The Brandin Cooks Trade Is a Win-Win for New England and New Orleans
Really, New England?
Yes, that Brandin Cooks. The 23-year-old who's averaged more than 1,155 yards over the last two years, his second and third seasons in the league.
This isn't fair.
Except, it kind of is. Both teams, when you break it down, probably did the right thing.
Why New England Wins
There are two major reasons as to why the Patriots would do this deal: they lacked true wide receiver depth, and they're in "win now" mode.
Even if you don't think Brandin Cooks is a true number-one wideout -- I don't even think that -- it's hard to argue his overall ability. Here's what I wrote about him last week when analyzing a potential trade to the Titans:
Only six players in NFL history have caught more passes than Cooks by age 23. And only six have more receiving yards. Regardless of his situation -- a very good situation -- that's impressive.
According to our Net Expected Points metric (or NEP, which you can read more about in our glossary), Cooks, over the last three years, has added more points (expected points) for his team than all but 22 NFL wide receivers. And those aren't three peak NFL seasons for Cooks -- those were his first and only three years in the league.
It's not like this is new for Cooks, either. During his final season at Oregon State, he had a 39.12% receiving yardage market share while seeing fewer than 29% of the team's targets. And he ended up on the receiving end of 45.71% of the team's passing touchdowns.
Not bad for a little guy.
You can point to his quarterback play, the fact that he plays in a dome (his home-road splits show some variance), and that he often disappears in tough matchups. I won't argue any of that.
But my goal here isn't to show you that Brandin Cooks is a full-blown stud, because I'm not even sure Cooks is a full-blown stud.
I know he's good, though.
So New England gets an upper echelon, young wide receiver. Not bad, right?
Well, the even more attractive angle to this is that Cooks is still on his rookie deal, and the Patriots will have his fifth-year option next season. In 2017, he'll make $1.56 million, which is chump change for a receiver of his caliber. Next year, he'll make around $8.5 million, which is still a bargain.
Draft Pick Value
The downside here is that, instead of drafting a wide receiver at 32nd overall (for argument purposes, we'll exclude the additional picks in the analysis), the Patriots hypothetically will only get "cheap" Brandin Cooks for two seasons. Had they selected a wide receiver with the 32nd overall pick, they could have had that player for four years on a money-friendly contract.
There's no doubt, though, that a player of Cooks' caliber is more than likely better than anything the Patriots would get at Pick 32, especially considering how average this year's draft class looks at wide receiver.
To shed some light onto this topic, we can look at Chase Stuart's Draft Value Chart. To save some time, here's how the chart was introduced in last week's column on Cooks:
Years ago, Chase Stuart developed a Draft Value Chart that took ProFootballReference.com's Approximate Value (AV) metric and associated it with each draft slot. In essence, he looked at all players drafted at a particular spot, and found how those players produced at the NFL level within the AV metric. (You can read more about Approximate Value here.)
At first, Stuart looked at the AV for players across their entire career, but he later noted that the method didn't seem accurate, as players don't usually play for one team throughout their whole career. So, instead, he's analyzed the AV of players over their rookie contracts, or the first five seasons of their career.
According to Stuart's chart, the 32nd overall pick has an Approximate Value of 12.5. This is after removing 2 points of AV from each season of a player's career, as 2 AV is nothing extraordinary -- this evens things out a bit.
Cooks has already accumulated roughly 25 points in Approximate Value over his three-year career (19 if you remove 2 from each season), meaning he, as a player, has far outperformed that particular draft slot.
Take a look at the wide receivers drafted from Pick 25 through Pick 40 over the last 10 years, sorted by Approximate Value per game, with Cooks thrown in there for reference.
|Year||Overall Pick||Player||Career AV||Career AV per Game|
Brandin Cooks is pret-tay good at football.
To be clear (because I wasn't in the last piece on Cooks, and that made people mad online), all I'm trying to show with this chart is our tendency to overvalue a late-round draft selection. While there are some hits, there are plenty of misses. And the potential to draft a player as good as Cooks at Pick 32 isn't very high.
But let's run through some math. Let's pretend Cooks, at 0.57 AV per game, plays two seasons for New England on a team-friendly deal. Without any improvement from a 23-year-old wide receiver, that would yield 18.24 points in Approximate Value (0.57 times 16 games in a season times two seasons).
If we focus strictly on wide receivers in the chart above selected around Cooks, we get 0.29 AV per game. Across four years -- in this theoretical world, you'd be selecting someone at Pick 32 and you'd then keep him for four years on a rookie deal -- that equates to 18.64 points in Approximate Value. For five years, if you were to pick up that player's option, you're looking at 23.30 points in Approximate Value.
Why not just select a wide receiver at Pick 32 if his five-year AV is greater than Cooks' two-year AV?
This was the biggest criticism I received (read: my Twitter mentions were on fire) with the analysis done a week and a half ago on Cooks. And it's pretty valid. But a couple of things are missing with this type of rebuttal.
First, Cooks is still just 23 years old, which is abnormal for a wide receiver entering his fourth season. To this point, the average AV per game among the wide receivers consists of players who have had the luxury of playing more than three NFL seasons. Meaning, Cooks hasn't likely reached his peak, whereas players above (like Jordy Nelson) have. That will naturally help AV.
More importantly, though, is the fact that New England isn't all of a sudden going to have nothing when Brandin Cooks leaves. In other words, they can have Brandin Cooks for two years, and then they can have a replacement-level wide receiver for three.
And while the Patriots have been awful at selecting wide receivers through the draft, they haven't been all that bad at getting average options on the roster through free agency. In 27 games with New England, Brandon LaFell had an AV of 0.59 per game. This past year, Chris Hogan's was at 0.47.
LaFell made about $3 million over his two years in New England, while Hogan had a cap hit of about $5.5 million last year.
That's certainly not scientific, but the point is pretty obvious subjectively: average New England wide receivers can thrive when Tom Brady is throwing them passes.
Maybe that means the Patriots didn't need Brandin Cooks, which I can get behind and understand. But assuming they wanted a wide receiver -- whether it's because they just wanted to be that much more explosive offensively or because they see Cooks as, say, a Julian Edelman replacement -- then the valuation wasn't off here.
And considering their quarterback -- who will be 40 years old in August -- has limited time left, why not try and maximize production at the position?
Why New Orleans Wins
The trade makes sense from the Saints' side, too.
As mentioned, Cooks has one year left on his rookie deal followed by his fifth-year option -- New Orleans would be keeping him around for two years before he'd want big money.
The Saints, though, have a lot of holes on the defensive side of the ball. According to our metrics, they had the third-worst schedule-adjusted defense last year, and that was an improvement over their last-ranked D in 2015.
They also have a strong pass-catching group that's watched players cycle in and out over Drew Brees' tenure. And now with Michael Thomas -- who, if we want to relate back to AV, posted a top-15 rookie wide receiver season in NFL history this past year, according to the metric -- they have the luxury to make the Cooks swap.
Stuart's Draft Value Chart does seem to favor Cooks against the 32nd overall pick when we assume he'll produce at the same level for two more years, but with the additional draft pick swap (103 for 118), things even out a bit more. And it gives the Saints the flexibility to focus on more important areas of need, like the defense.
A Great Trade
So, in all, the trade makes complete sense. New England gets a dynamic wide receiver on a good deal for two years before Tom Brady's eventual -- though it may never happen, if we're being honest -- retirement, while New Orleans is able to focus on the side of the ball that they desperately need to improve.
Sounds like a win-win to me.