What If: Saints pulled off trade down with Rams on draft day

The New Orleans Saints are feeling pretty confident in their 2024 draft haul. They came away with the best player at their most important position of need in Oregon State right tackle Taliese Fuaga, a Day 1 starter with Pro Bowl potential (and who has made a big fan in future Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jason Kelce). But things could have turned out very differently them in this year’s draft.

What if the Las Vegas Raiders hadn’t drafted Georgia tight end Brock Bowers at No. 13, opening the door for the Saints to consummate a trade they were discussing with the Los Angeles Rams?

NFL Network’s Peter Schrager first reported that the Rams were calling teams in hopes of trading up for Bowers, and NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill later confirmed that the Saints were in talks with L.A. about moving down. But when the Raiders surprised everyone by drafting Bowers instead, one pick before the Saints went on the clock, those trade talks were scuttled.

Schrager said: “The player they had their eyes on if he slipped a little bit was Brock Bowers. So the Rams really fell in love with Brock Bowers, the Georgia tight end, and as he’s plummeting down boards and the quarterbacks are going, there were phone calls made and there was some excitement in that L.A. building that they might be able to get Brock Bowers and add him to that offense.”

Of course, everyone came out of these feeling happy: New Orleans got Fuaga, the Rams got Florida State pass rusher Jared Verse, and the Raiders, of course, got to pair Bowers with tight end Michael Mayer (last year’s 35th overall pick). Still, let’s use the benefit of hindsight to see how this may have played out differently.

If the Raiders pass on Bowers at No. 13, they would probably have picked Fuaga themselves. They have a clear need at right tackle where Thayer Munford Jr., a former seventh round pick with just 890 career snaps played in the NFL (563 of them on the right side), is expected to start. They could have also considered every defender in the draft at that point with the first dozen selections all being offensive players. But we’re guessing Fuaga would have been their choice.

So Bowers remains on the board at No. 14. There was a big push for the Saints to draft him among fans on social media, so he would’ve been a popular pick regardless of the greater need at both tackle spots. And with Fuaga unavailable trading down is easy to understand. As Underhill and Schrager reported, the Rams were working hard to trade up for him. What kind of offer could Los Angeles have made?

Going into the draft, Rich Hill’s trade value chart had the Saints’ No. 13 pick valued at 325 points, while the Rams’ pick at No. 19 was valued at 278 points. That’s a difference of 47 points, which could be made up by Los Angeles sending New Orleans their picks in Round 3 (No. 99, valued at 36 points) and Round 5 (No. 154, valued at 11 points). That’s equal value. The Saints could have also asked for the Rams’ other third rounder (No. 83, valued at 52 points), but breaking even would have meant sending back one of their own fifth- or sixth-round selections.

Here’s an alternative offer. The Saints already owned four picks in Round 5 (at Nos. 150, 168, 170, and 175). Another fifth rounder may not have moved the needle for them. So what about picks in 2025? Another trade in Round 1 saw the Jacksonville Jaguars move out of the 17th pick and down to No. 23 in exchange for the Minnesota Vikings’ third- and fourth-round choices next year. Conventional wisdom around the NFL says that future draft picks depreciate in value by one round for each year, but the Rams are well-established outliers in that regard. The Saints may have been able to wring out of them the 2025 second rounder Los Angeles later traded to move up from No. 52 to 39.

But there’s a cost for the Saints we aren’t considering, which would be missing out on one of the top offensive tackles (and Bowers, which would upset a lot of fans hoping for more firepower on offense). Sliding back from No. 14 to 19 is easier to accept with Fuaga off the board, along with guys picked ahead of him like Olu Fashanu, JC Latham, and Joe Alt. The next offensive tackle picked was Amarius Mims at No. 18, so he wouldn’t have been an option, either. The Saints were reportedly down on Troy Fautanu for medical red flags but they might have been forced into picking him before the Pittsburgh Steelers did at No. 20. The next offensive tackle drafted was Jordan Morgan at No. 25, and he also had a college knee injury.

Would it have been undersized pass rusher Chop Robinson (the 21st pick) or wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. (No. 23) instead of an offensive lineman? Both players visited the Saints at their headquarters before the draft, so they were clearly on New Orleans’ radar. They could have used the help at either spot, as well as cornerback, with both Quinyon Mitchell and Terrion Arnold on the board. The question is whether it could come at a detriment to the offensive line. Waiting until Round 2 would’ve been perilous; no offensive tackles were drafted until No. 55, 10 slots after the Saints were slated to pick. Doing so would have been a reach.

So maybe things worked out the way they should have. Disgruntled Saints fans would have never let it go if the team traded down and missed on a surefire offensive tackle while sending Bowers off to break all sorts of records in Sean McVay’s high-flying offense (which, you know, humiliated the Saints in front of a national audience last season and effectively ended their playoff bid. And they’re coming to the Caesars Superdome for a rematch this year).

It’s just ironic that a team which has traded up in 27 consecutive draft-day deals had the opportunity to finally move down, pleasing fans who have been asking for it for years, only for the options to look less appealing once you break it down. Hopefully Fuaga goes on to have such an illustrious career that we never look back on this as a missed opportunity.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire