Now that the Brandin Cooks-to-the-Patriots trade has been finalized, we can start speculating on the fall-out for players on both the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots. While any trade of this magnitude has repercussions throughout the league, here are six players most affected after the trade. I’ve broken those six into three winners and three losers, so here we go....
WINNER: WR Ted Ginn Jr.
Former Carolina Panther Ted Ginn Jr. was officially signed before the Brandin Cooks trade was finalized, so this move seemed to be the final sign that Cooks was headed out of New Orleans. Technically, if the Saints then went on to keep Cooks on the roster, there might have been room on the team for both players with Ginn relegated to primarily a special teams return specialist. Once Cooks was out the door, Ginn’s role in the Saints offense took a giant step forward.
Ginn caught 54 passes for 752 yards in the Carolina offense last season. If Brandin Cooks were still on the team, it would be hard for QB Drew Brees to still find consistent targets for both players. With Cooks gone, it is not laughable to view those 752 yards as a floor for Ginn in this offense. While Ginn’s drop issues are well-established, but it won’t hurt Ginn’s production to move from Cam Newton (52.9% completion percentage in 2016) to Drew Brees (70%), arguably the most accurate QB in NFL history.
LOSER: WR Julian Edelman
In the same way that Ginn benefits from Cooks’s absence, Patriots WR Julian Edelman takes a big hit with Cooks’s arrival in New England. Make no mistake about it - Edelman is a premiere Wide Receiver in the league. The issue is that Edelman and Cooks are very similar players and Cooks has an added degree of athleticism that Edelman is lacking. Both are roughly the same height and build, but comparing the two’s combine(/pro day) numbers shows Cooks is stronger, faster, and more agile.
Additionally, last year, Cooks had a higher catch rate than Edelman, finishing with more receiving yards and more receiving touchdowns all with fewer targets and fewer receptions. Julian Edelman had been Tom Brady’s favorite Wide Receiver target the past few years, but that will most likely change in 2017 with Brandin Cooks now lining up in the Patriots offense.
WINNER: QB Tom Brady
Speaking of Tom Brady, you can’t help but think he’s thrilled after the Brandin Cooks trade. Malcolm Mitchell, Brandon LaFell, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson... Those are some of the Wide Receivers that Brady has had to work with over recent years. Brandin Cooks brings New England their most talented Wide Receiver since Randy Moss, who played his last full season with the Patriots in 2009.
During Moss’s tenure in New England, he averaged 1,255 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns over his three full seasons. It’s true that Moss is a more “complete” Wide Receiver than Cooks, with a size and height advantage that Brandin doesn’t have, but Cooks is younger and has more upside, coming into New England seven years younger than Moss was when Randy signed with the Patriots.
LOSER: CB Malcolm Butler
Sticking with the Patriots, it was originally reported that Cornerback Malcolm Butler’s name came up in trade conversations with the Saints in a Brandin Cooks swap. Then, when the trade was announced, Butler’s name was surprisingly absent. Of note, Butler has still yet to sign his one-year contract tender from New England and a trade to the Saints is still not off the table.
Even with news breaking that Butler is visiting with the Saints later this week, any team that tries to sign Butler to a new deal for 2017 has to forfeit a first round pick in 2017. By refusing to sign the contract tender to this point (presumably in hopes of landing a long-term deal with either the Patriots or Saints), he has limited his market in free agency with other teams who would give up a first round pick for Butler already signing a free agent Cornerbacks or viewing draft prospects as a better fit.
WINNER: TE Coby Fleener
Now on to the Saints. When Coby Fleener signed his big-money contract to come to New Orleans last offense, he was expected to have a big role in the Saints offense. He would present a big-body target for Drew Brees and - hopefully - be an upgrade in the receiving game over the departing Benjamin Watson. After Watson filled in admirably following the Jimmy Graham trade, compiling 825 yards and 6 TDs,, Fleener failed to even live up to that benchmark, finishing with only 631 yards and 3 TDs.
Part of the reason for Fleener’s lack of involvement in the Saints offense, was the explosion of rookie WR Michael Thomas. Fleener was signed before the 2016 NFL Draft, before the Saints added Michael Thomas into the fold. When Fleener was signed, the Saints knew Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead would be getting a lot of attention from Drew Brees in the passing game. Thomas’s addition hurt Fleener even more. Now with Cooks out of the equation, and with Ginn not expected to replicate Cooks’s entire production with the Saints, look for Fleener to be the beneficiary of added looks in the Saints offense in 2017.
LOSER: WR Michael Thomas
Here’s an unpopular opinion: Michael Thomas’s production might take a step backward in 2017 after Brandin Cooks’s departure.
Many Saints fans were actually using Michael Thomas bursting onto the scene in 2016 as all the more reason to trade Brandin Cooks. Those same fans are expecting Thomas to improve on his 2016 numbers with a full season in the NFL under his belt and without Cooks stealing potential targets in Drew’s read progression.
What if, though, Thomas’s production in 2016 was due in large part to Cooks demanding so much attention from opposing defenses on the field? With Thomas now the #1 receiving threat for the Saints, opposing teams are going to focus more on him with defensive game plan schemes. We can hope for growth out of Thomas in his sophomore season, but it wouldn’t be an absolute shock for that growth and the lack of defenses focusing on Cooks to be a wash. That said, Thomas doesn’t have the same upside in 2017 as he had before Cooks was traded.