Sean Payton

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton speaks at a post game press conference after an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016. The Saints won 31-24. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Associated Press photo by Bill Feig

Just like when the Saints traded Jimmy Graham, moving Brandin Cooks was about creating an opportunity to improve on the defensive side of the ball.

In his first comments since trading the wide receiver to the Patriots, the New Orleans coach discussed his reasoning behind the trade in an interview with Mile High Sports in Denver.

And in doing so, he put to rest a growing narrative: The trade had nothing to do with the emergence of Michael Thomas at wide receiver.

"I don’t know that in part that it had anything to do with our decision to trade Brandin," Payton said of Thomas. "I think for us it’s improving defensively, and we’re looking closely at all of our options to do that. He was a player -- when I talk about Brandin -- we weren’t actively shopping him. A handful of teams had called regarding possibly acquiring him. He’s a fantastic guy, someone who worked really, really hard here."

Payton then continued by saying that there can be challenges in playing in the New Orleans offense, and one of those is that sometimes the ball gets spread around.

"I think ultimately one of the challenges sometimes especially here in this offense is the ball gets spread around some, and yet you’re looking at a player who had over 1,200 yards receiving," Payton said. "And it really got down to an opportunity to help improve our team possibly defensively. We’ll be able to look at it three years down the road with what we’re able to do with the first-round pick and also the third-round pick."

Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.​