Brandin Cooks

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) reacts after his 37 yard pass play to set up a touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/John McCusker) ORG XMIT: LAGH125

John McCusker

This moment has been coming for a week.

The rumors started. No one denied anything. Eagles. Titans. Patriots. Brandin Cooks was going somewhere. It was just a matter of when and for what. And that moment happened Friday when the wide receiver was sent off to New England along with a fourth-round pick in exchange for a first-round pick and a third-round pick, according to a source.

But maybe it should have been clear early in the season when whispers started circulating that Cooks was unhappy with running clear-out routes. Or maybe it should haven’t been so easily brushed off after the receiver made those feelings known after not being targeted in a 49-21 win over the Los Angeles Rams, saying closed mouths don’t get fed.

Everyone said there were no hard feelings after the game and into the week, and former Saints receiver Marques Colston even reached out to Cooks to let him know that’s the way things go in New Orleans but everyone eventually eats.

It seemed like everything was fine for a while, but perhaps the bigger focus should have been the fact that Cooks got into a loud argument in the locker room with members of the coaching staff after a 49-21 win over the Rams on Nov. 27, according to multiple sources.

When looking at the big picture, it's not hard to understand how things got to this point, but it's still stunning.

A year ago the Saints were assembling a wide receiver corps that was the envy of every offense in the league. No one was going hungry.

Cooks caught 78 passes for 1,173 yards. Michael Thomas racked 92 catches for 1,137 yards. Willie Snead checked in with 72 catches for 895 yards.

Everyone was putting up numbers — maybe not in the same specific game, but it would be hard to say anyone wasn’t thriving. And yet, Saints fans will now be limited to a sneak preview of what should have been a great series because one of the stars walked off the set.

The New Orleans offense will continue to work and move the ball.

Ted Ginn Jr. was signed this week to fill Cooks’ role. He won’t be as good or as dynamic as Cooks — few players are — but he can do everything the team needs him to do. He’ll run vertical routes and manipulate coverages. He’ll make big plays and open things up for everyone else. That's all the Saints need from that spot.

Underneath, Willie Snead will handle the bulk of the duties, and Michael Thomas will move into being the team’s No. 1 target, if such a thing exists here, and continue to work the intermediate areas of the field.

There will likely be some concern until it’s seen on the field, but Sean Payton knows how to make an offense work, and he’s glossed over the losses of other players who were viewed to be pillars of the offense. The same thing will happen now.

But there’s likely a hollow feeling in some corners because there were rumors of the Philadelphia Eagles and Tennessee Titans having first-round picks that were higher in the order on the table.

Then there was the one about New Orleans netting cornerback Malcolm Butler from the Patriots. But it's likely there was an overestimation of Cooks’ market or those offers never materialized as reported. And by trading Cooks now, the Saints avoid paying him a $781,599 roster bonus next week.

The important thing now isn't the compensation. That part is over. What matters now is that New Orleans takes advantage of the assets. It didn’t work as hoped last time the Saints made a deal like this, sending Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks for center Max Unger and a first-round pick used to select linebacker Stephone Anthony.

They can’t miss again. The defense has been upgraded this week by retaining defensive tackle Nick Fairley and signing middle linebacker A.J. Klein away from the Panthers. But there are still holes at cornerback and defensive end. Those holes need to be filled. It's imperative.

If one of the better players on the roster is being sent away, it has to be for a purpose. Losing Cooks is going to hurt, but this can turn out OK for the Saints if they make the right decisions and hit on both of their first-round picks or use them to get something even better.

It’s just unfortunate it came to this. Cooks looked like a young, ascending player who was going to be around for a while. Now he’s going to have to get fed in New England.

Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.​