The 2022 NFL offseason will go down as one of the most active and eventful in NFL history. There have been multiple big-time quarterbacks traded, future hall of fame receivers dealt while still in their prime and teams pushing their chips in the middle of the table by being aggressive in adding star defensive players in hopes for a playoff push. With so many blockbuster trades and crazy NFL storylines already, one would think that things would settle down for a bit as we approach the NFL Draft, but the NFL had other things coming and so did the New Orleans Saints.
On Monday, we had yet another trade to alter the NFL landscape and this time it wasn’t star players, but top draft capital. The Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints agreed to a trade that has the Eagles sending the Saints picks 16, 19 and a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft in exchange for pick 18, a third-round pick and a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft, while also acquiring the Saints’ first-round pick in 2023 and their second-round pick in 2024.
From the Eagles perspective, the trade is pretty cut and dry. Rather than pick three players in the first round of this year’s class, they opt to shed a selection this year and acquire additional picks in next year’s class, which is perceived to be a better class overall – especially at quarterback. This makes a ton of sense. Ideally, you never pick three first-round picks in the same year due to cap management and given that three first-round rookies contributing in the same year on the same team is unlikely. Additionally, this move gives the Eagles a ton of flexibility as they continue to evaluate quarterback Jalen Hurts. If Hurts proves he is the guy moving forward with a strong 2022 season, then the Eagles will have the luxury of having two first-round picks next year, which they could use to build around Hurts. If Hurts fails to prove he is the quarterback of the future, the Eagles now have additional draft capital to move up and select a quarterback they like near the top of the 2023 Draft.
Where this trade really gets interesting is when you look at it from the Saints’ perspective. My initial reaction to the trade was questioning why the Saints would make this move. To me, a team that is in the beginning phases of a rebuild shouldn’t be so quick to part with future draft capital that is part of building their foundation moving forward. I personally don’t think this team is a few players away from competing for a championship, even while playing in a down NFC and to be this aggressive for a shot next season is extremely short-sighted.
I saw several tweets suggesting that the trade was a targeted effort to leapfrog the Los Angeles Chargers who pick at 17, one pick in front of where the Saints were before today’s deal. The Saints and Chargers are both rumored to be targeting a wide receiver or tackle and theoretically, the Chargers could have sniped the player the Saints were targeting. That logic doesn’t make any sense, either. If you were going to trade up in the draft to get in front of a specific team, you wouldn’t do that three weeks away from the draft. You would do that on draft night. There is just too much unknown and so many variables before you get to your pick this far in advance. To me, the only logical explanation of Monday’s trade from the Saints’ perspective is that they are in love with a quarterback in this year’s class and they needed the extra draft capital to move up to the top five and select their guy.
There has been precedent for a move like this. If you recall the 2016 NFL Draft where the Philadelphia Eagles selected Carson Wentz with the second overall pick. The Eagles were originally picking 13th that year, before making two separate deals that would eventually net them the second overall pick and the opportunity to select their franchise quarterback. Philadelphia made their first trade with the Miami Dolphins giving them a couple of veteran players and the 13th pick for the Dolphins eighth overall pick. They then sent the eighth overall pick, a third-round pick, a fourth-round pick and then a 2017 first and a 2018 second to the Cleveland Browns for second overall pick in 2016. General Manager Howie Roseman knew he wanted Wentz and he also knew that at 13, the chances he’d have enough capital to move up were slim, so he got creative and executed a trade to move up and get the player he wanted all along. The Saints very well could be doing the same thing.
Now with two first-round picks in this year’s class, the Saints have three top 50 picks in this year’s draft to offer up to a team in the top five that isn’t in the market for a quarterback. The question now is, who is the quarterback the Saints are targeting? If I was a betting man, I’d guess that it’s Liberty’s Malik Willis.
Willis is a big-armed quarterback who possesses outstanding athleticism. He is an electric thrower of the football, who has the arm talent to force opposing defenses to defend every blade of grass on the football field. A big play threat both as a passer and a runner, he has the upside that could entice a team like the Saints to go all in and make him their quarterback of the future. Now, even though there is a lot to like about Willis, he still has his fair share of flaws. His inconsistent accuracy, touch and ball placement are concerning, and his decision-making leaves a lot to be desired. Whoever drafts him will have to coach out some of his bad habits and he would be best suited to redshirt and sit behind a veteran quarterback. Therefore, Willis to the Saints makes a ton of sense. The Saints have a veteran they can win with in Jameis Winston who is signed to a team-friendly deal. Because of Winston’s presence on the roster, the Saints can take it slow with Willis and only play him when he is ready.
It’ll be fascinating to see how this trade affects the first round of this year’s draft, which is just a few short weeks away. While I fully expect the Saints to make another move into the top five for Willis, perhaps this inspires another team to make a move to do the same and beat the Saints to the punch. As we always say, the NFL is the best reality TV show and this year’s NFL Draft promises to be one of the wildest in recent memory.
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