The New Orleans Saints add and upgrade on both sides of the football in this final mock draft before the real deal kicks off this evening.
First-round pick (12) traded to New York Jets for DE Muhammad Wilkerson and 20th overall pick
The New Orleans Saints stunned the world last year by drafting an offensive tackle and linebacker in the first round, neither of which had happened in nine previous drafts. I’m projecting the Saints to continue that trend-breaking with a surprise trade down.
The Saints have traded up in every draft managed by Sean Payton (he was suspended for the 2012 draft, in which the team did no trades) but the time is ripe to change that pattern. Second-year college scouting director/assistant general manager successfully talked Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis out of trading into the top-ten picks of last year’s draft, and he should continue to make a positive influence in the draft-day war room.
Every year, fans of every team want to see their franchise find a trade partner and move down to pick up more assets. That doesn’t happen often because you need to find a willing partner to give up those assets in the first place. Fortunately for the New Orleans Saints, I’ve identified the perfect candidate to work out a trade with.
The New York Jets are, again, without a quarterback. Last year’s starter, journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, turned heads as he ran Chan Gailey’s surprisingly-efficient offense. But the Jets have struggled to work out a contract extension with the veteran, to much chagrin. Geno Smith proved he wasn’t the answer through two difficult years and a locker room fight/fiasco that put him on the bench. Last year’s fourth round pick, Bryce Petty, hasn’t shown much improvement. No matter how well head coach Todd Bowles can marshal the Jets’ defense, they’ll never catch the New England Patriots without a solid quarterback situation.
With the top two quarterbacks in this year’s draft, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, locked in to join the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles, pickings are slim for the Jets at the 20th overall pick. They would need to reach on another project like Dak Prescott, Connor Cook, or Christian Hackenberg later in the draft and likely be right where they are with Petty. Paxton Lynch is the lone talent worth first-round consideration, and it’s not likely he makes it past the San Francisco 49ers at 7th overall nor the Cleveland Browns at 8th. But since this is a mock draft and I get to make the rules, he’s available at the 12th overall pick.
Like the Saints, the Jets are aching for some draft capital. Both teams have only six draft picks in 2016. Luckily, the Jets and general manager Mike Maccagnan have other assets worth considering. Defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson is slated to play out his franchise tag in 2016 and hit free agency next spring. Negotiations with Wilkerson have stalled for two years, but this could be a way to bag two birds with one stone.
Trading Wilkerson would free up nearly $15-million in salary cap space for the Jets, which would allow them to easily re-sign their incumbent quarterback. It would also move the Jets from the 20th overall pick to the 12th overall. Based off valuation metrics and Jimmy Johnson’s Draft Pick Value Chart, Wilkerson easily makes up the difference in value between those two picks. Judging by the huge hauls gotten by the Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns in their recent trades, the Jets should be happy to not lose any draft picks.
The Jets would get their current starter back and a young gun who can compete to start right away, eager for the day the 33-year old Fitzpatrick yields his starting job. The Saints get one of the NFL’s premier talents at a position of desperate need; Wilkerson has missed only three games in his five-year career (a late-season broken leg last year notwithstanding) while racking up 50 tackles for loss, 36.5 sacks, 21 pass deflections and 10 forced fumbles. He’ll outplay any rookie the Saints could conceivably add in 2016, and at 26-years old, he’ll continue to do that throughout the prime of his career.
Don’t get it twisted: trading for Wilkerson is just the beginning. He’ll be looking for a well-deserved contract in the neighborhood of $15-million per year with $50-million guaranteed. The Saints can definitely afford that thanks to huge amounts of salary cap space in 2017 and beyond. If quarterback Drew Brees is willing to be a team player and make some room under the 2016 cap for Wilkerson (as he wanted to do for Josh Norman), then all the better.
So who do the Saints draft now that they’ve moved back eight spots?
Next: Round 1, Pick 20