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Saints stick to bold draft strategy: 'If you like the player, go get 'em'

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Chesney and Nashville set for big stage of the NFL draft (3:17)

Country music star Kenny Chesney discusses his love for Nashville, his friendship with Saints head coach Sean Payton and his most memorable NFL draft day experience. (3:17)

METAIRIE, La. -- At this point, it will become a breaking news story if the New Orleans Saints ever decide not to trade up during the NFL draft.

They did it two more times over the weekend, bringing their tally to a whopping 17 times over the past 13 years -- including nine cases where they included a future year’s draft choice in the deal.

Meanwhile, they haven’t traded down since 2007.

But Saints general manager Mickey Loomis makes no apologies for a practice that he said has “been a successful formula for us.”

“Well, it’s calculated, right? So when you have the opportunity to go get somebody, to go get a player that you covet, you go get 'em,” Loomis said. “I’m not saying it’s 100 percent, but it’s a successful formula for us -- and I think for other teams.

“If you like the player, go get 'em. That’s our philosophy.”

Loomis is right. The Saints’ draft-day trades have mostly worked out -- especially over the past eight years. Their move to get running back Alvin Kamara in Round 3 of the 2017 draft should justify the philosophy all by itself.

It also helps that the Saints have been a playoff contender for most of those 13 years, with the same coach, GM and quarterback. So they haven’t really needed to stockpile an abundance of picks to rebuild the roster. (Last year, they wound up cutting their fourth-round pick, fifth-round pick and two sixth-rounders.)

But the real test of New Orleans’ aggressive philosophy should come in the next few years, when we see what happens with 2018 first-round pick Marcus Davenport, 2019 second-round pick Erik McCoy and 2019 fourth-round pick Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.

Those were some of the most aggressive draft-day trades the Saints have made yet. Up until recently, trading up felt like a practice the Saints dabbled in from time to time. Now it has become their way of life -- similar to the way they treat the salary cap like a speed bump by constantly pushing cap costs into future years.

Last year, the Saints used their first-round picks in both 2018 and 2019 -- plus a 2018 fifth-rounder -- to acquire Davenport (moving up from No. 27 to No. 14). This year, they traded away their 2020 second-round pick to move up and get McCoy with the 48th pick.

The jury is still out on Davenport, a defensive end who flashed exciting potential as a part-time pass-rusher before he suffered a toe injury that required postseason surgery. But he is penciled in as a starter for now, after the Saints let Alex Okafor go in free agency.

McCoy, meanwhile, has the chance to replace Pro Bowl center Max Unger, who retired earlier this offseason. ESPN analysts Louis Riddick, Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. all described McCoy as a “plug-and-play starter” in the NFL. Kiper said he was his top-ranked center.

McCoy will have to beat out newly signed free-agent veteran Nick Easton, who played both guard and center for the Minnesota Vikings. McCoy also has some experience at guard. But the Saints told McCoy they view him as a center first.

“I see him at the position he played in college. … It’s early now, but I think we see him as someone coming in as a center,” said Payton, who said McCoy was the Saints’ top target heading into the second round of the draft, even though they weren't originally scheduled to pick until No. 62.

“He wasn't in a group. He was, I would say, probably the target coming in here (Friday) morning. Just feeling like … the vision’s clear, and certainly we felt really good about his talent,” Payton said. “He's one of those players that in the process stood out. I think you see his strength on tape in each game you watch. We really had a high grade on him. He obviously played at a high level of competition, and you see the consistency. And there were just a lot of things to like with the player.”

McCoy (6-foot-4, 303 pounds) started all 39 games for Texas A&M over the past three years and drew praise for his athleticism, intelligence and leadership. Riddick said that fits the same profile as Unger. If that turns out to be the case, this trade will absolutely land in the win column.

Here’s a look at how all 17 of the Saints' trades up over the past 13 years have panned out so far (numbered in no particular order):

Too soon to tell:

1. 2019: C Erik McCoy, second round (No. 48 overall). Traded second-rounder (No. 62), sixth-rounder (No. 202) and 2020 second-rounder for McCoy and fourth-rounder (No. 116).

2. 2019: S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, fourth round (No. 105). Traded fourth-rounder (No. 116) and fifth-rounder (No. 168).

3. 2018: DE Marcus Davenport, first round (No. 14). Traded first-rounder (No. 27), fifth-rounder (No. 147) and 2019 first-rounder .

Knocked it out of the park:

4. 2017: RB Alvin Kamara, third round (No. 67). Traded seventh-rounder (No. 229) and 2018 second-rounder.

Not quite Kamara, but still worth it:

5. 2016: S Vonn Bell, second round (No. 61). Traded third-rounder (No. 78) and fourth-rounder (No. 112).

6. 2016: DT David Onyemata, fourth round (No. 120). Traded fifth-rounder (No. 152) and 2017 fifth-rounder.

7. 2014: WR Brandin Cooks, first round (No. 20). Traded first-rounder (No. 27) and third-rounder (No. 91).

8. 2011: RB Mark Ingram II, first round (No. 28). Traded second-rounder (No. 56) and 2012 first-rounder.

9. 2009: P Thomas Morstead, fifth round (No. 164). Traded seventh-rounder (No. 222) and 2010 fifth-rounder.

Call it a tie:

10. 2015: CB Damian Swann, fifth round (No. 167). Traded sixth-rounder (No. 187) and 2016 sixth-rounder.

11. 2013: DT John Jenkins, third round (No. 82). Traded two fourth-rounders (No. 106 and No. 109).

12. 2008: DT Sedrick Ellis, first round (No. 7). Traded first-rounder (No. 10) and third-rounder (No. 78) for Ellis and fifth-rounder (No. 164).

13. 2008: DL DeMario Pressley, fifth round (No. 144). Traded fifth-rounder (No. 146) and seventh-rounder (No. 218).

14. 2008: WR Adrian Arrington, seventh round (No. 237). Traded 2009 sixth-rounder.

Should’ve saved their picks:

15. 2010: DT Al Woods, fourth round (No. 123). Traded fourth-rounder (No. 130) and sixth-rounder (No. 201).

16. 2010: C/G Matt Tennant, fifth round (No. 158). Traded 2011 fourth-rounder .

17. 2007: RB Antonio Pittman, fourth round (No. 107). Traded fourth-rounder (No. 123) and fifth-rounder (No. 163).