Payton says Cooks wasn't dealt to Patriots because he was disgruntled

Payton says Cooks wasn't dealt to Patriots because he was disgruntled

PHOENIX -- Sean Payton went out of his way to tell Brandin Cooks that the Saints weren't looking to trade him. Then when the Patriots offered their pick at the bottom of the first round of this year's draft, there was a change of heart. 

MORE PATRIOTS

The Saints ended up dealing their dynamic 23-year-old wideout and a fourth-round pick to New England for the No. 32 overall pick and a third-rounder.

"We spoke to a few teams, and we weren't in a position where we felt like we gotta make this trade or else," Payton said during the NFC coaches breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore on Wednesday morning. "It was the opposite actually. I had a couple conversations with him, saying, 'This . . . isn't going to happen. We're not interested in just looking to do this.'

"But when we were able to do a deal with New England, which involved a first-round pick, third-round pick, we felt that was significant. We did feel like it was a way to help our team, particularly our defense. Those picks specifically, you don't know how the draft falls, but they're getting a real good player and someone that was obviously good for us."

Cooks has performed as one of the most productive players at his position since joining the Saints as their first-round pick in 2014, and he is one of just three players to record 75 catches, 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in each of the last two seasons, joining Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.

There have been, however, some hints that Cooks was unhappy during his time in New Orleans -- particularly recently. On a conference call with Patriots reporters following the trade, he indicated that he hoped he'd be able to do things in Josh McDaniels' offense that he wasn't able to do in Payton's. And after a blowout win over the Rams last year, during which Cooks didn't see a single target, he said, "Closed mouths don't get fed."

Still, Payton said Cooks wasn't dealt because he was disgruntled.

"For sure, he wasn't a player that we went out and said, 'Hey, we're shopping this player.' But when someone calls on a player you obviously take the call and listen to what they have to say," Payton explained. "I've said this a number of times: Working with him, he's not a kid, but he's fantastic in regards to his approach. Never at any time was he upset or unhappy.

"I think a little bit of last season, after [the Rams] game, his agent, you know, was a little disappointed, if you will. He didn't have the produciton in the game. Mind you, we had just finished scoring 49 points and beating a team. But to Brandin's credit, he was smart enough to see the season he was having. So he signed and got with another agent when this offseason began."

Though Payton clearly was happy with the return the Saints received for Cooks, he indicated that he was not necessarily resigned to picking at No. 32. Perhaps it could become available in a trade.

"It'd be hard to say, well we're just going to sit at No. 32," Payton said. "You do have some flexibility. I think, overall, having five picks in the first 103 picks provides that flexibility as well where you can certainly move up or move back. But we felt like there was some depth at certain positions in this draft, and we were trying to get a little fire power or ammo in those first 100, 103 picks was important." 

Burkhead's former running backs coach: 'He's going to flourish' with Patriots

Burkhead's former running backs coach: 'He's going to flourish' with Patriots

PHOENIX -- Rex Burkhead was buried on a deep running back depth chart in Cincinnati, but in New England he may finally have a chance to show his offensive value. That's how Burkhead's former running backs coach and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson feels, at least.

Before he was hired as Browns head coach last season, Jackson worked closely with Burkhead for three years and saw the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder's versatile skill set on a daily basis. With the Patriots, under Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels, Jackson believes Burkhead has a chance to see that skill set maximized. 

"He's very talented," Jackson said during the league meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. "He's a guy that was playing behind some very talented players [with the Bengals], and so he's going to get his opportunity now, and he's going to flourish. He's a really good player. A really good player.

"He's very versatile because he's a good runner, a good pass-catcher. He's a good blocker. He's very bright. He's been a sensational special teams player there so he brings a lot of different elements to that football team."

The Patriots signed Burkhead to a one-year deal earlier this offseason that could pay him more than $3 million -- a sign that they're hoping he'll factor heavily into the offense in 2017. With LeGarrette Blount still on the free-agent market, Burkhead is currently the biggest back on the Patriots roster alongside Dion Lewis, James White and DJ Foster, and he could be in line for a significant amount of work in short-yardage situations and on first and second down.

Burkhead served primarily as a special-teamer during his four-year career in Cincinnati, but in Week 17 of last season, because of injuries to his teammates at the position, he was the Bengals lead back and ran 27 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns. We took a closer look at the qualities he put on display that day right here

It was a performance that gave Burkhead's profile a where-did-that-come-from type of boost as he headed toward unrestricted free agency, but his head coach at the time wasn't surprised.

"Not at all. That's why we drafted him," said Bengals sideline boss Marvin Lewis, who went on to explain why Burkhead was an inconsistent offensive contributor leading up to that game.

"A lot of times when Rex got opportunities to play, he wasn't quite 100 percent and so that kind of limited him some. Even in preseason opportunities and so forth like that where you'd go into the game, and it'd be Rex's -- in my mind, Rex's ballgame -- to carry the ball in the first or second quarter and he wasn't able to suit up that day.

"That's one of the things he's battled over his career is just being 100 percent completely healthy. [But] he's just a hard-working guy who always wants to be out there."

And in New England, it looks like he'll have the chance to be out there more. 

Jackson: Browns willing to do anything for next quarterback. . . except trade No. 1 pick

Jackson: Browns willing to do anything for next quarterback. . . except trade No. 1 pick

PHOENIX -- The Browns are willing to do whatever it takes to land a quarterback they believe in . . . unless they're asked to give up the No. 1 overall pick.

That's apparently off the table. 

"No," Browns coach Hue Jackson said with a laugh during the AFC coaches breakfast Tuesday at the Arizona Biltmore. "No. I can tell you 'no' on that one. No."

Though Jackson would not touch any queries as they related to Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo --  "I can't comment on anybody else's players on another team, especially not in this forum," he said -- Jackson was more expansive when I asked him if he'd be willing to part with one of his team's two first-round draft picks in order to land the right quarterback. 

"I think everything would be on the table to consider," Jackson said. "But you'd like to come to a consensus that that right guy is out there and can be on your team. Yeah, I think we'd do anything. If there was the possibility to put the right quarterback on our football team, there's no question on my mind we'd do anything and everything to do that."

Anything and everything but give up No. 1. 

For the Patriots, the top overall choice may not be enough for them to part with Garoppolo, a fourth-year quarterback they seem to believe is the ultimate insurance policy for soon-to-be 40-year-old Tom Brady. 

But if every player has a price, one would think the top choice in this year's draft would be a hell of a start in getting the Patriots to consider a trade. Instead, it's a non-starter for Cleveland. 

The Browns are in a good place right now when it comes to their ammunition in the draft. Over the course of the next two years, they have nine top-65 selections to help rebuild a team that went 1-15 in 2016. Though No. 1 might be off the table, Jackson said nothing about No. 12, which may be easier to part with knowing that the team is bursting at the seams with picks.

Jackson said the Browns can afford to be relatively patient when it comes to filling their need at the sport's most important position. The Browns have so many other spots they could improve in the short-term that for them solving the quarterback position doesn't need to be done in haste, he explained. 

"This is a team game," Jackson said. "It's not just the quarterback. And I know everybody feels that. And I have great respect for that. But this is a team sport. The best teams normally win. Not the best quarterback. Don't get me wrong, Tom Brady's the best there is, but the best teams normally win.

"We gotta understand where we are. We gotta kind of crawl before we can walk. We weren't even walking a year ago. We weren't even crawling. I think what's most important for us is, 'How do we really want to build this team moving forward?'

"We all understand and recognize that a quarterback is a huge piece of it, but I think you gotta make sure that it's the right fit, and at the right time for us. And we'll do that at some point in time. It's going to happen, whether it's this year or next year, and we all know that. But I think what's important to us to have sustainable winning is we gotta have the best team. I think that's important as we move forward."

For the Browns, it appears as though building the best team means holding onto No. 1 overall this year regardless of whether or not it would help them land their quarterback of the future.