Brandin Cooks is latest playmaker Saints confident they can replace

METAIRIE, La. -- Trading a dynamic offensive star like Brandin Cooks in his prime is a bit of a stunner.

Except when it comes to the New Orleans Saints, that is.

This has become business as usual for a team that has also traded away past offensive standouts Jimmy Graham (2015), Reggie Bush (2011), Darren Sproles (2014), Chris Ivory (2013) and Kenny Stills (2015).

The fan base was more up in arms about some of those deals than others (and still cringes every time the ageless Sproles breaks a long TD for the Philadelphia Eagles). But the reasoning is obvious:

Even after making all of those moves, the Saints have still had the NFL’s No. 1 offense in total yardage in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2016 (and No. 2 in 2012 and 2015).

Their passing offense hasn’t ranked lower than fourth in 11 years.

It’s the Sean Payton-Drew Brees factor. And the Saints keep banking (hoping? gambling?) that Payton and Brees can continue to produce one of the NFL’s elite offenses after losing elite playmakers.

I’m betting they can, too -- regardless of how you may feel about whether New Orleans got enough value in return for Cooks, which is a fair debate (and a volatile one among Saints fans right now).

Knowing that they were going to part ways with Cooks, the Saints signed a cheaper deep threat in veteran receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who can help open things up for receivers Michael Thomas and Willie Snead and tight end Coby Fleener, among others. They also beefed up their offensive line with standout young right guard Larry Warford from the Detroit Lions.

So the prediction here is that New Orleans still posts a top-three offense in 2017.

But here is the much greater question: Will the Saints finally post a winning record after three straight 7-9 seasons?

It’s hard to argue that the No. 32 pick in the draft, which New Orleans got from the New England Patriots in the Cooks trade, will suddenly transform their defense into a playoff-caliber unit on its own. (Heck, the Saints might even wind up using that pick on a new, cheaper offensive playmaker. Wouldn’t Christian McCaffrey be fun?)

But the No. 32 pick in the draft is still a valuable commodity -- and it now adds to a pretty good collection of resources the Saints have this offseason, which started with nearly $30 million in salary-cap space.

Really, this trade was almost a carbon copy of the shocking Graham deal to the Seattle Seahawks two years ago -- right down to hints of discontent between player and team (this time over Cooks' role in the offense and perhaps the trade talks themselves).

Graham had recently become the most expensive skill-position player in Saints history with a contract worth $10 million per year, and the Saints saw him as a valuable trade commodity that was somewhat expendable to them.

The Saints sent Graham and a third-round pick to Seattle for the No. 31 pick in the draft and center Max Unger.

Now, it’s too bad that the Saints didn’t get a veteran player this time like Unger (who has turned out to be the best piece in that deal so far). But they did have to give up a third-rounder in that deal to get Unger. So the value isn’t all that different.

Ultimately, that deal didn’t make the Saints any better -- they were 7-9 before it, they’ve been 7-9 ever since.

But the offense did absorb Graham’s loss -- just as it absorbed the losses of Bush, Sproles, Ivory, Stills, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, Pierre Thomas and others.

So the Saints were comfortable making the same bet once again.