The New Orleans Saints and the crazy art of the draft trade

NFL teams have spent the last six months reshaping their rosters and now, finally, the 2022 regular season is almost upon us. But which teams have truly pushed all their pieces to the mid-table and are poised to make a serious run at Super Bowl LVII? Welcome to us RingerS ‘ All in a weekwhere we’ll examine the quarterback moves, team-building philosophies and gambles teams have made to compete for a championship, and determine what it really means to be it all.

I get tired just thinking about the New Orleans Saints. I wish they would calm down, if only for a second.

For what seems like forever, New Orleans has walked the tightrope between smart and reckless. When it comes to margin management and the use of their projected capital, they use a win-now-and-worry-about-the-future-later strategy to go all in every year. However, when longtime football czar Sean Payton resigned in January, the franchise was given a chance to hit the reset button and breathe after years and years of making seemingly unsustainable moves, mortgaging the future. Instead, the team’s brain trust, headed by GM Mickey Loomis, looked at a list that earned an initial win total of over/under 7.5 from Vegas bookmakers and decided to push all their chips anyway.

After rebuilding or restructuring most of their top starters from last year and making a targeted free agency push, the Saints doubled down on 2022 and sent a package of future picks to the Eagles in a successful trade in early April, getting a first second. -round pick in the draft (giving them Nos. 16 and 19). Not over yet, Saints then gave up several more picks for the Commanders on draft night to move up five more spots, selecting Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave at no. 11. Combining In the team’s pre-draft and draft-day trades, the Saints essentially gave up five picks to select Olave: two 2022 third-rounders, a 2022 fourth-rounder, a 2023 first-rounder and a second of 2024. That’s an absurd amount of draft capital for a team to give up on any player. And it’s especially true when that player isn’t a quarterback.

The team’s maneuvers at draft weekend (which included selecting offensive tackle Trevor Penning at No. 19) make it clear that Loomis and Co. believe they are just one or two starters away from fielding a championship-caliber side – and that Olave in particular is capable of pushing the team to the top. RingerThe All In-dex’s new All In-dex confirms that sentiment: New Orleans is used to the gills in 2022, ranking sixth highest on the list thanks to a combination of big spending cash over the next two years ($440 million-plus total, third-most among NFL teams) and a relative lack of projected cap space over the next three — the latter largely due to trades Olave center.

All this means that the saints are maniacs. I hate everything about their process. But if Olave’s gambit goes to plan, they might end up looking like geniuses, too.

Success often finds teams that crawl when everyone else is crawling, and it’s clear that while most clubs look to stockpile future picks and build their rosters for the long term, New Orleans is content to take a path. less traveled. no Carps diets as have the Saints, who have traded 24 times in the last 16 drafts and haven’t traded since 2007. That’s their thing.

However, Olave is particularly emblematic of the Saints’ well-established team-building process, which is based on unwavering conviction to utter delusion in their scoring abilities. One could argue that in an era when quality wide receivers abound, New Orleans probably didn’t need to move heaven and earth to steal speed from Ohio State. But as coach Dennis Allen said after the draft, and I’m paraphrasing, the heart wants what the heart wants.

“Chris was a guy that we coveted from the beginning of this draft process,” Allen said. “I thought there were good receivers in this draft, but [Olave is] the only guy I felt like, ‘Man, I know exactly what I’m getting in this player.’ … I just felt like [he was] the best-rounded receiver in the draft.”

Allen, Loomis and the team’s scouting department may end up being correct in their assessment. As I noted in my predraft scouting report on Olave, he is a super smooth route runner with very quick feet and excellent body control. He burst past defenders, tracked the ball well and was a prolific scorer, finding the end zone 35 times in his career with the Buckeyes. That skill set was clearly a priority for a team that struggled to push the ball down the field in 2021. Plus Olave should pair well, at least in theory, with quarterback Jameis Winston, who has always been willing to stretch the field vertically and attack coverages deep. If Olave is as good in the NFL as he was at Ohio State, no one is going to lose much sleep thinking about the hypothetical players the team could have drafted with the picks it gave up to get him.

The Saints approach the draft with the belief that one elite player is worth far more than a bunch of role players. As Loomis said after the draft, “I wouldn’t say volume is a priority for us. I think quality is a priority for us.”

I can point to dozens of examples of the kind of quality he’s referring to here, franchise-changing players who are worth getting big. But we need look no further than last year, when the Bengals took Ja’Marr Chase at No. 5. There was a lot of contention at the time about whether Chase was a better overall value to the team than a guy like offensive tackle Penei Sewell, but it didn’t take long for those arguments to be silenced. Chase caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns as a rookie, immediately establishing himself as an elite receiver while helping to elevate the Bengals’ entire offense. Chase’s ability to win both deep down the field and as a run creator after the catch more or less negated the fact that Cincy’s offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL. Who needs a left tackle when you have a great receiver?

That’s the bet the Saints are making with Olave, who, while stylistically very different from Chase, brings what New Orleans undoubtedly envisions as a similar ability to tilt the field with the team’s offense. The big problem, of course, is that there’s no guarantee that Olave’s potential will ever turn into production. If Olave falters — or even if he’s just fine — the opportunity cost of the picks the Saints gave up could be substantial in the long run. Early contributors on low-cost contracts help teams spend big on established veterans. They give decision makers and list builders more flexibility. They provide much-needed depth during a long NFL season. They are often the backbone of a healthy list.

This is why there is a lot of risk in trading. And the trade—even if a team wants that player—doesn’t change the fact that the rate of losing players in each round is high. Picking players in the draft is perhaps a little like picking stocks: Over a short time horizon, a young hedge fund manager can look like a genius, hitting very few hot stocks to create big profits for his clients. theirs. But over a long enough time horizon, those profit streaks usually look more like luck than anything else—and the list of stock buyers who can consistently beat the market is short. NFL decision makers aren’t that different. Seahawks GM John Schneider is a great example of this. Schneider helped turn his team into a juggernaut by making a handful of absolute moon picks over a three-year stretch from 2010 to 2013, including Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson. And while he’s sprinkled in some nice picks in the decade since then, poor drafting is a big reason the Seahawks haven’t made it back to the Super Bowl since 2015.

Basically, as ESPN’s Bill Barnwell wrote in 2016, “all the empirical evidence we can find suggests that nobody in the league is actually good at picking players.” A quick look at the Saints’ draft history over the last decade will reinforce this study. Loomis and Co. moved forward with their 2017 draft, finding difference-makers in Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams, Alvin Kamara and Trey Hendrickson. But if you scale back, the team also has its share of swings and losses. Many teams seem to accept that the draft is mostly a mess, that it’s mostly impossible to predict how well a group of fallible human beings will do for years, and have concluded that volume drafting is the way to go. ; the more arrows you have, the more likely you are to hit the target. The Saints, obviously, are not one of those teams. And with nine 10-plus-win seasons over the last 16 years — most of which came in the Sean Payton-and-Drew Brees era — they haven’t had much reason to change.

But Brees isn’t walking through that door, and with Payton gone, uncertainty reigns. Saints are all in 2022 because that’s who they are. And with the addition of Olave, the return of Michael Thomas, the signings of Tyrann Mathieu and Jarvis Landry, and the relatively good vibes surrounding Jameis Winston’s offseason, the Saints’ Vegas win total has reached 8.5 with the season just around the corner.

When we start with the brass, the best and easiest way to win the NFL draft, build a strong team and compete for Super Bowls year after year is to select the right players. No team is more confident in its ability to do so than the Saints. And Olave will provide another good litmus test for this approach.

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