The Saints Should Trade Brandin Cooks

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Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) celebrate after a touchdown during the second quarter of a game against the Oakland Raiders at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) celebrate after a touchdown during the second quarter of a game against the Oakland Raiders at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /
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The New Orleans Saints are listening to offers for Brandin Cooks. With good reason. A trade makes a lot of sense.

The Saints would obviously need to find adequate talent to replace Brandin Cooks’ production in the offense. But there’s plenty of reason to believe they’d be quite capable of doing so. And even besides the picks that they’d reportedly get in return, the New Orleans Saints have a good reason to trade Cooks. He’s due for a massive payday in 2018, and the Saints would rather spend that money to improve an ailing defense.

Add to that the reports that Cooks is the one pushing for a trade, and you start to get a clear picture of why these talks are taking place.

Yes, on the one hand, Cooks is a very good player. He would be an asset to any team.

But among all the teams in the league, the Saints are possibly the most capable of replacing his production.

There’s been talk every year of getting Cooks more involved in intermediate routes, of improving his yards after the catch, of turning him into a Tavon Austin-type gadget threat out of the backfield. But that’s never materialized.

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As of now, Cooks is an excellent deep threat. And he runs a few intermediate routes with great effectiveness, most notably those corner out-routes. But he’s a liability as a blocker in the run game and has struggled as a receiver against top-tier CBs.

The biggest game in support of Cooks’ importance to this team is, without a doubt, the Cardinals game in 2017. The Cards identified Michael Thomas as the bigger threat early in the game and had Patrick Peterson shadow the rookie around the field. Cooks responded by exploding for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

But far too often, when an elite CB sticks Cooks, he falls silent. He can’t get separation, he can’t fight through physicality, and he certainly can’t make over-the-top catches over sound coverage.

The Saints won’t replace Cooks’ effectiveness as a deep threat. But they could easily find a cheaper option.

And while the Saints would focus additional picks on adding to their defense, they could also use one of their picks on a RB. That would really open up this offense in a way that Cooks doesn’t.

A player like Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey would create the mismatch problems that this time has been looking for since Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham.

That’s the sort of offense that thrives under Sean Payton. Cooks never emerged as the player to do that.

Moving the offense in that direction could do a lot of good for this team on both sides of the ball. There’s obviously a lot to love about high-flying, high-scoring offenses like the Saints have had in recent years. But there’s also a real concern with how that style of offense affects the defense.

We saw it in the Super Bowl: An elite offense moves the ball quickly, gets points on the board quickly, and gets their defense back on the field. Quickly. The defense doesn’t have time to rest. They get tired. Meanwhile, the defense that they’re playing against, even if they’re getting handled, stays fresh.

Football is more tiring for defenses than it is for offenses. That’s true all across the unit. And when an offense is based on shot-plays, as it is with Brandin Cooks, that leaves a defense out to dry. Either they hit on their shots and the defense comes back on the field after a the score, or they miss, and the defense comes back on the field after a punt.

Investing in a versatile back like McCaffrey or Dalvin Cook would reorient the offense. They’d be more of a move-the-chains sort of team. And obviously, as with a offensive gameplanner like Sean Payton, each game would come with its own tendencies. But the shift could be very welcome for the defense.

The picks and the deep draft

This draft is being heralded as one of the deepest defensive drafts in recent memory. If the Saints manage to land a few picks in the early rounds those could turn into real difference makers.

That line of argument is going to remind many of the Jimmy Graham trade. The Saints landed a first round pick along with Max Unger and the pick turned into Stephone Anthony. Now Anthony isn’t necessarily a bust. But he’s mighty close. And the Saints can’t afford another mistake like that.

But the Saints are under new scouting management since then, and have a new DC in place. That’s not to say that they’ll hit on every pick they make. But especially after the 2016 draft class, I’d say there’s reason for optimism that they can get the picks right.

That could mean landing Reuben Foster and one of these top DE talents that we’ve heard so much about. That’s a defense-changing class.

The Cap hit

And then there’s the cap space that the Saints would save by letting Cooks go.

In 2017 the relief would be negligible. About $2.6 million against the cap. That’s not going to cover Cooks’ replacement at WR. But it would help.

The real relief would come in 2018, when Cooks could easily demand upwards of 12 or 13 million. That’s not money the Saints want to spend on a deep threat, no matter how effective he is. They can find cheaper players. DeSean Jackson, for example. That’s elite speed at a fraction of the price.

The Saints will have holes to fill in 2018, make no mistake. Along the offensive line, they’re going to need to find replacements for aging veterans. Along the defense they’re going to need to pay up for players like Kenny Vaccaro. And unless this offseason goes perfectly, they’re still going to be looking for answers at either LB, CB, or DL.

Next: Expect Saints To Draft A Safety

That $12+ million in cap space would go a huge way towards putting together a well-rounded roster. Yes, the offense would likely take somewhat of a hit in 2017. But as long as this defense improves, you can’t complain. And despite reports of Brees’s ever-closing window, the Saints can’t get tunnel vision and look only at the next year when evaluating their roster. They need to look to the future. And that means not paying Brandin Cooks money that would be better spent elsewhere.

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