The Patriots offered their No. 32 overall pick in this year's NFL draft to the Saints for receiver Brandin Cooks, but New Orleans rejected the proposal with the hope of landing a better pick from another team, NOLA.com reported Saturday, citing multiple sources.
According to the report, the Patriots' proposal also included New Orleans sending a later-round pick back to New England.
NOLA.com said that at least five teams have made overtures toward the dynamic 23-year-old receiver, who is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons.
The Patriots know New Orleans' personnel well, having joined it for joint practices in each of the past two training camps. Bill Belichick said of Cooks last year, "I'm glad we don't have to play him twice a year and he's not in our division. He's a really good player."
Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis both told the team's website last week that they value Cooks, and it would take a lot to pry him away, but neither denied the reports that he has been the subject of trade talks. Both described it as normal for such discussions to take place at the combine.
"I've said this before: Brandin is someone we value tremendously in our system. He's been extremely productive. He's everything we were wanting when we drafted him," Payton said. "Now, that being said, these news items come up, and there are a lot of meetings that take place here. I wouldn't say he's on the trade block. But certainly when a team calls, a team that's looking for a receiver, and we're looking to improve our defense, we're always listening."
The Saints traded up to draft Cooks with the 20th pick of the 2014 draft. He has emerged as one of the NFL's most dynamic playmakers, with a total of 17 touchdown catches the past two seasons and two of the four longest receptions in the NFL last season (98 yards and 87 yards). However, the Saints are deep at the receiver position, thanks to the emergence of 2016 breakout rookie Michael Thomas.
They have much more glaring needs on defense.
The Saints have shown an ability to maintain one of the NFL's top offenses after moving on from top playmakers, including tight end Jimmy Graham, who was dealt to Seattle in a blockbuster two years ago.
Although Payton shot down reports of a possible Cooks trade in recent months, the idea 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 of the Los Angeles Rams, including the memorable line, "Closed mouths don't get fed."
Cooks was frustrated when he felt he was being used too often as a clear-out receiver. However, Cooks 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 between the team and player after that. Payton blamed Cooks' former agent for stirring things up.
The Saints' willingness to trade Cooks likely would be about their needs at other positions, the high value they could get in return for him and the fact that his price tag will escalate soon. Cooks is heading into the final year of his rookie contract at the bargain rate of $1.56 million. But that deal includes a fifth-year option, which will likely cost around $8.5 million for 2018. Cooks' next contract extension after that will likely cost more than $10 million per year, an investment the Saints might not have been willing to make in both Cooks and Thomas.
ESPN's Mike Reiss contributed to this report.