The New Orleans Saints' Brandin Cooks is the most prominent receiver to have surfaced in potential trade talks involving both the Tennessee Titans and the Philadelphia Eagles, according to league sources.
The Titans are considered the more likely suitor, per one source, but two other sources have conflicting opinions on which team is considered the favorite to acquire Cooks if the Saints trade him. Any deal cannot become official until the new league business year, which starts March 9 at 4 p.m. ET.
One scenario has the Titans simply trading their first-round pick (No. 18 overall) for Cooks, who was the Saints' 20th pick in the first round of the 2014 draft. Another scenario, per sources, has the two teams swapping slots in the first round, involving the Titans moving from the No. 5 pick (acquired from the Rams) to the Saints' 11th pick, with another pick or two also in play.
Saints coach Sean Payton has called reports that Cooks is available "garbage," but he was more measured Thursday.
"I wouldn't say he's on the trade block," he said, according to the team's website.
Payton acknowledged that the Saints will listen to interested teams, but "it would have to be something real significant" to pry Cooks away, he said.
"I've said this before: Brandin is someone we value tremendously in our system," Payton said. "He's been extremely productive. He's everything we were wanting when we drafted him."
He said that some teams need help at receiver. The Saints have needs on defense. So teams talk.
"But right now I'm comfortable, we're comfortable, with him in a Saints uniform," Payton said. "And we think the world of him and his skill set. So it would have to be something real significant. That's part of being at the combine. That's one of the things that takes place down here. And that certainly spreads quicker now than it would 10 years ago."
The idea of a trade started to gain momentum last year, when Cooks expressed his frustration with his role in New Orleans' offense after he had zero targets in a 49-21 rout over the Los Angeles Rams -- including the memorable line "Closed mouths don't get fed."
Cooks felt he was being used too often as a clear-out receiver. However, he insisted that his passion came from wanting to be great and to help the team, and there didn't seem to be a lingering issue after he expressed that. Payton blamed Cooks' former agent for stirring things up.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson proved to be aggressive in his first year on the job in 2016, and one of his priorities is to acquire a quality receiver, preferably one with speed. Cooks meets that criteria. In three seasons, he has 215 catches for 2,861 yards and 20 touchdowns. He had 78 catches for 1,123 yards (15.0 average) and eight touchdowns in 2016.
The Eagles also want to find a receiver in an attempt to upgrade assets around quarterback Carson Wentz, the team's top pick in 2016. They will have either the 14th or 15th pick in the draft, pending a coin flip with the Colts that is scheduled to take place at 12:30 p.m. on Friday.
Cooks will enter the fourth year of his five-year rookie contract with a base salary of $1.56 million for 2017. The team holds a fifth-year option on him, which will likely be exercised and will likely cost around $8.5 million for 2018. He is eligible to have his contract renegotiated, but the Saints are not obligated to redo the deal nor do they appear inclined to do so at this time.
The Saints are deep at the receiver position, which includes Michael Thomas and Willie Snead. Thomas set Saints rookie receiving records in 2016, with 92 catches for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns. Snead had 72 catches for 895 yards and four TDs as the No. 3 receiver.
A Cooks trade could make sense because the Saints have a glaring need to improve their defense and a proven history of continuing to thrive on offense without their top playmakers. That line of thinking led to tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Kenny Stills being traded in 2014.
If the Saints do move up to the fifth pick in the draft, the intrigue over whether they might consider drafting a successor for quarterback Drew Brees will also pick up steam.
Payton also confirmed to the Saints' website that safety Jairus Byrd will be released in the next week.
"In my conversations with him, I know the most frustrating thing for him and for us was just the injury he suffered [a major knee injury in 2014]," Payton said. "He's an extremely talented player. News like that, I think, is important for the player to get prior to the start of free agency so he can put himself in a position to sign with a club. But at some point, I think in the next three or four days, that will become official."
Information from ESPN's Mike Triplett was used in this report.