Eagles’ Super Bowl success doesn’t detract from last year’s Saints draft trade
Let’s start with the facts. The Philadelphia Eagles are going to Super Bowl LVII and they own the New Orleans Saints’ first round pick at No. 10 overall in the 2023 NFL draft. It’s easy to criticize the Saints for making that trade in light of the Eagles’ championship ambitions, but let’s keep sight of what’s important here. This wasn’t a bad trade because Philadelphia is going to the Super Bowl. It’s a bad trade because New Orleans didn’t get much out of it.
To put it another way, this doesn’t have anything to do with the Eagles’ success. Our focus is on the Saints’ lack of success after that trade. If the Saints had reached the postseason and put that pick ten or twelve slots later in the first round draft order, we’re looking at this very differently. Instead, they looked inept and uncompetitive for much of their first year under Dennis Allen, and the depth issues New Orleans struggled with could’ve been addressed with the tenth pick in this year’s draft.
There are still some fans defending the move because, they claim, it brought Chris Olave to the Saints. And he was very impressive as a rookie. But that’s only part of the story, and New Orleans very likely could have gotten Olave without trading with Philadelphia.
Let’s recap the trade:
New Orleans got: pick Nos. 16, 19, and 194 (sixth round) in 2022
Philadelphia got: pick Nos. 18, 101 (third round), and 237 (seventh round) in 2022, plus a first rounder in 2023 and a second rounder in 2024
But the Saints drafted Olave at No. 11 overall, trading up again from No. 16 in exchange for their third- and fourth-round picks (at Nos. 98 and 120, if you’re curious). It wouldn’t have taken much more than that to jump from their original first rounder (at No. 18) to move up for the wide receiver. This trade with the Eagles doesn’t have much to do with Olave.
Instead, it’s all about Trevor Penning. The Saints used their next first rounder on the left tackle, and though we saw some flashes of what he brings to the table he ultimately was limited to just six games (with a single start) in his rookie season. Penning’s year started with a torn ligament in one foot and it ended with a Lisfranc fracture in the other foot, which puts his availability for offseason workouts in question. Even before his first injury, he was unlikely to start over veteran left tackle James Hurst.
That’s why this was a bad trade for New Orleans. The Saints moved those mountains so they could select a player they weren’t sure could help them right away, and who has appeared to be just as injury-prone as the guy he was brought in to replace (Terron Armstead). If they were so determined to add another first round pick, maybe invest it in a player who will be on the field with the starting lineup and who can help you get to the playoffs.
Now there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on Penning to justify this trade. He is, functionally, their first round pick in 2023. It’ll be really difficult to not criticize this move if he doesn’t start most (if not all) of the 2023 season and play at a high level. That’s going to be challenging in light of his injury and the steep learning curve for him coming out of a lower level of competition, but that’s where we are. The Saints can’t accept any less.
Sure, we’re looking at this with the benefits of hindsight. When looking back on it of course the Saints weren’t as close to being a Super Bowl contender as they thought they were. Their inadequacies at quarterback and depth issues in the supporting cast should have been put under a stronger microscope. It’s easy to say that now. But if you aren’t self-scouring and reflecting on what went wrong in the past, you’re only setting yourself up to repeat those mistakes. Let’s hope this was at least an educational experience for the Saints.
C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Ian Book among ex-Saints going to Super Bowl LVII with Eagles