March 10th is not a great day to be an unhappy pass-catcher in the New Orleans Saints offense. In 2015, tight end Jimmy Graham was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for their first round draft pick (#31). The Saints also sent a fourth round pick to the Seahawks for center Max Unger. The merits of that trade have been talked about to no end.
Yesterday, exactly two years later, the Saints sent away another dissatisfied member of the offense. Wide receiver Brandin Cooks was traded to the New England Patriots for their first round pick (#32). Another part of the trade involved the Saints swapping their fourth round pick (#118) for one of the Patriots’ third rounders (#103), which effectively upgraded the pick they already had. Together this gives the Saints five picks in the first three rounds of selections, which ties the Seahawks and Cleveland Browns for most in the NFL.
It’s understandable that fans aren’t happy with that. They had unrealistic expectations going in: the popular thought was that the Saints needed to get back what they first spent on Cooks (picks in the first and third rounds) plus interest. Those flames were fanned by the public statements of Saints head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis as well as speculation around the fan community.
Regardless, what’s done is done. Ranting on Twitter all weekend won’t bring Cooks back or get the Saints to change their minds on declining the Tennessee Titans’ 18th overall pick. Getting these assets for Cooks now when Brees is still playing at a high level is worlds better than seeing him walk away in free agency in a few years and maybe getting a compensatory pick. It’s time to move on.
The opening days of 2017 NFL free agency have been a fun ride. The Saints got new starters at guard (Larry Warford) and linebacker (A.J. Klein), and while Ted Ginn Jr is expected to be a special teams returner first he could help fill the void Cooks left in the offense as a deep threat. Taking these early signings with last year’s free agency class and recent impactful draft classes, there’s still reason for optimism in the Saints front office. We’re in a totally different world from the 2011 to 2014 offseasons, of which just Mark Ingram, Cam Jordan, and Kenny Vaccaro remain on the roster.
Comparing % of plays for 20+ yards last few years. Keep in mind that volume/situation different for each of these guys. Still worth noting pic.twitter.com/aJkJtu0H9K— John Sigler (@JSiglerNFL) March 11, 2017
Now that the Saints have another first round pick we should focus on what they can do with it. This is a great draft class for the Saints’ needs, with some evaluators saying they have 24 or more first round grades on defenders alone. A number of options at pass rusher and cornerback is music to the ears of any Saints fan. The Saints should be looking hard at defensive end prospects like Derek Barnett (Tennessee), Taco Charlton (Michigan), and Charles Harris (Missouri), as well as cover corners like Sidney Jones (Washington), Adoree Jackson (Southern California), and Chidobe Awuzie (Colorado).
Bleacher Report’s lead NFL Draft analyst, Matt Miller, spoke with members of Canal Street Chronicles’ staff and indicated the Saints could get a developmental quarterback with the 32nd pick. Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, Miami’s Brad Kaaya, and Pitt’s Nathan Peterman all fit the bill there.
Still, the Cooks trade feels incomplete. There were too many rumblings about Patriots shutdown cornerback Malcolm Butler being involved in the exchange. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and NFL insider Adam Schefter reported immediately after the trade went down that Butler could still be traded to to the Saints, though potentially closer to draft day. There’s never a dull moment with this team.