016 first-round pick Will Fuller. With Cooks and Fuller on the outside (assuming both can stay healthy, which for Fuller is a legitimate question), there will be plenty of opportunities for big plays.

Over the past five seasons, the only players with more catches than Cooks on passes thrown 20 yards or more downfield (54 receptions) are Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Hopkins was ranked fourth in that category with 53 catches.

That trait should pair nicely with Watson, whose Total QBR (97.8) and 16.2 yards per attempt on passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield ranked fourth in the NFL last season. He also had seven touchdowns on those throws, which was tied for seventh in the league in that category, per ESPN Stats & Information data.

However, Cooks finished 2019 with 42 catches for 583 yards in a season when the Rams' offense struggled to replicate its 2018 success. He had the third-largest receiving yards drop-off from 2018 to 2019 among players with 500 receiving yards in both seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. But before last season, he had four seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards.

Adding Cooks also gives the Texans insurance for Fuller, who has not been able to stay healthy. Hopkins had been the Texans' No. 1 receiver since 2014. Houston tried to give him a strong No. 2 by drafting Fuller in 2016, but Fuller has not been able to stay on the field, with injuries to his hamstrings, a broken collarbone and a torn ACL.

Cooks has dealt with concussions in his career -- and missed two games in 2019 because of reocurring concussions -- but by adding him and slot receiver Randall Cobb to go along with Fuller and veteran Kenny Stills, O’Brien hopes the team has enough depth at the position. The Texans obviously could’ve built that depth with Hopkins still on the roster as well.

Running back David Johnson, obtained in the Hopkins deal, is also an accomplished receiver out of the backfield, with two seasons with 50 catches or more in a five-year career. Returning RB Duke Johnson has no fewer than 44 catches in his five seasons. So there will be a lot of proven talent running routes for Watson in 2020 -- if those players stay healthy, which is a big if considering the injury histories of David Johnson and Fuller.

Whatever the reasoning was for O’Brien trading Hopkins -- who ranks second in the NFL in targets, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns since his second season in 2014 -- it's practically impossible to make an argument that the Hopkins trade improved the team. But since that deal is done, the Texans had to find another receiver, whether it be through the draft, free agency or a trade, and adding Cooks gives this offense more firepower.