On the surface, Monday’s mega-trade between the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints appeared to be pretty one-sided. The Eagles were able to leverage two of their three 2022 first-round NFL Draft picks into a pretty package that should pay off over time.
But the Saints had their reasons for making the deal, no matter how lopsided the swap looked to the outside world. Saints GM Mickey Loomis is rebuilding his roster without former head coach Sean Payton for the first time since 2005. The decision-maker has been around for a long time, and while his cap management skills lead to an annual flak fest, he knows what he’s doing.
Making sense of the Saints’ massive trade with the Eagles
The Saints are at a crossroads. They’re a year removed from the end of the Drew Brees era, they lost Payton to “retirement,” and their roster features a lot of aging stalwarts. In many respects, they are stuck in a door frame between two rooms: rebuilding and competing.
With that in mind, this year’s NFL Draft will determine how the team proceeds from an overarching perspective.
Breaking down the Saints-Eagles trade
Here’s how the trade breaks down, beginning with what the Eagles will receive.
- 2022: 18th overall (first round) pick
- 2022: 101st (third) pick
- 2022: 237th (seventh) pick
- 2023: First-round pick
- 2024: Second-round pick
The Saints will receive the following 2022 picks:
- 16th overall (first) pick
- 19th overall (first) pick
- 194th overall (sixth) pick
Essentially, the Saints are renting a 2022 first-round pick for the cost of a 2022 third-round pick and a 2024 second-round pick. New Orleans also runs the risk that their season could bomb, giving the Eagles a substantially better first-round selection in 2023.
There also stands the chance that the Saints surprise critics, make the playoffs, and hand the Eagles a first-round pick in the 20s next year. And therein lies the Saints’ outlook on this deal: New Orleans believes it can contend now, and their confidence (or hubris) has caused them to bet on themselves.
That outlook also provides clues on how they plan to use their two first-round picks. Loomis has the flexibility to work the board in the first round, as the Saints still have plenty of draft capital.
Looking at the Saints’ 2022 draft picks
Despite the mega-trade with the Eagles, the Saints still have seven 2022 draft picks:
- 1st (2): 16, 19
- 2nd (1): 49
- 3rd (1): 108
- 4th (1): 120
- 5th (1): 161
- 6th (1): 194
The third-round pick that the Saints traded to the Eagles was actually a compensatory pick, an extra selection awarded based on last year’s personnel losses. Essentially, a free pick was used to compensate the Eagles up front. The two teams swapped late-round picks, so the Eagles got a seventh-round pick in exchange for a sixth-round pick, keeping the Saints’ draft assets — from a bulk perspective — intact.
Depending on how the board shakes out, the Saints still have the ammunition to trade up or down in the draft.
Preparing for a QB trade-up?
When the deal was first announced, the knee-jerk reaction to the Saints’ end of the swap was that the franchise was looking to find its long-term successor to Brees, despite the lack of external enthusiasm for this year’s QB class.
The logic makes sense, as the Saints are moving well-played variety weapon/hopeful QB Taysom Hill back to tight end. They also re-signed Jameis Winston, who is coming off ACL surgery, to a manageable two-year, $28 million deal. New Orleans also signed veteran QB Andy Dalton to a one-year, $6 million pact last week, but that deal is easily tradable if another team suffers a major injury in training camp.
The Saints could justify trading up into the top 10 for a QB with the 16th and 19th overall picks. Some might scoff at making a deal like this ahead of the draft and wonder why the Saints couldn’t have just given the package they gave the Eagles to a team looking to move back.
Well, the Saints likely did their research ahead of the trade and probably found that teams trading back didn’t want to take a giant step back from the top 10 to the teens without immediate gratification.
So, the Saints made a move to give themselves flexibility if the QB they like falls in the top 10.
The NFC South QB conundrum
The Saints aren’t the only team in the NFC South looking for a long-term answer at QB.
The Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers are even more desperate for that answer, actually. That said, the Panthers (sixth overall) and Falcons (eighth overall) both pick in the top 10 and could nab a QB, namely Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett or Liberty’s Malik Willis, with their initial selection.
If the Saints want either of those QBs, they’ll need to leap to at least No. 5 overall, held by the New York Giants, who own two picks in the top 10 (seventh overall, as well). If the Saints want to get ahead of the Panthers or Falcons to claim a QB, they will most likely need to deal with the Giants, who own the picks in front of both teams.
With the Giants owning the picks they do, the negotiating for a potential trade-up becomes easier and harder in different aspects. The easy part is that the Saints are likely negotiating with just one team for two scenarios. The harder part is the Giants can leverage their position pretty heavily with the Saints because they are the only game in town.
According to Draftek’s trade chart, the Saints should be able to land the fifth or seventh overall pick for a trade of their two first-round selections (16th and 19th overall). But if the Giants were to try and stage a trade competition between the Saints and the Falcons or Panthers, adding a third-round pick or a 2023 mid-round selection could do the trick.
Again, this outlook only exists if the Saints want to leap the Panthers and/or Falcons for a QB prospect. Otherwise, they are fairly flexible to move up and down the board for an offensive tackle to replace Terron Armstead or a pass rusher to improve their defense.
The best of both worlds
There’s conventional wisdom in guessing that the Saints made a massive pre-draft trade to target a QB. That said, perhaps the Saints have pinpointed a QB prospect that they feel will fall to them in the teens, such as Mississippi’s Matt Corral or Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder.
The Saints, who are in that door frame between contending and rebuilding, could have looked at the board and said, “We want to nab this QB, but we also want to compete this year. So, let’s trade for two immediate assets to have our cake and eat it, too.”
Essentially, the Saints could feed both of their needs by nabbing a mid-first-round QB and adding an immediate upgrade in the trenches or at wideout to help new head coach Dennis Allen succeed from the jump.
The “best of both worlds” outlook makes sense if Loomis and the front office feel like they can accurately predict the board, or if they have 20 or so prospects they feel comfortable with heading into Day 1.
Remember, every team has different grades for players. Some teams might only have 12 to 15 first-round grades for this class, while others — like maybe the Saints — have 16 to 20 Day 1 grades.
Taking a load off the salary cap
The Saints have been battling bulging cap charges for years. Their solution is to typically kick the can down the road with reworked deals, contract extensions, and void years. While they are still essentially leveraging the future — again — with this trade, they are also creating a way out of further immediate debt.
The Saints want to contend, and adding two premium prospects — no matter the position — on rookie deals is a way of mitigating expenses. If the Saints bring in two exceptional starters on rookie salaries — even at the first-round level — they are taking away a long-term need that would potentially be solved by throwing money at a high-priced veteran free agent in the future.
The Saints have basically said that they need to get younger and cheaper, and they’ve put their money (read: picks) where their mouths are. Now, it’s on the scouting department to come up big while setting the board.
The risk and reward
The Saints took a massive risk here. They are betting on their scouting department and their roster to come up big to really benefit from this deal. The front office has the weight of a lot of draft capital hanging on its shoulders with two first-round picks. If one or both busts, the damage will be felt for a while.
That said, the Saints have done a relatively strong job with their top picks over the past decade. If they can land two potential Pro Bowl players or have identified a potential franchise QB, that should help fuel their success in the wake of the Payton era coming to an end.
The Eagles played the stock market with this deal and look like expert day traders. But the Saints are looking to build something on top of their aging base. That immediate relief could help them bounce back in a big way over the next few years, even without a first-round pick next offseason.
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