Will Saints Wheel and Deal Again or Sit and Wait

Zach Strief
April 24, 2019 - 3:12 am

If you’re a New Orleans Saints fan, this is usually a very exciting period of the year.  The NFL Draft is just days away and the promise of the next Alvin Kamara, Ryan Ramczyk or even Drew Brees, makes the NFL Draft weekend rousing, to say the least.  The excitement of simply selecting a player, who can change the fortunes of your organization, is an alluring proposition that fanbases around the country find irresistible.  If you are a Saints fan, however, you may not feel the same excitement you generally do.  No pick in a team’s arsenal is more exciting than a first-round pick, and that pick has already been spent by the Black & Gold on last year’s first round selection Marcus Davenport.  With the Saints faithful having to sit back until pick 62 to see the first of the 6 picks, excitement this year has been subdued.  Then again, the Saints have a habit of moving up and into drafts.  Will this be one of those years?  Let’s examine. 

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Last year the Saints sent their 2019 first rounder to the Packers along with the 27th pick in the 2018 draft to move up to the 14th pick to draft defensive end Marcus Davenport.  Reaction to that move was fairly negative as a whole, but I would argue the Saints hit on it.  In order to make that draft day trade work, it was imperative that the pick sent to the Packers was low, and they expected it to be.  Fortunately, they finished close to where they had hoped and the 30th pick was sent to Green Bay this year.  Here is why that works.  Very rarely does a team have 32 first round grades going into a draft.  That means a team is forced into reaching on a player and overpaying him.  This has certainly been curtailed slightly in the current CBA, but it doesn’t change the fact that you may be caught overpaying for four years. 

In my opinion, the Saints did not get caught there.  Marcus Davenport was on track for an exceptional rookie season, when he was derailed by injury.  He had consistently flashed incredible athleticism and with 4.5 sacks through 7 games, was well on his way to a sensational rookie campaign, before a toe injury slowed his progress.   It’s always hard to explain to people how difficult that injury is, but it can truly devastate a player.  It’s the reason why Mark Ingram was beat up by the fanbase his first few seasons as he recovered from a toe injury.  Yet, just like Mark, Marcus battled on, playing hurt, becoming more of a stout run defender than the explosive freak he had shown through the first seven games of the season.  It was in his most impressive game as a pro, at Minnesota, that Davenport injured himself on the final defensive play.  He was never the same, but showed the grit needed to play a long career in the National Football League. 

The reason why I’m spending so much time talking about last year’s first round pick, is because he is essentially this year’s as well.  What you saw last year was the Saints seeing value in a player available still at 14 where they anticipated less in the back half of either 2018 or 2019.  Conventional wisdom in NFL front offices is when there is a player you collectively love, you go and get them.  That’s what they did with Marcus Davenport. 

That lack of a first-round pick in this year’s draft has led many to wonder whether the always aggressive duo of Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis will wheel and deal their way back into the first round this year.  More thoughts on that later.  For now, the Saints don’t start their weekend until pick 62.  That is where they will look to add to an already deep roster. 

There has been a near consensus among prognosticators that the Saints will look to what Mickey Loomis admitted was a deep TE class.  The most commonly guessed selection seems to be Jace Sternberger the TE out of Texas A&M.  I think the single biggest reason is that there has to be a mock draft for a lot of writers.  The easiest thing to do, when you sit down to fill out a mock draft, is to try and fill perceived holes on the roster.  For much of last season it was the narrative of the Saints needing a receiver opposite Mike Thomas, or a pass catching TE.  The Saints have filled that hole with the signing of the top available TE in Jared Cook.  That being said, Cook is older and finding the next guy in that role could definitely be in the cards for the Saints.  What the Saints have done, though, is given themselves the ability to draft the player they see with the most upside regardless of position.  It’s the only way to get real value in the draft and ultimately that has long been the Saints policy on draft day, getting value.  In a draft like this where the Saints are not only low on picks but also short on roster holes, they will look for as much value as possible.  In this draft, that may even include trading back. 

The biggest question for Saints fans this year is will the Saints try to jump up into the first round.  I just don’t see it.  Any team has a couple options when it comes to moving up in the opening round.  The first is draft capital, which the Saints don’t have.  The second is tradable assets.  There are several highly valuable trade assets on the Saints roster, I just don’t see any that the Saints would want to move.  The value of NFL Draft picks has skyrocketed in the current CBA providing young, cheap players to organizations paying exponentially more to their superstars.  It makes trading a player to move into the first increasingly difficult.  Ultimately, while players like Alvin Kamara, Marshon Lattimore and Ryan Ramczyk carry excellent value on their rookie contracts, they are also the building blocks of the future of the New Orleans Saints.  Bottom line, I just can’t see a scenario where the Saints move up into the first.  To do so will be very expensive and would require a player falling deep into the first that the Saints see as a top ten talent.  Their second round this year and their first round pick next year could possibly make a move into the back of the first feasible.  

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What makes more logical sense to me is the Saints making a move to pick up a selection in rounds 3-5.  That seems to be the strength of this draft with good value available to teams.  The price to move into these rounds will be more reasonable and a player available to the Saints that they see tremendous value in could push the team to give up some future draft capital to make a deal happen.  The Saints did something very similar in 2017 and came away with a star in Alvin Kamara.  That’s the type of move the Saints will look to make, and frankly, always look to make.  They prescribe to the theory that when there is a player you love in that moment, you go and get him.  The next year you don’t know that a player you feel strongly about will be there at your pick, and if you find yourself deciding between a player you know you love and a player you don’t know you will love, you take the known entity. 

The other reality for draft picks this year is they will show up to find a very deep and talented roster that will be hard to penetrate.  It makes selecting top quality more important than it may otherwise be on a roster filled with holes.  The Saints found themselves in a similar situation last year and had to release three drafted players in Natrell Jamerson, Kamrin Moore and Boston Scott, who were snagged off waivers and practice squad, now sitting on other active rosters.

The excitement for the draft this year in the Gulf South has been reserved.  The lack of a first-round pick has reduced the general excitement people have.  Yet, with 6 picks, and a tendency to be aggressive to move around in the draft the Saints faithful have plenty to be excited about.  Could their second-round pick turn into another Mike Thomas, their 5th into another Carl Nicks?  Maybe even a 7th rounder into the next Marques Colston.  The top Saints brass look to strike gold this weekend.  I, for one, can’t wait to see how they do it.    

PROGRAMMING NOTE:  What a great time of year for football fans!  Thursday kicks off the Saints & NFL Draft!  As always WWL will bring you 3 days of wall to wall coverage - better than the networks!  It all starts Thursday 4 to 6pm  - with the “SAINTS DRAFT PREVIEW” - Zach Strief and & Deuce McAllister go deep with Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis & the Saints brass - just hours before the draft begins.  That, Who Dat Nation, is DON’T MISS RADIO! 

Then at 6 o’clock - game time - DRAFT FEST begins!  Bobby Hebert, draft analyst Mike Detillier & Kristian Garic - joined by the “Voice of the Saints” Zach Strief deliver wall-to-wall coverage as the NFL Draft unfolds.  We’ll take that show to midnight! 

Friday - join Bobby, Zach, Mike & Kristianwith Seth Dunlap & Steve Korte…at Desi Vega’s Seafood & Prime Steaks in the heart of Metairie (in Heritage Plaza) from 4 to midnight.  Great new location for DRAFT FEST FRIDAY… featuring Deuce McAllister live from Nashville - he’ll call the name of the Saints first pick!  

Saturday join Zach, Deuce, Mike and the Cajun Cannon…with Seth Dunlap & Steve Korte…at Walk-Ons Bistreaux & Bar in Covington for DRAFT FEST SATURDAY from 9am to 6pm.  Was great last year; it’ll be big time fun again!  Hope you join us!  WWL (105.3FM, the BIG 870AM, WWL.com or anytime on the RADIO.COM app)

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