Looking Back…Who Won the Pats-Saints Brandin Cooks Trade?

The History

Most teams would coast after a Super Bowl win, but we know the Patriots aren’t most teams. Bill Belichick saw an opportunity to get an elite receiver at a fair price and took it. No one is better than he at avoiding complacency after success.

Unlike the parade-having Pats, the Saints hadn’t tasted playoff football in years. Three consecutive 7-9 records were the impetus for once again trading away Drew Brees’ top target.

On the two-year anniversary of the Jimmy Graham trade, Cooks got the boot. Back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons weren’t enough to convince management of his importance, apparently. Instead, the Saints opted to roll with Michael Thomas, whom had already begun to challenge Cooks for alpha status as a rookie, as their top receiver.

New England Post Trade

Photo by Charles Krupa/AP

Cooks’ time in New England was pretty status quo for both the player and team. He finished 18 yards shy of a third straight 1,100-yard season as the Patriots returned to the Super Bowl, albeit in a losing effort this time around. Had Cooks not gotten knocked out by Malcolm Jenkins in the big game, New England might have gotten title number six a year early.

That injury-plagued Super Bowl turned out to be Cooks’ last game with the Patriots. That offseason, he was traded for the second time in as many years. This offseason, he was moved again.

It isn’t the greatest legacy to have, but Cooks has to be up there for the most times an NFL player has been traded for a meaningful return. At just 26 years old, he still has plenty more time to be sloppily passed around the league.

Despite his inability to stick with a team long term, Cooks has been productive wherever he’s gone. In New Orleans, he broke out in his sophomore year and followed that up with a great third season. In his lone year with the Pats, he and Rob Gronkowski formed one of the most devastating receiver duos Tom Brady’s ever had. And, in his first season with the Rams, he posted a career high in yards.

2019, though, was by far the worst year of his career. Maybe that was the first sign of a steep decline, or maybe that will be just a blip on a borderline Hall of Fame-level career. Personally, I think 2020 will be a rebound year for Cooks.

In the Patriots’ deal with Los Angeles, they received first and sixth-round picks in exchange for Cooks and a fourth. So, in the grand scheme of things, they traded a first, third, and fourth for one year of Cooks, a first, fourth, and sixth.

It should be said that their incoming fourth rounder was never used due to Deflategate punishments, but for the purposes of evaluating this trade, we can assume it yielded an average player for the round—a career backup or low-level starter.

Also, the Pats’ incoming first-round pick (23 overall in 2018) landed nine spots higher than the one they sent out (32 overall in 2017). To me, that more than makes up for the extra third they sent out.

You have to look at the overall value Cooks gave the Patriots, and that includes the return they got for trading him. When you look at the net of the two trades, they essentially got a highly productive receiver for a year at no cost.

Somewhat off-topic, but you could make the (admittedly weak) argument Cooks made almost no impact on the Patriots’ success. They made the Super Bowl the year before he came, the year he was there, and the year after he was traded. In fact, the only one they lost was with him. To be fair to Cooks, he also made the Super Bowl the year after he was traded, with his Rams losing.

Anyways, the Cooks saga is some of Belichick’s finest and most underrated work. Only a GM as savvy and bold as he could have pulled off such resounding victories across the board.

New Orleans Post Trade

Photo by Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

While the Patriots killed this trade in a roundabout way, the Saints did so in a more straightforward fashion. For starters, they got outstanding value for Cooks. As we’ve learned, first and third-round picks are a great return for a star receiver (yes, I’m still mad about the Deandre Hopkins trade).

What they did with those picks is even better. Ramczyk has started 52 of 53 (including playoffs) possible games in his career and earned a first-team All-Pro nod last season. Offensive line play has been a huge reason for the Saints’ recent success, and Ramczyk has been instrumental to their excellence.

Hendrickson isn’t nearly as good as Ramczyk, but he’s a good player nonetheless. As a rotational defensive end, he does his job well. It’s no coincidence his best season (4.5 sacks in 2019) coincided with the Saints having one of the better defensive fronts in the league.

Including those guys, the Saints’ 2017 draft was historically great. Marcus Lattimore, Marcus Williams, and Alvin Kamara were all picked that year and are some of the team’s best players entering 2020.

That prolific 2017 class has fueled the Saints’ turnaround. Since that draft, New Orleans has been an annual contender, finishing each of the last three seasons with at least 11 wins. They’re arguably one horrible call away from a Super Bowl appearance and possible victory.

Part of that progress could have something to do with the style shift that concurred with the Cooks trade. In 2017, Brees averaged his fewest attempts per game since 2005⁠—a trend that’s continued the last two years. Instead of directly replacing Cooks’ targets, the Saints opted to become a more balanced team, and to great results.

Record-wise, New Orleans has greatly improved sans Cooks, and you could say the same position-wise. Trading him away opened the door for Thomas to set countless records.

I want to say now that should the Saints ever decide to trade Thomas, they have earned my complete benefit of the doubt. Their track record of trading away and replacing productive receivers is sterling.

The only thing you can point to of the Saints missing Cooks is their struggle to find a robin to Thomas’ batman, and even that has never been more than a minor issue. Plain and simply, New Orleans nailed this trade.

Final Verdict: Patriots Win

This deal was a textbook win-win. Both teams got amazing value, but if I have to pick one winner, it’s New England. After enjoying a great year from Cooks, they flipped him for essentially the same package they spent to acquire him. Getting something as valuable as a year of Cooks virtually for free makes them the clear winners.

Given that, the fact that the Saints are even in the discussion speaks to how insanely well they did in this trade. Despite doing slightly worse than their counterparts, New Orleans aced this deal without a doubt.

Who do you think won the Cooks trade? What trade should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

Looking Back…Who Won the Bills-Rams Sammy Watkins Trade?

The History

Watkins was electric to start his career. A solid rookie season was followed up by a star-making sophomore year, and it looked as if Buffalo would have a superstar wideout for years to come. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.

Watkins battled through various ailments throughout his first two years, though nothing out of the ordinary for an NFL player. During the 2016 offseason, his injury issues started to get more serious, as he fractured his left foot during a workout. That season, Watkins was placed on IR after a teammate stepped on and reinjured his foot.

Despite coming back to finish out the season, he’s never fully returned to his old explosive self. After multiple setbacks and surgeries on that same foot, Buffalo deemed the situation serious enough to trade away the promising youngster.

Los Angeles viewed Watkins as a worthwhile risk. For a team riding one of the longest playoff droughts in American sports, almost any risk was worthwhile.

If he could stay healthy, Watkins was worth far more than Buffalo’s asking price. Especially to a team desperate for receiver help and general star power—the Rams were entering their second season back in L.A. and struggling to gain fans.

Los Angeles Post Trade

Photo by Alex Gallardo/AP

If you just look at Watkins’ stats, he was a huge disappointment. In 15 games, he posted 39 catches for 593 yards. Those are unacceptable numbers for a supposed number one receiver.

However, this is one of those cases where the numbers are deceiving. A receiving core that was supposed to be a huge weakness unexpectedly became a strength of the team. Rookie Cooper Kupp and free agent signing Robert Woods greatly outperformed expectations while Todd Gurley was one of the best pass-catching backs in the league.

Some of their success can be accredited to the attention Watkins received deep down the field, as multiple players and avid film watchers noted. Sure, it would’ve been nice for him to have better individual stats, but I doubt first-year coach Sean McVay was complaining much about the offense. In 2017, the Rams rode the highest-scoring offense in the league to their first playoff birth since 2004.

Watkins’ contract with the Chiefs speaks more about his value than any counting stats. After one season in Los Angeles, the Watkins signed a 3-year, $48 million deal to head to Missouri. Admittedly, I’ve called that an overpay since the day it was signed, but it speaks to how teams view him. L.A. also deserves credit here for avoiding the sunk cost fallacy by not overpaying Watkins themselves.

Obviously, one year of subpar production was not what the Rams were hoping for, but I don’t think the Watkins era was as bad as some may think. He played for pennies in L.A. and didn’t cost a ton to acquire. His departure also netted the team a third-round compensatory pick in 2019.

Compensatory picks are often wrongly when reviewing trades. In a roundabout way, the Rams traded a second-round pick for Watkins and a third, albeit with that pick coming a year later. They also hit on the pick they directly received, with Joseph-Day developing into a quality starter.

Los Angeles essentially got a year of good receiver play for peanuts, even if they had higher hopes at the time of the trade. I’m sure making the Super Bowl the year he left helped ease any pain of what-if questions, too.

Buffalo Post Trade

Photo by Matthew Healey/UPI

Under new coach Sean McDermott, the Bills joined the Rams in the 2017 postseason, ending an 18-year drought of their own. The team greatly surpassed expectations and showed no signs of missing their star receiver.

In that sense, the Bills did a great job trading away Watkins. A lot of teams would’ve kept him with the hope he returned to form. Realistically, that was unlikely to ever happen in Buffalo, so dealing him before he hit free agency was smart.

It’s hard to look at their compensation and call them a huge winner, though. Gaines played well as a starter in 2017 before signing with the Browns the following offseason. He’s back in Buffalo now, but that should play no part in evaluating this trade. And while the pick they received was used to get Allen, it was a relatively minor part of the package. As Watkins was still on his rookie contract, the deal didn’t save them much money, either.

Given all that, it’s tough to say they received a lot in return for Watkins. However, the current state of the franchise means they made the right choice. Another year-plus of Watkins may have surpassed the value of Gaines and the pick, but keeping him also would have taken them down a different path than this current one.

The Bills are the favorites to win their division and dark horse Super Bowl contenders, so if trading Watkins helped get them here, it was all worth it. Hell, they even have a new star receiver in Stefon Diggs. There should be no regrets on Buffalo’s side.

Final Verdict: Rams Win

Overall, this trade was solid for both teams. Buffalo may be in the better place today, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about who got more value out of the swapped assets, and that’s the Rams. They got an inexpensive receiver who helped transform their roster, a gem at defensive tackle, and a high comp pick once Watkins left. In exchange for a decent starting corner and a late second-round pick, that’s a win.

Who do you think won the Watkins trade? What trade should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

Looking Back…Who Won the Saints-Seahawks Jimmy Graham Trade?

The History

This deal was huge at the time. New fans may remember him as a slow and overpaid redzone threat, but peak Graham was on a historic tear at his position. With Drew Brees feeding him, Graham was right there with Rob Gronkowski for the title of most dangerous pass-catching tight end in the league.

Unfortunately for New Orleans, the statistical dominance of the combo didn’t translate to team dominance. In Graham’s star 2011-2014 seasons, the Saints never advanced past the divisional round and missed the playoffs entirely twice. Even though Graham was far from the problem, it didn’t seem like New Orleans could get over the hump with the current roster.

To make matters worse, Graham wanted elite compensation for his elite status. New Orleans and its star spent the 2014 offseason locked in a contentious arbitration battle over Graham’s true position (with the Saints ultimately winning and applying the cheaper tight end franchise tag). Eventually, they agreed on a massive $40 million deal and the 2014 season played out per usual—with Graham posting gaudy numbers and the team stumbling to seven wins.

On March 10, 2015, Mickey Loomis decided something needed to change. That day, Graham was dealt to a Seattle team looking for offensive reinforcements following a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss. The Seahawks gave up their starting center and a first-round pick with the hopes that an upgrade at tight end would extend their streak of Super Bowl appearances.

Seattle Post Trade

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Seahawks were this close to being back-to-back Super Bowl champs, so adding one of the best weapons in the league had to certify them as a dynasty, right?

Kind of. Seattle is yet to have a losing season since the trade and advanced to the divisional round in Graham’s first year. But, they also haven’t made it past that round since.

Part of that is the result of the trade. It didn’t take long to realize Graham wasn’t going to make the same impact in Seattle as he did by the bayou. Unlike the pass-happy Saints, the Seahawks were built on defense and the run game.

Even still, Graham was on track to post strong numbers once again in 2015. Then, for the first time in his career, he suffered a serious injury. A torn patellar tendon ended his season and cemented a rocky start to his stay in the Pacific Northwest.

A bounce back 2016 season proved to be the outlier in Graham’s career outside of New Orleans. He lasted one more disappointing season in Seattle before somehow earning two more big contracts with the Packers and Bears. Despite playing with Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, glimpses of the old Graham were few and far between.

Besides getting less impact from their star acquistion than expected, this trade really crippled Seattle. On the bright side, they did a great job with the pick they received, coupling it with some of their own picks to trade up for Tyler Lockett.

That’s about all we have for the bright side. Trading away the linchpin of their offensive line led Seattle down the dark path of turnstiles protecting Wilson they’ve become known for.

As we all saw, age and injuries hit the Seahawks hard. The youthful and exciting Legion of Boom crumbled quickly. The money dedicated to Graham or the departed first-round pick would have been the perfect means to replenish the defense. Or reinforce the offensive line. Instead, those holes went on to sink Seattle’s championship aspirations.

Wilson and Pete Carroll have overcome these issues remarkably, with the aforementioned streak of winning seasons being truly mind-blowing outside of New England. Once the calendar turns, though, the heroic efforts of those two fall short against more complete teams.

It would’ve happened eventually, but the Graham trade accelerated Seattle’s transition from a young and deep team to an aging and incomplete one.

New Orleans Post Trade

Photo by Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

Nothing really changed early on for New Orleans. The offense remained potent and the defense porous. Just as they did in Graham’s last year, the Saints went 7-9 in 2015 and 2016.

With Sean Payton’s genius guiding him, Brees continued to light defenses up, as Brandin Cooks took over as his favorite target. Overall, the Saints didn’t seem to lose much by trading Graham. Given that, it almost didn’t matter what the Saints did with the crown jewel of their return—Seattle’s 2015 first-round pick.

Well, it’s a good thing it didn’t matter because that pick did not turn out well. Their selection, linebacker Stephone Anthony, flashed as a rookie before injuries and inconsistency led the team to give up on him. Shortly into his third season, the Saints flipped Anthony for a fifth-round pick. Needless to say two unspectacular years of play and a day three pick in return are not a good return on a first-round pick.

That pick was the meat of the deal, but the sides ended up making up for the main course in this case. Dumping Graham’s contract helped to unclog the Saints’ perennially messy books. Max Unger started all but one game and made a Pro Bowl in his four years with the team. He played a large role in establishing the offensive line as a strength of the team, as it has remained for years now.

Both Unger and the money saved were instrumental in leading New Orleans to this current era of regular season dominance. There have surely been times when Brees missed his old favorite target, but that trade was a key stepping stone to the current team status.

Final Verdict: Saints Won

This trade was neither great nor destructive for either side. While Seattle got less impact out of Graham than anticipated, he was still solid and the pick they received was key to landing Lockett.

New Orleans completely botched their pick and missed the playoffs the first two years after the trade. Still, they win this trade relatively comfortably. They were going nowhere fast with Graham, so getting out of his contract while picking up a stud center was a shrewd move.

Who do you think won the Graham trade? What trade should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

Which Young QB is the Best MVP Bet à la Jackson and Mahomes?

Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP

Everything comes in threes, right? In each of the last two years, a young quarterback with long odds has taken home the Most Valuable Player trophy. Patrick Mahomes (as low as +10000 opening odds; +5500 at Bovada) took it home in 2018, while Lamar Jackson (+10000 opening odds at Westgate) snagged it last year.

So, if the rule of 3 persists, who will be the upstart surprise this year? Obviously this is a complete guessing game, but I have a few guys from the 2018 and 2019 drafts who intrigue me. All odds are from CBS Sports via William Hill Sports Book.

The Not-So-Long Shots

Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals (+2500)

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Murray fits all the criteria—an immensely talented young quarterback with an exciting skill set on a team ripe for improvement—except for, well, the whole long shot part. Sure, there are seven guys with better odds than Murray, but at +2500, he doesn’t fit the trend of absolute shockers winning MVP. It almost feels like his odds are only this short because of how well he fits the mold of Mahomes and Jackson. Under Kliff Kingsbury, the Cardinals will air it out a ton just as Texas Tech did when Kingsbury coached Mahomes, while Murray is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks behind Jackson. It’s a shame about the odds, really, because Murray would have been my easy choice based on his individual talent and team potential.

Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (+4000)

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We’re starting to get there in terms of long shots. I honestly like Allen’s case better because you trade slightly less talent for a more proven team and far better odds. A lot of people like to take jabs at Allen for his inaccuracy, and that’s definitely an issue, but he has a cannon for an arm and is another elite rushing quarterback. With Tom Brady switching conferences, the AFC East is Buffalo’s for the taking, too. Team success plays just as big a role in voting as player stats. Player stats are actually where I have my doubts about Allen. The Bills are a run-first, defensive-minded team. It’s unlikely they’ll score enough for Allen to post gaudy numbers. He had 29 total touchdowns last year. In their MVP seasons, Mahomes had 52 and Jackson had 43 (in 15 games while sitting a number of fourth quarters). Allen is talented and should have one of the best records in the league, but he may struggle to post the sexy stats needed for a trophy.

A Hope and a Prayer

Daniel Jones, New York Giants (+10000)

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With Jones, you’re betting almost entirely on an offensive explosion along the lines of the 2019 Ravens and 2018 Chiefs. And honestly, it’s not the worst bet. In less than a full season’s work, Jones showed a propensity for big plays. Surrounded by Saquon Barkley, a good receiving corps, and what should now be a stout offensive line, there’s potential for him to even improve on last year’s pace. The play calling should be better, too. I wasn’t a big fan of Pat Shurmur as a coach or play caller, so Jason Garrett returning to the role of offensive coordinator could benefit everyone. Unfortunately for Jones, the chances of this team being good enough for him to win MVP are slim. Pretty much every one of his weapons battled injuries last season and the defense has a long way to go before it’s playoff-ready. Betting on Jones is betting on the Giants offense to go full supernova this season.

Dwayne Haskins, Washington Redskins (+15000)

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Full transparency: my interest in Haskins is almost entirely based on the team rather than the player. Washington is a sleeper team of mine, largely because of their coaching hires. Ron Rivera has multiple Coach of the Year awards and an MVP winner under his belt, Scott Turner did a good job running the offense along with his dad in Carolina, and Jack Del Rio parlayed his success as a defensive coordinator into multiple head coaching gigs. Then there’s the depth chart featuring possibly the best pass rush in the league and some other intriguing pieces. Haskins showed promise towards the end of last year, so a breakout sophomore season is a possibility. I wouldn’t count on it, nor a great record from Washington, but at +15000, the chance of both makes Haskins a worthy flier.

The Golden Ticket

Drew Lock, Denver Broncos (+12500)

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I’m honestly shocked Lock’s odds were ever this low. Unsurprisingly, some books have upped his odds to +6500. Regardless of what number you get him at, Lock is a fascinating bet. He fits the Mahomes/Jackson mold almost as perfectly as Murray, with good athleticism and an arm bested only by the Mahomes’ of the world. Lock and Denver have both gotten love this offseason, and for good reason. A team that won four of its last five games added an exciting draft class, made shrewd trades for impactful veterans, and will return Bradley Chubb from injury. Inserting Lock into the starting lineup was a big reason for the late-season surge, and his new weapons only inspire more confidence for a big year. And with Vic Fangio coaching, we know Lock will be supported by an excellent defense. However, as we saw last year with the Browns, offseason hype doesn’t always translate into success, and the aforementioned Shurmur calling plays is slightly disheartening. There’s always going to be risk in the NFL and betting, though. Lock presents the best chance for bettors to recreate the Mahomes and Jackson magic.

Who’s your pick of the five? What about guys like Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Gardner Minshew and Jarrett Stidham? Sound off in the comments.