Phoenix – The New Orleans Saints don't take for granted the fact that since Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees joined the franchise in 2006, New Orleans hasn't finished lower than sixth in total offense.
But given that almost every major offensive record in franchise history has been set during that time, and the team substantially hopes to upgrade a defense that has finished 31st, 31st and 27th in the past three seasons in total defense while allowing nearly 30 points per game, trading receiver Brandin Cooks to New England was a step that the Saints weren't looking to make, but one that made sense in the effort to improve defensively.
Cooks, who had consecutive 1,100-yard plus receiving seasons for New Orleans in his second and third NFL years, was paired with the Saints' fourth-round pick in exchange for New England's first- and third-round picks. New Orleans now has five of the first 103 picks in the upcoming draft.
"We picked up an asset in a draft pick, in a draft that we feel like is really a deep draft, especially defensively," Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said this week from the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. "I wouldn't say that we 'wanted' to trade Brandin Cooks, he's been a good player for us and a guy that we have a lot of respect for. He was really productive, professional, a good teammate. A lot of good things with Brandin Cooks and yet, we feel like we have to help our defense in order to be more competitive on that side of the ball and win more games. And this is an opportunity for us to do that.
"We're confident as an organization in our ability to move the ball offensively and score points. We don't take it for granted, (but) we're confident that we're able to do that. We just need to improve our roster on defense and give our guys some help, and this gives us a chance to do that.
"I think the important thing here is we've got five picks in the first three rounds in what we view as a pretty deep draft. So we'll be able to help ourselves and hopefully, that help will be more immediate than you would normally expect with young players. I felt like last year we got some immediate help with a number of our draft picks who did well in their first year and hopefully, we can duplicate that."
The Saints now will continue to implement the remainder of their offseason plan, Loomis said.
"Your offseason consists of free agency and the draft, and maybe an opportunity to make a trade or two," he said. "We've just hit this first phase of free agency, we're working on the draft and we feel like it's a pretty deep draft and we have a number of picks, so we feel like we can help ourselves there and yet, we're always looking. We're always looking for players that can help us, particularly on defense this year."
Loomis said that the offseason checklist that the Saints compile totally hasn't been addressed, but that the team is making progress.
"I don't remember how many we had to start with, (but) we've been able to check off a number of them. We'll get some more in the draft and hopefully pick up another item along the way. I think we're off to a good start."
And the next phase is as important and vital as the first.
"Our college scouts and a lot of our coaches have been to a number of pro days," he said. "We're doing all of our due diligence on this draft class, and we've got a lot more work to do between now and the draft.
"We've got to be right on in this draft, particularly with five picks in the first three rounds. We need to make those count, and I know we will."