The pieces in the Saints-Cardinals draft-day trade in 2014: wide receiver John Brown (left), wide receiver Brandin Cooks (middle) and safety Deone Bucannon.
Saints coach Sean Payton saw a potential game-changer, and didn't want to wait passively.
Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim saw an opportunity to not only get his guy, but add an undervalued receiver in the third round.
In a span of 10 minutes on the first day of the 2014 draft, the Saints and Cardinals agreed to a deal that was initially a numbers swap: New Orleans received the No. 20 overall pick in exchange for No. 27 and No. 91. As the two teams prepare to square off in the regular season opener on Sunday, the picks not only have names, but all three should play substantial roles in the outcome.
The Cardinals' prerogative will be slowing down that New Orleans first-rounder, Brandin Cooks, the emerging wide receiver with speed to burn.
He had 53 catches for 550 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games last season, and with Jimmy Graham off to Seattle, is the Saints' top weapon.
While Cooks has star potential, the Cardinals also came out with a fruitful haul. They nabbed safety Deone Bucannon with the first-round pick and then added rookie sensation John Brown in the third – both of whom were impact players as rookies and are foundational pieces moving forward.
"I know both teams are happy," Keim said, "and it's always good when both teams are happy."
Payton said "there were a lot of things that we liked" about Cooks heading into the draft, and, believing that one or two teams had their eye on him before New Orleans' pick, made the decision to move up.
"Fortunately we were able to get in position to do that," Payton said. "Sometimes you do that and you can't find a trade partner."
When the Cardinals traded down, it piqued Bucannon's interest. Most draft projections had him as an early second-round pick, which he generally accepted, but his dinner in Arizona went so well there was the feeling he could be their first-round target. Maybe not so much at No. 20 overall, but seven spots later made a lot of sense.
"I clicked with all the coaches over here," Bucannon said. "It was a great time. I had 23 visits, and on this visit it was just something different."
Keim was willing to deal because he saw a bright future for Bucannon, and also had an ace up his sleeve. He pegged Brown as a second-round talent, but with little hype surrounding the Pittsburg State product, felt like he could wait to extract surplus value.
"Do you play the odds where you take him in the late third round where you could potentially be playing with fire?" Keim said. "That's always concerning. You have to know the right time to pull the trigger. You don't want to lose a player that you have highly regarded. It's difficult. But it's great that it worked out that way."
Brown draws natural comparisons to Cooks because of the trade and their status as the two fastest wideouts in that draft class. Cooks ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds at the NFL Scouting combine. Brown was one-hundredth of a second slower.
"We both signed up for the $100K at the combine (given out by Adidas to the fastest player in their gear) and he beat me by that little bit," said Brown, still sounding a touch disappointed.
Beyond their on-field similarities, a friendship between Brown and Cooks has developed. Before their rookie seasons, the pair joined their new quarterbacks – Drew Brees and Carson Palmer – for offseason workouts in California. The quartet went to a high school to work on pass routes, and it wasn't long before Cooks and Brown were trading phone numbers.
"We clicked right away," Cooks said.
They still keep in touch, as every once in a while Brown or Cooks will drop the other a line of encouragement via text message: I know what you're capable of doing. You're going to make plays. Good luck and stay healthy.
They'll be reunited on a big stage on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, but this is still just the beginning for them as well as Bucannon.
The Saints and the Cardinals each took a risk by making that draft-day trade, but thus far, everyone seems satisfied.
"To have guys like that, who can make immediate impacts, is huge," Keim said. "Not only does it help from a roster standpoint, but it helps from a cap standpoint. Because these players are on rookie contracts and have extended years on their deal, it's not only building for now, but also for the future."
Images of the players who currently sit atop the team depth chart