METAIRIE, La. -- When it finally happened, the Brandin Cooks trade was a letdown.
After the hype had built up over the past week that the New Orleans Saints might wind up with Malcolm Butler, the New England Patriots’ young star cornerback -- or perhaps the 18th pick in the draft from the Tennessee Titans -- they wound up dealing Cooks and the No. 118 pick (Round 4) to the Patriots for the No. 32 pick in Round 1 and the No. 103 pick (Round 3).
Now, you may have noticed that draft picks are still a hot commodity in the NFL (see: the Cleveland Browns).
But as far as first-rounders go, this one was as deflating as they get.
And judging from social media, it wasn't just Saints fans who were up in arms -- as some of Cooks' now-former teammates shared their SMHs and surprised emojis:
Maaan thats so weak 🤦🏽♂️#bruuuh
— cameron jordan (@camjordan94) March 11, 2017
We get it... Nobody's safe 😳 #NotForLong 80,84,76,92,10
— cameron jordan (@camjordan94) March 11, 2017
— Terron Armstead (@T_Armstead72) March 11, 2017
— Mike Thomas (@Cantguardmike) March 11, 2017
If Cooks' own teammates don't see a positive spin in this deal, who am I to argue?
But I can at least offer the flip side of the debate:
First, don’t compare what the Saints got to what you hoped they'd get. This obviously was the best offer the Saints received for Cooks after they very publicly shopped him around the NFL and reportedly had several interested suitors. So while fans may have been enchanted by thoughts of Butler or a draft pick in the teens, it's apparent that no team was willing to pay that much.
Instead, consider all the reasons the Saints decided to shop Cooks in the first place: They're confident that with coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees running the show, they still can have one of the NFL's elite passing games without Cooks -- just as they have since parting ways with the likes of Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles, Lance Moore, Kenny Stills, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and countless others.
The Saints wanted to add assets to try keep improving the defense and the offensive line, which more desperately need the help.
And the biggest reason for this trade is that the Saints peeked into their future and realized they weren't going to pay Cooks a blockbuster contract when he became a free agent after the 2018 season.
Cooks, who stunningly is just 23, comes at a bargain rate of $1.56 million for 2017. But his fifth-year option in 2018 will cost around $8.5 million. And his next contract after that should skyrocket beyond that.
The Saints never have invested that kind of money at receiver, and they aren't likely to invest long term in both Cooks and last year's breakout rookie, Michael Thomas.
So by looking ahead and deciding to trade Cooks while his value is high rather than lose him for nothing is very ... Patriots-like.
For now, most probably will agree that the Patriots won this deal -- especially when Cooks starts lighting it up with his next Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady.
However, it's possible that the Saints will wind up swapping a draft pick for Butler, since the Patriots seem to be looking at Butler's long-term value in much the same way that the Saints looked at Cooks' long-term value. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that a Saints-Butler swap still is possible, though it would be independent from the Cooks deal.
It's also possible that the Saints were more eager to trade Cooks because their relationship turned sour after he publicly complained about his role in the offense last year.
But even if that's the case, we're talking about the difference between people being happy with the No. 18 pick in the draft and disappointed with No. 32, so it's a fine line.
The best reason to give the Saints the benefit of the doubt on deal is because they are coming off three straight 7-9 seasons -- even when they posted the NFL's No. 1 offense again last year while Cooks posted back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons.
If any team should be encouraged to try something new, it's the Saints, who have been as prolifically bad on defense as they have been great on offense in recent years.
I'm confident that the Saints will still have one of the NFL's best passing offenses. They added on Friday another speedy receiver, Ted Ginn Jr. Though he is not at the same level as Cooks, Ginn still should help open things up for guys like Thomas, Willie Snead, Coby Fleener and others.
And now the Saints have three of the top 42 picks and five of the top 103 picks in a draft that many analysts feel is loaded with talent, especially on defense.
But the odds of any of those picks measuring up to Cooks' talent level are very, very slim. Which is why everything I just wrote probably isn't enough to counter the simple SMH.