The Saints have never traded down during the first round of the draft with Mickey Loomis at the helm.
They’ve traded up. Five times, to be exact.
But New Orleans has never shown a desire for moving down in the first round and accumulating more picks in exchange for being patient.
This year, the team should have opportunities to explore both options. It’s possible the board will break a certain way and a player the Saints covet will fall in their lap. But in a top-heavy draft in which things level out after the first 10 or so prospects, it’s more likely they’ll have to make a move up the board to get one of those guys.
And if the bounty is too rich, there’s also a chance some team that covets, say, Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, assuming he lasts, could be ringing Loomis’ phone with a trade offer.
There are merits to both approaches. Teams like the New England Patriots realized long ago the draft is an inexact science. You can have the best scouts and the best analytics and the best investigators and still swing and miss on someone who looks like the perfect prospect.
The best way to guard against the imperfections of the process is to stockpile picks so you have more opportunities to step to the plate.
For the sake of comparison, the Saints have made 62 picks in the draft dating to 2006. The Patriots, meanwhile, have made 93 selections during that span. New Orleans lost two picks as part of the punishment for allegedly conducting a bounty program. New England lost a pick in 2007 for recording opponents’ hand signals on the sidelines.
Last year’s Super Bowl teams, the Panthers and Broncos, have made 74 and 86 picks over that span, respectively.
That’s not to say that having a bunch of picks automatically brings success. You still have to scout well and make smart decisions. The Saints could have had endless picks in 2014. It probably still wouldn’t have helped since only one player from that draft class is still on the team.
And that one player, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, is an example of successfully trading up for a prospect. If a team has a conviction in a player, and the value makes sense, it shouldn’t stand pat and refuse to part with the pick needed to move up just to keep a pick.
If the Saints had done that in 2014, they might have ended up with Marqise Lee instead of Cooks. Lee has 613 total receiving yards over two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Chances are Lee would have better numbers if he were playing in New Orleans, but it’s no guarantee.
There are no right or wrong answers. Having more picks usually helps, but talent trumps all.
The Saints are going to have to weigh those two extremes with the benefits of staying put Thursday night. If New Orleans wants to work a trade with the Ravens for the No. 6 pick, according to the trade value chart consulted by many teams, it would probably take its first- and second-round picks to make it happen.
The same is true for trading down. If the New York Jets wanted to move from the 20th pick to 12 to select Lynch, if he is available, the trade chart says they’d also have to throw in a second-round pick (51 overall) to make it happen.
Now, the chart is imperfect. It’s just a baseline and isn’t always adhered to, but it seems likely that a second-round pick would be involved if New Orleans decided to move one direction or the other.
The best bet is for the Saints to play the board, see how things are shaking out, and make the best decision for them. There’s merit in getting a top talent. There’s also merit in trying to stock the shelves with more players.
And sometimes holding is the best call.
Each hand has different rules. It’s up to the Saints to figure out the best option.