Phoenix – If they haven't already extended a handshake and "Thank you" to Frank Smith, Saints Coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis may want to get around to doing so.
Smith, an assistant offensive line coach in New Orleans from 2010-14, was tight ends coach for Oakland in 2018. And while upcoming free agent tight end Jared Cook was having the best season of his career, Smith was sharing with Cook how he enjoyed his time in New Orleans.
That helped Cook, who caught 68 passes for 896 yards and six touchdowns last season while earning his first Pro Bowl invitation, determine his destination in free agency.
"Me and Frank spent a lot of one-on-one time together, and he would just talk about some guys from the Saints organization, how they did things, how things were run in that organization, how (quarterback) Drew (Brees) runs the offense – things like that," Cook said.
"So I knew a lot about the Saints and the guys in that building before I got down there. That intrigued me throughout the year and once I got down there, I just saw how down to earth and how hungry a lot of those coaches were, and that just intrigued me even more and helped me make that decision."
Cook's choice helped New Orleans fill a sizable vacancy, created in part by the retirement of Benjamin Watson. It also helped bring Cook closer to home.
He grew up in Suwanee, Ga., as a Falcons fan – he said that love quickly faded once he entered the NFL – and also has family in Alabama. That, too, was among the list of reasons he will play with the Saints.
"Location. Quarterback. Offense," he said. "I think it's important – at this point in my career I think it's awesome that I'm closer to home. Drew Brees is a great quarterback, approaches the game like a true vet, and like a true perfectionist. He does all the little things right and he's just on point from top to bottom.
"I also have a chance to come in right now and make an impact. I have an opportunity to come in and be a huge part of a prolific and high-powered offense, and I think that just interests me even more. And then just coaching staff and offensive coordinator (Pete Carmichael). They were awesome when I was down there, their front office staff was awesome when I was down there. Nothing but respect and love for those guys. They welcomed me with open arms and just kind of showed me the Saints way."
Cook has had his most productive NFL seasons in the last two years in Oakland, with a combined 122 receptions for 1,584 yards and eight touchdowns. A Saints tight end hasn't been as productive in consecutive seasons since Jimmy Graham in 2013-14 (171 catches for 2,104 yards and 26 touchdowns).
Cook said his upswing in production coincided with finding the right offensive fit and roster stability.
"Finding the right fit in this league is tough, just because there's a lot of turnover, there's a lot of changes year in and year out, a lot of different injuries," he said. "At quarterback, you having to learn a rapport with a new person, a new offensive coordinator, a new head coach – sometimes that can be difficult if you do not find the right fit.
"That played a part earlier in my career, I feel like, on stability and just getting better and learning. But the last few years I've been able to kind of learn under one offense, play with one quarterback, get to know that one quarterback pretty well. I feel like that's been the biggest difference in the transition of my career as of late. And they actually used me on what I'm good at.
"(Raiders) Coach (Jon) Gruden found ways to expose matchups all over the field, he found ways to move me around in different positions that actually helped me and made me more versatile in my role on the field. Up until last year, that was a huge turning point."
Continued production is expected with the Saints, especially with All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas on the field to help divert attention.
"I think it's going to be huge, and I think it's going to be huge for both of us, to be honest with you," Cook said. "I think it's going to be big for both of us.
"I like his work ethic. I like his mentality; that's something that you don't find in a lot of receivers, that mentality that I'm gonna go get mine, and I'm gonna go get this and nobody's going to be able to stop me. I think that's important to have in this league.
"Confidence is huge and I think he has all the tools, the intangibles and the aspects to his game that's going to continue to carry him. And as a young player, that's important. It's important to notice those intangibles, the things that Mike does have. I think that's going to help us throughout the whole year. That's hard to find."
Meet the newest member of the New Orleans Saints, tight end Jared Cook