As is his wont, NFL Network media insider Ian Rapoport made a splash report early Sunday morning alleging that third-year New Orleans Saints receiver Brandin Cooks could be the subject of trade talks in the spring. You can read Rapoport’s full report here.
Of course, the Saints immediately denied this. Head coach Sean Payton referred to Rapoport’s information as a “garbage report” resulting from gossip between an agent and a reporter. This should not be a surprise: the relationship between Rapoport and the Saints’ staff is icy at best, with general manager Mickey Loomis once responding to one of Rapoport’s reports with a quip:
“That was that Ian Rapoport report right? I think he has about a 30 percent accuracy rate if you pay attention to things he puts out there.”
But back to Brandin Cooks. The Saints have a history of shipping off key skills positions players like Reggie Bush, Kenny Stills, and of course Jimmy Graham. There is some precedent.
However, there is no reason for the Saints to be the ones to take initiative in trading Cooks away. He fills a vital role in the offense as the deep threat, using his elite long-distance speed to draw coverages and make opportunities for other players.
On top of that rare athleticism, Cooks is one of the league’s better possession receivers with a career completion percentage of 68-percent. He’s the longest-tenured receiver in the starting lineup despite being only 23-years old, and is very close to Drew Brees and his family. While the Saints can find almost anyone to run deep routes all game, sacrificing Cooks’ chemistry with Brees and experience in the offense could be disastrous.
Just look at the carnage since Jimmy Graham’s departure. The receiving tight end was a titan in New Orleans, averaging 5.1 catches and 63.4 yards per game in his career here. Output dropped when Benjamin Watson became the starter, averaging 4.6 catches and 51.5 yards per game in Graham’s wake. Now Coby Fleener is filling that role as best as he can, with his average of 3.5 catches and 45.6 yards per game flirting with his career-best numbers.
Payton’s offense has always fed the open man, with Brees routinely finding eight or more different receivers in a game. Cooks will have his career days just like anyone else, but his frustration is understandable. Before being drafted by New Orleans, Cooks was the go-to receiver for Oregon State: he averaged 7.5 catches and 110.8 yards per game in two years as a starter. That’s a far cry from his 2016 averages of 4.8 catches and 67.4 yards per game. The presence of legit receiving threats in Michael Thomas, Willie Snead, and Mark Ingram will only continue to take targets from Cooks.
So the Saints should not be putting Cooks’ name out there as trade bait, and right now they aren’t. Payton alluded as much this morning by sharing a tweet critical of Rapoport’s report on his Twitter account:
That doesn’t mean the Saints won’t listen if someone makes a good offer.
The Saints invested two picks in drafting Cooks back in 2013 (their first and third round selections). He’s played well as a pro and has a unique skill set as a speed demon with the ability to adapt to off-target throws.
It’s easy to imagine a team like the wide receiver-needy San Francisco 49ers ponying up some draft capital for Cooks’ services – say, the second overall draft pick in exchange for Cooks and the Saints’ eleventh overall pick. That would keep the 49ers in the first round and give them a small, speedy wideout who fills a role for Chip Kelly’s offense that similar players like DeSean Jackson and Josh Huff have done in the past. Kelly is intimately aware of what Cooks has done given their shared history and intrastate rivalry in the PAC-12.
The Saints would have the chance to draft one of two franchise-changing talents in Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett (31 career sacks, 47 tackles for loss) or his counterpart in Alabama, Jonathan Allen (24.5 sacks, 40 TFL). The possible impact of either of those players can’t be understated.
Everyone has seen Jonathan Allen's "superman" sack. But watch before snap: he point up with hand to indicate it's a pass. Awareness & skill. pic.twitter.com/40jjypCauG— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) October 27, 2016
Maybe the Saints would settle for a second round pick for Cooks, like the New England Patriots accepted in exchange for Chandler Jones. If Cooks leaves in free agency in 2018 (after playing out his rookie contract and fifth year option), the Saints could at best get back a third round compensatory pick. Maybe a second round pick gotten sooner could help get them back into playoff contention while Brees is still playing at a high level.
But this is all up in the air. I don’t expect Cooks to be traded, and the Saints will probably need a king’s ransom to be convinced to send him away. They shouldn’t look to get rid of a young, productive asset – but they should listen if someone wants to make it worth their while.