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9 players Saints should target before NFL trade deadline

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How active will the New Orleans Saints be at this year’s NFL trade deadline? Recent history suggests they’ll be right in the thick of things. They acquired linebacker Kwon Alexander at the 2020 deadline and came close to trading for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in 2019; cornerback Eli Apple arrived in a 2018 trade. And, oh yeah, they just brought Mark Ingram back after his three-year exodus with the Ravens and Texans. Expect them to continue to work the phones in search of upgrades.

And there isn’t a more obvious upgrade than the group of pass-catchers surrounding Jameis Winston. Well, pass-catchers in name only — 16 targets went to wide receivers during Monday night’s close win over the Seattle Seahawks, but only four of them were caught. With Michael Thomas still on the PUP list, Deonte Harris injured, and Tre’Quan Smith looking rusty-at-best, the Saints are quite literally beggars now, with their only real hope of improving Winston’s supporting cast being another team’s cast-offs.

They may be unwilling to throw too many resources at the problem after putting two draft picks on the table for Bradley Roby, but it’s worth noting that New Orleans still has a number of picks to work with in 2022 and 2023, with several compensatory picks expected to convey. But here are nine names they should call about:

New York Giants TE Evan Engram

New York Giants tight end Evan Engram (88) after an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman)

Engram made his first career Pro Bowl appearance in 2020 and was immediately miscast as a player to be targeted well underneath opposing coverage, averaging a meager 8.6 yards per reception in 2021 (compared to his 11.0 career average). Daniel Jones is targeting him at an average depth of just 4.3 yards after clocking 7.2 last season. With the Giants’ season circling the drain and Engram in a contract year, wouldn’t both sides welcome a separation so he can go fly freely down the seams in the Caesars Superdome? Approximate cap hit if traded: $3,890,763

Houston Texans WR Brandin Cooks

Houston Texan receiver Brandin Cooks (13) during the second half of an NFL football game with the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

Back in January, Cooks said that, “I’m not going to accept any more trades. If you don’t want me, you’re going to have to let me walk.” He’s since seen the Texans, both rudderless and leaderless, go completely into the tank. If all of that hasn’t motivated him to welcome a change, you have to wonder what would. Cooks is still one of the NFL’s better deep threats and his history of success in the Saints offense is appealing. Then again, his abrasive history with New Orleans is why he isn’t playing there right now. Approximate cap hit if traded: $1,617,646

New England Patriots WR N’Keal Harry

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 04: N’Keal Harry #15 of the New England Patriots reacts against the Tennessee Titans in the first quarter of the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 04, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Harry’s friction with the Patriots was an offseason storyline that we’ve already explored, and his limited looks this season aren’t much to write home about. He’s gone 3-of-5 for 47 receiving yards, his best play being a nifty 28-yard reception a week ago to get New England in scoring position. He feels like exactly the sort of talent Sean Payton can get more out of than Josh McDaniels and Mac Jones. Approximate cap hit if traded: $914,313

San Francisco 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (11) tries to evade New Orleans Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins (20) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

It still isn’t clear why Aiyuk has been bumped down the 49ers depth chart, but it’s an opportunity for the Saints to make a splashy addition. He’s exactly the sort of playmaker New Orleans needs at the position having averaged 4.8 yards after the catch per-catch as a rookie a year ago. You should be wary of anyone Kyle Shanahan can’t get production out of, but if you can get Aiyuk for a third-round pick in 2022 rather than the 25th overall pick in 2020, you have to consider the gamble. Approximate cap hit if traded: $763,274

Pittsburgh Steelers TE Eric Ebron

Sep 12, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron (85) jogs to the field prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Ebron has fallen behind Pat Freiermuth on the depth chart, playing just 46.6% of the Steelers’ snaps on offense with third-wheel Zach Gentry (24.4%) nipping at his heels. He’s also only caught 7-of-13 targets for 47 receiving yards from the flighty late-career Ben Roethlisberger. Adam Trautman and Juwan Johnson haven’t done enough work in the passing game to keep the Saints from considering all options, and Ebron would be worth a look if Pittsburgh is ready to move on. Approximate cap hit if traded: $724,705

Pittsburgh Steelers WR James Washington

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington (13) during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

It doesn’t seem to matter how many hits the Steelers take at receiver — they just aren’t interested in bumping Washington up to a heavier workload. He’s only played 45% of their snaps on offense this season after seeing 54%, 68%, and 44% his first three years in the league. The 21.6 receiving yards per game he’s averaging is the second-lowest number of his career. It shouldn’t take much to get him out of Pittsburgh, and he could benefit from a quarterback who can attack every level of the field. Approximate cap hit if traded: $707,765

Tennessee Titans WR Josh Reynolds

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Josh Reynolds (18) pulls in a catch against New York Jets cornerback Brandin Echols (26) that was ruled out of bounds during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium.
Nfl Tennessee Titans At New York Jets

The former Los Angeles Rams backup joined Tennessee in the offseason and has been a quiet, if efficient, player at the bottom of their depth chart. He’s caught 10 of the 13 passes sent his way for 90 yards and 6 first down conversions. His volume would immediately increase in New Orleans, and while you’ve got to wonder how high his ceiling really is, his floor is immediately higher than most of his Saints counterparts. Approximate cap hit if traded: $647,057

Philadelphia Eagles WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

Aug 12, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (19) against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The third-year pro out of Stanford has logged twice as many snaps on special teams (108) as he has on offense (54), having fallen down a bad depth chart in Philly. None of the playmaking ability he showed through several years (which drew the Saints to check in with him at his pro day) in college has translated to the NFL. But he wouldn’t be the first player to benefit from a change of scenery, and probably wouldn’t require great compensation to acquire. Approximate cap hit if traded: $611,543

Arizona Cardinals WR Andy Isabella

Sep 27, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Andy Isabella (17) dives for a touchdown during the second half against the Detroit Lions at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It might be tough to pull a talented backup away from a team going all-in on a Super Bowl, but Isabella really hasn’t been much of a factor for Arizona. He’s only logged six snaps this season, all on special teams. Maybe the Cardinals are determined to keep him inside a glass box to break just in case of an emergency, but you have to think it wouldn’t take him long to climb a significantly weaker depth chart in New Orleans. Approximate cap hit if traded: $592,640

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