Last Thursday, Chris Mortensen from ESPN reported that Brandin Cooks trade talks among the Saints, Titans, and Eagles had taken place as free agency approaches. With few veteran standout wide receivers available this offseason (Alshon Jeffrey and Kenny Stills are arguably the crown jewels), it made sense for the Titans and Eagles to contact the Saints in order to test the waters and find out what it would cost to acquire the former first round draft pick out of Oregon State.
There are several scenarios being thrown around and who knows how much validity these reports have. Sean Payton himself has given conflicting interviews over the past few weeks. The Saints may have simply picked up the phone when those teams called, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are totally serious about parting with their only asset remaining from the 2014 draft.
Until March 9th, when trades can officially begin, no one knows if Cooks will still be donning the black and gold in 2017. In my opinion, Cooks should stay. His base salary of $1.56 million is little more than the $1.1 million the Saints would face in dead money if he is traded. He stands side by side with Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. as the only wide receivers to notch over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Cooks has a fantastic rapport with Drew Brees both on and off the field. Cooks even bought a home in San Diego only a stone’s throw away from his offseason training partner. The speedster has only gotten better each year and is the first wide receiver in a Saints uniform to have the ability to stretch the field since Devery Henderson.
The only problem with Cooks is that he might not want to be here as much as his fans, coaches, and teammates do. Following the Saints WIN (I feel it necessary to capitalize that) against the Rams late last season, Cooks took to Twitter to voice his displeasure over his usage in New Orleans. It was a cryptic message that Cooks never fully explained nor defended:
“They tell you it's a business. Well I guess I have to turn into a businessman #shootyourarrows”
Some have pondered ever since that tweet whether Cooks was threatening to demand a trade. In its essence, this is a preposterous presumption because the Saints have Cooks under contract for at least one more year, and two more if they decide to exercise his fifth-year option. The Saints hold all the cards in this hand. The Eagles, Titans, and Cooks are just along for the ride.
If the trade does go down, the Saints better get more than the Titans’ 18th overall pick. Cooks was drafted with the 20th overall pick, and has spent three years in the pros developing under one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
He has pro experience which a rookie will not. In year four of his rookie contract, he’s not much more expensive than a 2017 first round pick either. Even though the Saints would be unlikely to use this alleged pick on an offensive player, there’s little chance any player could have the same impact Cooks has had over the past three years.
In 10 games in 2014, Cooks caught 53 passes for 550 yards (10.4 average yards per catch) and 3 touchdowns. In 16 games in 2015, he caught 84 passes for 1,138 yards (13.5 average yards per catch) and 9 touchdowns. In 16 games in 2016, he caught 78 passes for 1,173 yards (15 average yards per catch) and 8 touchdowns.
Yes, he was targeted 12 less times this year than last and caught six less passes too. But he was still featured heavily in every game plan except against the Rams. If he doesn’t like being a deep threat, then I don’t know, don’t run so fast maybe? It boggles my mind that an athlete would dislike their best attribute being utilized. His talent for speed is exactly what sets him apart from other receivers.
And that speed mixed with Michael Thomas’ box out ability and Willie Snead’s shiftiness in traffic are what make the Saints wide receiver cupboard so full and diverse. It would be an absolute shame for the Saints to unload a vital treasure in that cupboard because of a player’s inability to share the spotlight.
They did it already with Jimmy Graham by dealing him after their relationship turned tumultuous during his contract negotiations. Max Unger was a great addition to the team, but so far Stephone Anthony has not been so valuable. And after handing Coby Fleener $7 million per year, maybe holding on to Graham wouldn’t have been so awful. If the Saints are going to have a tight end who can’t block, they might as well have one who can at least catch the ball.
But, I digress. Back to Cooks because he is on the team now, and whether he stays or goes will absolutely have an impact on the team, both offensively and defensively, especially if the team uses him to acquire defensive talent.
The wideout’s maturity, professionalism, preparedness, and leadership have all been widely raved about by coaches and team mates alike. Here’s where Cooks lost me though.
Good leaders don’t complain about usage following a team win. Mature players don’t need to be coddled with extra touches and opportunities. True professionals don’t voice their child like whelping over social media instead of keeping it in the locker room. So after deciding to start shooting his own arrows, Cooks might now need to prepare his luggage.
If there is one thing Sean Payton can’t stand, it’s a selfish player who cares for themselves over team success. Though, in the end, Payton has the power to keep or deal Cooks, it’s Cooks who may have cooked his own goose in New Orleans.