Issue #34: The Brandin Cooks Trade Tree
Tracking the journey of every player involved in every Brandin Cooks trade.
Hello, my name is Colin. Welcome to the 34th issue of The Wood Report, an eclectic smorgasbord of sports “news” and humor.
This Week’s Main Story
The NFL trade deadline passed a couple weeks ago with very little fanfare. The Rams acquired Von Miller to continue building their star destroyer (and hopefully never have to use a draft pick ever again), but outside of that there was very little movement. All of the rumors and speculated trades amounted to nothing. The recently short lived OBJ free agency was more exciting than the actual deadline. In celebration of the trade deadline though, I have decided to explore fun trades of the past in this newsletter. This week we are building a Trade Tree.
This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while in this space. Building out trade trees is one of my favorite activities. It’s an interesting way of understanding the league and the forces behind it; how teams view roster-building and the value of assets. Trade trees also have the ability to help explain wide ranging consequences of actions across many years. One move can have so many domino effects down the line for multiple franchises.
So today, I bring you one of my favorite trade trees. A player that is so valuable that no one wants him on the team for very long, but he can’t stop being traded for high end picks.
The Brandin Cooks Trade Tree
The story of Brandin Cooks being traded starts before he ever even took a snap at the NFL level, back in the 2014 NFL Draft. Cooks was a first round talent coming into the draft, having won the Biletnikoff Award (the nation's top receiver) as a junior at Oregon State, and receiving a consensus first-team All-American selection. He led FBS in receiving yards and 2nd in receptions. Concerns about how his size and frame (5’ 10”, 189lbs) would translate to the pro level pushed him below fellow draftees like Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, and Odell Beckham Jr. In search of a WR that would eventually replace an aging Marques Colston, the New Orleans Saints set their sights on Cooks, trading up in the draft to get their man. That brings us to our first trade:
New Orleans Saints receive 2014 1st Round (20th Overall)
Arizona Cardinals receive 2014 1st Round (27th Overall) and 2014 3rd Round (91st Overall)
We’ll start on the Arizona side. The Cardinals traded down 7 spots and picked up an extra 3rd round pick in the process. The two players to come out of this trade were hard-hitting safety Deone Bucannon and receiver John Brown. These two ended up being the best players of the Cardinals draft class that year.
Bucannon was selected to be the other side of the tandem with 2013 rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu. Even playing in a rotational role his rookie season, he was an impact player right off the bat. He managed to finish top 3 on the team in tackles despite starting just 9 games. He would eventually move down to inside linebacker for the team, but still retained the ability to cover receivers when asked. He spent 5 very productive years in Arizona before leaving in free agency.
The 3rd round pick was used on fellow undersized receiver John Brown, who had very similar measurements to Brandin Cooks. Brown was listed at 5’10” and 179 lbs, and ran a 4.34 40 yard dash at the combine (compared to Cooks’ 4.33). While Brown was never going to be a WR1 on a team that still employed Larry Fitzgerald, he proved a serviceable slot receiver for Carson Palmer. In 2015, he was part of Arizona’s league leading offense, topping 1000 yards that season. While John Brown also left in free agency without receiving a 2nd contract from the team, he ending up being a fantastic Day 2 pick.
As for the Saints, they used the 20th overall pick to select our boy Brandin Cooks, the player that keeps on giving. In addition to already being an accomplished receiver as a junior, Cooks was only 20 at the time of being drafted, making him the 2nd young player in the 2014 draft. He had plenty of time to keep developing. Sean Payton wasted no time getting him involved. In his first career game, Cooks caught 7 balls for 77 yards and a touchdown, and adding a rushing attempt for 18 yards. His TD made him the youngest player to catch a touchdown pass since Reidel Anthony in 1997. In his 2nd year with the Saints, he finished with 84 receptions, 1138 yards, and 9 scores, leading the team in every category. He followed that up by again leeading the team in yards in 2016 with 1173, good for 7th in the NFL.
All of Brandin’s incredible offensive contributions were apparent to everyone who watched him. He was an elite WR with speed and superb route running who was deployed perfectly in Payton’s system and had immense trust from QB Drew Brees. Their offense ranked in the top 5 of the league during all 3 of Cooks’ seasons there. But all of that was in service of 3 straight 7-9 campaigns, never sniffing the postseason. Paired with the emergence rookie receiver Michael Thomas in 2016 (who led the team in receptions and looked like another stud pass catcher), Cooks became expendable to the Saints. They needed to offload him to shore up other parts of the roster. So just 3 years into his rookie contract, Brandin Cooks was traded.
New England Patriots receive Brandin Cooks and 2017 4th Round (118th Overall)
New Orleans Saints receive 2017 1st Round (32nd Overall) and 2017 3rd Round (103rd Overall)
The Saints moved a potential WR1 in exchange for a 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick. Those picks became tackle Ryan Ramczyk and defensive end Trey Hendrickson. Ramczyk immediately became the foundational right tackle of the one best offensive lines in the league for a few years. He was a starter the moment he arrived in New Orleans and he earned 1st Team All-Pro honors in 2019. He continues to anchor the Saints line having been made the highest paid right tackle in the NFL earlier this year. This was a home run pick for the Saints. Hendrickson took a bit longer to come into his own with the Saints. He was a very raw player when drafted and was mostly a depth pass rusher in his first 2 seasons. In 2019, he started to breakout a bit, registering 4.5 sacks in 13 games. Then in 2020, the real breakout happened as he became a pass rushing force. He tallied 13.5 sacks in the final year of his contract, 2nd in the entire NFL (tied with Aaron Donald and just behind TJ Watt’s 15). While the Saints did not re-sign him, Hendrickson did earn himself a $60 million contract with the Bengals.
Coming off another 7-9 season in 2016 and having traded Cooks, the Saints took a massive leap forward in 2017. Their offense was just as lethal as always, with Michael Thomas ascending to the top tier of WR quickly and the Saints having another top 5 offense. The real change came on the other side of the ball. The defense went from 31st to 10th. While not a direct consequence of the Cooks trade, it was a signal of a change in philosophy. Cooks’ production did nothing if they couldn’t stop the opposing team in any way. The change worked as the Saints didn’t miss Cooks at all. They improved to 11-5 in 2017, making the playoffs for the first time in 4 years.
That ends the Saints branch of the tree. Next comes Cooks’ stop in the northeast. New England received a 2017 4th round pick along with Brandin Cooks. Unfortunately, they never got to use that pick. The Patriots were required by the NFL to forfeit the pick as the final part of the punishment for the Deflategate Scandal (in total, the Patriots were stripped of their 2016 first-round pick, fined $1 million and hit with the four-game suspension of Tom Brady). See, trade trees can have far reaching effects.
Brandin Cooks was a revelation for the 2017 Patriots. Right after the trade, they picked up the 5th year option on his contract, giving them 2 years of control. Cooks was expected to slot in as the WR1 on a Tom Brady offense that already boasted Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman (although Edelman would miss all of 2017 with a torn ACL). Cooks was electric with the defending Super Bowl Champions. He topped 1000 yards again and was part of another top 5 offense. He and Gronk combined to be the first Patriots duo to reach 1000 receiving yards in the same season since 2011. The Patriots, as the #1 seed in the AFC, tore through the playoffs, reaching the Super Bowl. Cooks took a bad blindside hit from Malcolm Jenkins in the 2nd quarter of that game and left with a concussion, as the Patriots eventually lost to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The following offseason, as Cooks was about to enter the final year of his rookie contract, Bill Belichick did what he does often; move on from a player rather than pay the market rate for them. After just one season, the Patriots flipped him to the LA Rams for ANOTHER 1st round pick.
Los Angeles Rams receive Brandin Cooks and 2017 4th Round (136th Overall)
New England Patriots receive 2018 1st Round (23rd Overall) and 2018 6th Round (198th Overall)
The return on Brandin Cooks this time would be far worse (though that could be due to the difference in teams using those picks). The Patriots got a better 1st round pick than they originally traded to acquire Cooks, but used it on a far worse offensive tackle, Isaiah Wynn. The 1st rounder suffered a torn Achilles in his first preseason and missed his entire rookie year in 2018. He has yet to play a full NFL season (though he is on track so far in the 2021 season). His poor play when he has been active caused him to be moved from left tackle to left guard.
The 6th round pick was subsequently flipped in a series of trades for multiple 7th round picks that eventually led to the following actual players for the Patriots:
1 year of Keion Crossen, a backup cornerback. He was traded to the Texans for…
Cassh Maluia, a practice squad linebacker who was called up for 9 games and then waived.
2 years of Ryan Izzo, a blocking tight end with 313 yards in his career. He was also traded to the Texans for…
A 2022 7th Round pick yet to be used.
Byron Cowart, a defensive tackle that showed promise in 2020, but has been on the PUP list in 2021.
It’s safe to say the Patriots did not get equivalent value out of the picks brought in by Cooks.
The Rams meanwhile supplemented an offense that had Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and peak Todd Gurley with one of the fastest receiving threats in the league. And what did it lead to? Just a fifth straight top 5 offense for Brandin Cooks in his career. The Rams offense were 2nd in the league in scoring, the 3rd team in a row that Cooks achieved that with. Even with Jared Goff throwing the ball, this receiving core was deadly. The Rams loved what Cooks brought so much that they signed him to a five-year, $80 million contract extension before he even played a snap with the team. In his first season with the team, Brandin would set a career high, catching 1204 yards at 15.1 yards/reception.
Before we move on, let’s not forget about the 4th round pick the Rams received alongside Cooks. They did their own bit of trade gymnastics to parlay that one pick into 3 eventual players.
2 years of Micah Kiser, a backup inside linebacker that was waived one game into the 2021 season.
2 games of Trevon Young who hasn’t been in the league since those 2 games
Travin Howard, a mainly special teams player who has seen two IR stints in 3 years.
Okay, but Cooks was the real prize here. His 2018 season proved that trading for him was always beneficial to an offense. His speed and footwork threatened defenses in ways that not many players can. His teams continually finished towards the top of the league in offense. And he was effective in the postseason. Although he was unable to finish the Super Bowl in 2017, he was good again in leading the 2nd seed Rams the following postseason. In the NFC Conference Game, he faced off against the Saints. Ignoring the controversial ending of the game, Cooks was effective with 7 catches for 107 yards. Then in the Super Bowl, he saw his other former team, the Patriots. He went off again, with 8 receptions for 120 yards in the biggest game of the season. But he once again failed to capture a title as the Patriots beat the Rams 13-3 (I guess the Patriots didn’t really need him).
The 2019 season was a down year for Brandin Cooks as the offense changed in a way that significantly impacted how he could work within it. It was the worst season of his career, totaling just 583 yards in 14 games and scoring twice. The offense was moving past him, and his contract quickly became an albatross to the cash strapped Rams that were desperate to keep their championship window open. And so, as has been done so often, the Rams shipped him off the land of misfit toys, Houston.
Houston Texans receive Brandin Cooks and 2022 4th Round
Los Angeles Rams receive 2020 2nd Round (57th Overall)
For the first time in his career, Brandin Cooks was not traded for a 1st round pick. This time, his massive contract made him only worth a 2nd round pick. That 2nd round pick for the Rams ended up turning into a wide receiver they hoped could fill the void left by Cooks. Van Jefferson out of Florida was chosen to pick up the slack. His rookie season in 2020 was forgettable as he never got on track with the offense. They hoped 2021 would be a different story with Matthew Stafford slinging the ball around, but he has managed just 487 yards in 10 games. While he still has plenty of career left to grow, the team recently decided to bring in a different 2014 Draft receiver to help the team now. Odell Beckham Jr. The jury is still out on this pick, but so far it’s not been what the team needs.
The Texans brought in Brandin Cooks to be the lead wide receiver after the team traded away Deandre Hopkins. Through no fault of his own, Cooks could not carry this team to a top 5 finish. Although he finished with 1150 yards himself, the offense was still in the bottom half of the league. Cooks was sacrificed to one of the worst managed franchises of the past 20 years. Cooks is still out there being an elite playmaker, yet everything around him is crumbling under the weight of a team in utter chaos. This year, he’s on pace to comfortably surpass 1100 yards once again, but the offense sits at rock bottom, 32nd in the league.
Which brings us to now. With 2 more years left on his contract and no possibility of winning anything in Houston for a few years, the only move that makes sense is to trade Brandin Cooks once more. Because he came into the league so young, he’s still just 28. It’s so obvious that countless articles were written prior to this years trade deadline screaming for this to happen. Cooks was connected to a slew of different teams that could use his services, from the Chiefs to the Packers to 5 other teams. All this means is that this trade tree is far from complete. We could get a few more branches on it before his career is over.
In total, Brandin Cooks has been worth:
Three 1st round picks
One 2nd round pick
Two 3rd round picks
One 6th round pick
The only question left is who came out on top of all this? Personally, I would say the Saints got the most production out of it with 3 years of elite play from Cooks himself, as well as a franchise tackle and good pass rush depth. The 7-9 records with Cooks hurts considering other teams reached the SB with him, but I’m willing to look past that. Underrated winner could also be the Cardinals who got 2 above average players by passing on the chance to draft Cooks.
Who do you think got the best end of the all these deals? Let me know in the comments.
Gold Medal – The Rush
ESPN has picked up the NHL this year as a new broadcaster of games and they are trying some new stuff to get people interested. This week, they debuted “The Rush”, a portion of the game that was aired without announcers and through an ice level camera the entire time.
They are innovating in a way that hasn’t been done in a while for the sport. Hockey has always been one of the toughest sports to introduce to new viewers who have a tough time understanding what they are seeing/hearing. This kind of experience really emphasizes the visceral, physical nature of seeing hockey live. I love seeing ESPN try something different to get more people captivated.
Villain of the Week – The Ref
You know the one.
Nothing I say here won’t have been said a million times already. It’s just still so unbelievable that this happened in a real game that everyone was watching. Boo this man.
This is very young newsletter still. I am working to grow it as much as possible. The best way support my work is by subscribing to the newsletter and sharing it.
Is This How You Play?
Once again, goaltenders, please tend the goal.
How did any of this work?
Is this how you hurdle a defender?
Imagine not making this shot.
Is this how you block?
That’s hockey baby.
News by the Numbers
0 - Number of MLB MVP finalists that made the postseason this season. It’s the first time ever that the top-3 from each league failed the playoffs. With Bryce Harper and Shohei Ohtani (of course) winning, it’s the first time since 1987 that neither MVP played for a postseason team (there were only 4 playoff teams at the time).
3 - Consecutive Field goal attempts missed by Jaguars kicker Matthew Wright. Penalties allowed him 3 shots at a kick, and he missed every time. A brutal series of events for Wright.
5 - It feels like déjà vu, but once again, essentially an entire NHL team had no chance of stopping Connor McDavid from scoring a goal. This is just a weekly occurrence at this point.
6 - Number of active NFL players that have joined the Manning brother during their guest portion of the Monday Night Football “Manningcast”. All six have gone on to lose the following week. The six: Travis Kelce, Russell Wilson, Rob Gronkowski, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, and Josh Allen. The most egregious was Allen and the Bills losing to the Jaguars 9-6 (in the game where the Jags kicker couldn’t kick). In an interesting twist, active NBA players may not be affected as Draymond Green and the Warriors beat the Nets the day after Green appeared on the program. More research is needed to see how deep this goes. Philip Rivers’ high school team season is already over, so I guess we need to follow Phil Mickelson’s next tournament.
9 - Number of combined turnovers in the Dolphins versus Texans game on November 7th. This included 5 interceptions and 4 fumbles lost. It was the most turnovers in a game since 2016 when the Jets and Chiefs did it (Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 6 interceptions that day and the Jets accounted for 8 of the 9 turnovers).
Homer Bias Restricted Area
Scott Wedgewood, a Devils backup goalie, is a guy that knows how to ruin a tank.
2017-18, Coyotes start season 0-10-1, claim goalie Scott Wedgewood on waivers, & in Wedgewood's first game he gets Coyotes their first win
2021-22, Coyotes start season 0-10-1, claim goalie Scott Wedgewood on waivers, & in Wedgewood's first game he gets Coyotes their first win
Speaking of the Devils, the Utica Comets (the Devils AHL affiliate) have set an AHL record by winning the first 12 games of the season. The future is bright with these young guys playing at such a high level.
End Of Restricted Area
Thank you for reading this week! The trade trees are a super deep dive, but worth all the effort. If you enjoyed that kind of content, please like and let me know who I should do next, I’d love to create more of them. There’s some really good candidates I have in mind.
Keep Sports Fun.
Twitter - @ColinRingwood12
The Buzzer Beater