The talk of the New Orleans Saints has quickly shifted from the large amount of salary cap space to spend in NFL Free Agency to the future of wide receiver Brandin Cooks in less than a 24-hour time period.
It was almost as if a massive hornet's nest was poked on Thursday morning after ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that the Saints receiver was the object of trade talks among the Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles. Since then, the reactions have been quite interesting. The latest reports are very conflicting, stating that the Saints could settle on a second round pick and standing firm on a first round pick. One report from Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller suggested that Cooks is the driving force behind a trade. Such is the nature when these ‘rumors’ present itself.
From our show today: I'm told Brandin Cooks is the driving force behind trade talks. Wants out of #SAINTS offense.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 2, 2017
If indeed the type of reported compensation is in play, which suggests the Saints could pick up the 18th overall pick for Cooks from the Titans (among other theories), then there has to be some type of consideration by general manager Mickey Loomis and company. It's no secret that the Saints want to give proper attention to their defense, and it's unfortunate that it's only received 'patch work' over the past few seasons by mostly rolling the dice on veteran free agents, failed draft picks, and hoping younger players develop to contribute.
Make no mistake about it, but Brandin Cooks is an absolute treasure in the Saints offense. Losing him would hurt the offense, maybe not to the point where it forces them to be anything outside the Top 10 in the NFL, but simply suggesting Payton’s crew can easily find someone of his caliber may be harder than you think. That being said, let’s take a look at some of the benefits and downside of dealing Cooks.
With two of the Top 20 picks, the Saints could easily gain two Day 1 starters on defense. The way the chips have fallen in free agency, a pass rusher might be best filled through the draft. Also, without a foreseeable and definitive replacement for Jairus Byrd, the team could realistically gain another safety in the mix. This could also allow the Saints to gain a starting linebacker like Reuben Foster.
Naturally, the Saints might have a plan of attack and their sites set on a receiver in the draft that could be their answer. Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel in the second round could make a lot of sense should the Saints use two of their top picks on addressing their glaring needs. Of course, there could also be someone they’re eyeing in free agency - which may not make as much sense. Lastly, could it mean a player like Jordan Williams-Lambert is ready to make the leap to be in the equation?
Offloading Cooks now, which is still very friendly to the salary cap, would save the Saints the need to use the fifth-year option on him. Even by doing that, it would still come out cheaper than a contract extension for a player who hasn’t even hit 25 yet. Arguably, this is the highest value Cooks has right now, and the time to trade him would be now to get back the highest rate of return.
If Cooks is realistically a growing distraction or cancer in New Orleans, then moving on from him to make him someone else’s problem is a good thing. Payton has shown a ‘zero tolerance’ attitude to players that cause problems, and maybe Cooks is in that dog house, despite what Payton will say.
Brandin Cooks is not Michael Thomas, and Michael Thomas is not Brandin Cooks. There’s a growing narrative that the second-year receiver would simply pick up the production for Cooks, but they are two totally different receivers. There’d still be a vacancy to fill, as Cooks is used in a variety of looks. It’s not only a speed thing when you talk about his routes. Cooks can run just about any route that’s asked of him with ease, and when he gets out in space is where he’s most dangerous.
Without Cooks, the Saints still have Brandon Coleman (RFA) and Willie Snead (ERFA) to worry about. Now, those should be easy decisions made by the front office, but unloading a player that’s contributed and added so much to the offense over the past two seasons isn’t ideal when you are looking at a potential ‘last march’ for Payton and Drew Brees.
As mentioned in the pros, perhaps the Saints have their eye on a veteran wide receiver that has become or will become available for free agency. Again, you have a lot of holes to fill, with re-signing Nick Fairley being at the top of the list. There’s not many, if any, veteran receivers that would come into New Orleans that would be cheaper than Cooks’ $2.66 million cap figure.
In a nutshell: If the Saints are simply gauging the value of Cooks, then I believe they’ll do their due diligence before unloading him. There’s obviously more to the story with last year’s outburst from Cooks, and the Saints would absolutely have to get the right value in return to even think about trading Brandin Cooks. In a league where an unproven, mediocre quarterback like Sam Bradford can get traded for a King’s Ransom, anything is possible for the Saints.
Be sure to check out some of my honest thoughts with Music City Miracle Radio this morning.