Rumors have been swirling all week that Brandin Cooks, the 23-year old deep receiving threat in the New Orleans Saints offense, wants out. Cooks hired a new agent this spring (incidentally, the same representative as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz) and apparently doesn’t think he’s a good fit with Saints Hall of Fame passer Drew Brees. Good luck to him.
Anyway, that puts the Saints in the great position of owning all leverage in this situation. They can’t afford to squander it. Cooks still has two years (including a fifth-year option that can be picked up later this offseason) left on his rookie contract, so the Saints effectively control his future. He can threaten to hold out if not traded, but the Saints drafted Cooks in the first place specifically because he fit the kind of guy they wanted in their locker room. I wouldn’t expect Cooks to bail on his teammates if trade talks fall apart, no matter how awkward it gets.
The Saints originally invested two picks in acquiring Cooks, trading their 2014 first and third round picks to move up ahead of receiver-needy teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. Since then Cooks has paid off in a big way, catching 66-percent of his targets for 1100-plus yards and 8 or 9 scores after a thumb injury cut his rookie year short. As a player who the Saints spent multiple picks in to get and who has returned on that investment in a big way, they have to recoup that value in a possible trade for him.
Two leading suitors have emerged, per multiple reports. The Tennessee Titans should be in the driver’s seat of trade offers thanks to their draft capital including two 2017 first round picks (#5 and #18 overall) and two third round picks (#83 and #100). The Eagles are their main competitors, boasting less 2017 draft picks in the first two days of selections but consistent value throughout the first five rounds (picks #14, #43, #74 #119, #139, and #155). The Eagles also have some productive veteran players in Mychal Kendricks and Connor Barwin who don’t fit Jim Schwartz’s defense.
So that brings us to the offers on the table. According to Canal Street Chronicles managing editor John Hendrix, the Saints’ asking price for Cooks is a 2017 first round pick and multiple picks in the 2018 draft. That lines up with a report from Bleacher Report NFL Draft lead writer Matt Miller that multiple draft picks would have to be on the table for a team to get Cooks away from the Saints. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis indicated Cooks’ high asking price in an interview with NewOrleansSaints.com senior writer John DeShazier:
“You get calls every year about players on your team, and you make calls about players on other teams. We always listen. But, man, we like Brandin Cooks an awful lot. So it would take an awful lot for us to consider making a move there. But we’re always open for business, I guess is the best way to say it.”
Of course, the teams trying to trade for Cooks are probably going to start negotiations by underselling him. Sirius XM NFL Radio host Alex Marvez indicated that the Eagles are offering just their 2017 second round pick for Cooks, though it’s easy to imagine them throwing in players like Kendricks and Barwin (that they have been trying to trade for months) to sweeten the deal. That offer is laughable.
The Saints need to at least get back what they’ve invested in Cooks, so any offer less than a first and a third round pick is at best breaking even. Considering the high level of production that Cooks has established for himself, the Saints should be looking for even more.
The Titans have better resources to meet the Saints’ demands than the Eagles. Thanks to their two first round picks, they can cede the latter (#18) and one of their third round picks (preferably #83), plus a 2018 pick (I would ask for their future second round selection). The Titans still have picks in the first and third rounds in 2017 so this wouldn’t be a huge hit for them.
If that asking price seems high, let’s check the math. For years NFL teams have referred to a draft pick valuation chart created by Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson when negotiating trades, and I’ll be doing the same. Some analysts around the NFL community have begun to see the chart as archaic with teams taking different approaches to assigning pick values, but it’s the best public resource at our disposal. The smart guys at Inside The Pylon have created their own valuation tool.
So I’ll say that Cooks is valued at 1,500 points per Johnson’s valuation chart. That’s based off the initial draft capital spent on Cooks (2014 draft picks #27 and #91, which were worth a combined 816 points). Cooks has played at a high level since, and I’ve estimated the value of 80-catch, 1,100-yard, 8-touchdown seasons to be worth about 700 points in draft currency. So that’s a combined (rounded) 1,500 points, though Cooks’ value likely varies from one team to the next.
The Titans’ picks in this scenario are worth a combined 1,475 points. Their additional first round pick, #18, is worth 900 points. Their third round pick, #83, is valued at 175 points. Their second round pick is estimated to be worth 400 points. This is as close to an even deal as you’ll find.
Sure, whichever team trades for Cooks will have to pay him top dollar once his rookie deal expires. But that’s the luxury that teams with young quarterbacks like the Eagles (Wentz) and Titans (Marcus Mariota) enjoy. They are uniquely able to spend more salary cap space on other positions. Cooks’ future extension isn’t the Saints’ problem, but we’ll spot them the 25-point draft currency difference to help balance it out.
It remains to be seen whether Cooks will be traded, but his eagerness to leave and the opportunity to add more pieces towards fixing the defense make him as good as gone. Brees and head coach Sean Payton orchestrated the league’s top offense before he came around, and they can do it again without him thanks to depth at wideout between Michael Thomas and Willie Snead.
Regardless, it’s clear that the Saints need at least a first round pick in exchange for Cooks. Anything less is a failure. We’ll know more when the new league fiscal year kicks off next Thursday at 3:00 PM CST. Get ready for chaos.