Could the Saints Poach Talent From a Bitter Playoff Foe?

Will New Orleans find an unlikely trade partner in long-time playoff rival Minnesota?
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This season’s NFL trade deadline is November 3rd. We have already seen some player movement before the deadline, with more sure to come. 

The New Orleans Saints have engaged in a few trades during the season over the last of couple seasons. In 2017, they dealt RB Adrian Peterson to the Arizona Cardinals to free up snaps for then-rookie back Alvin Kamara, who would win Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

The Saints sent two Day 3 draft picks to the New York Giants at the deadline in 2018 to acquire CB Eli Apple, who would bolster the team's secondary for a playoff run. Earlier that year, just before the start of the regular season, New Orleans traded a 3rd round pick to the New York Jets for QB Teddy Bridgewater.

Last year, just a week before the 2019 season opener, the Saints traded for LB Kiko Alonso with the Miami Dolphins. Later in the year, at the trade deadline, the Saints made a powerful push to acquire WR Emmanuel Sanders, who was instead dealt to the San Francisco 49ers.

With a roster full of championship talent, the Saints will be buyers if they have any trade activity in 2020, although it's possible that they could include a current player in a potential deal. The New York Jets have already traded two defensive starters, and the Houston Texans are reportedly listening to offers for several of their wide receivers. 

Another potential trade partner for the Saints is a previously unlikely source and long-time postseason tormentor: The Minnesota Vikings.

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) sacks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) during the fourth quarter of a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) sacks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) during the fourth quarter of a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY

After coming into 2020 as one of the favorites in the NFC North, Minnesota has stumbled to a 1-5 start and is seemingly on the cusp of "giving up" this season. 

The Vikings have gotten abysmal quarterback play from Kirk Cousins and their offensive line. Their young crew of cornerbacks has been victimized often, and they've lost defensive stars Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter to season-ending injuries. 

Minnesota has already been active sellers on the trade market, dealing star pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens this week after trading for him in the offseason. If Minnesota looks to make more moves, here are a couple positions to watch if the Saints were to pull off a deal with their bitter playoff rivals.

TIGHT END

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) catches a pass for the winning touchdown over New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (26) during overtime of a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook -USA TODAY

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) catches a pass for the winning touchdown over New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (26) during overtime of a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook -USA TODAY

Wide receiver Adam Thielen and RB Dalvin Cook would likely be untouchable if the Vikings were to trade away more players. However, Minnesota has two talented tight ends if New Orleans would look to add another receiving weapon for quarterback Drew Brees. 

Notorious Saints-killer Kyle Rudolph is among the league's better tight ends. Rudolph, who turns 31 on November 9, has gotten off to a slow start this season with 10 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown. Still, he is a reliable target with skilled hands, runs excellent routes, and can still threaten a defense down the seam. 

Signed through the 2023 season, Rudolph would be a big hit against the salary cap if dealt for, but general manager Mickey Loomis has been a master at manipulating contracts.

Oct 18, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. (84) runs with the ball after a catch for a 36-yard gain in the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 18, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. (84) runs with the ball after a catch for a 36-yard gain in the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

An even more intriguing player for the Saints might be second-year tight end Irv Smith Jr., a 2nd round draft choice (50th overall) from Alabama in the 2019 draft. Smith is an athletic mismatch with excellent hands, and athleticism with 10 catches for 133 yards this year after 36 receptions for 311 yards and 2 scores as a rookie. He also has a more team-friendly deal than Rudolph, signed through the 2022 season with less than a $1.9 million cap hit each year. 

Smith grew up in the New Orleans area. His father, Irv Smith Sr., was a 1st round draft pick by the Saints in 1993 and had 134 receptions for 1,300 yards and 9 touchdowns in five years with New Orleans.

The Saints already have 33-Yr old Pro Bowler Jared Cook at tight end, but he could be a free agent at the end of the year, and he does have a big cap figure. New Orleans traded up in the 3rd round of this year's draft, with the Vikings, to draft TE Adam Trautman, but the unproven Trautman has just 3 catches for 34 yards so far. 

Trading for a player like Smith or Rudolph will give the Saints another offensive weapon this season and a proven starter at the tight end spot in 2021 if they do not keep Cook.

SAFETY

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) defends Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) during the second quarter of a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick Hingle-USA TODAY

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) defends Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) during the second quarter of a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick Hingle-USA TODAY

Depth at cornerback behind Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins is a major defensive weakness for New Orleans, but I can't see a solution for that in Minnesota. The Vikings are unlikely to give up on 2020 draftees Jeff Gladney (1st round) or Cameron Dantzler (3rd) so quickly, and neither Mike Hughes nor Holton Hill would be upgrades over what they have. 

However, New Orleans could still find secondary help if they could convince Minnesota to part with one of their two talented safeties.

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive back Anthony Harris (41) intercepts a pass interned for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Ted Ginn (19) as Minnesota cornerback Trae Waynes (26) backs up the play during the second quarter of a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook -USA TODAY

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive back Anthony Harris (41) intercepts a pass interned for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Ted Ginn (19) as Minnesota cornerback Trae Waynes (26) backs up the play during the second quarter of a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook -USA TODAY

Free safety Anthony Harris is a ballhawk. He led the NFL with 6 interceptions in 2019. Harris added another with a pick-off of Brees against the Saints in the first round of the playoffs. The 29-Yr old Harris is also an outstanding tackler, something that has plagued the Saints at this position. 

Minnesota used the franchise tag on Harris this offseason, so he’s playing on an $11.44 million deal this year with an eye on a big contract in free agency in 2021.

Oct 28, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) intercepts a pass in front of New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 28, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) intercepts a pass in front of New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Another talented Minnesota defensive back that could be on the move is veteran safety Harrison Smith. A nine-year veteran who has made five Pro Bowls, Smith can play either safety spot. 

He has 24 career interceptions, has forced 7 fumbles, recovered 8 fumbles, has scored 4 defensive touchdowns, and is annually among the top tacklers on his team. The 31-Year-old Smith is signed through the 2021 season and has a $10.25 million cap hit.

Jan 14, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs catches the game winning touchdown as New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams (43) misses the tackle and collides with cornerback Ken Crawley (20) in the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY

Jan 14, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs catches the game winning touchdown as New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams (43) misses the tackle and collides with cornerback Ken Crawley (20) in the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY

Either Smith or Harris would be an upgrade over the safety play that the Saints have gotten through the first third of this season. Free safety Marcus Williams is a poor tackler and continues to take bad angles against both a ball carrier and pass receiver. 

Malcolm Jenkins, never strong in coverage, is a liability in that role at this stage of his twelve-year career. It may be difficult to pry a star player away from a team, especially the Vikings, with so much postseason history between the two franchises. 

As we've seen during the early portion of the 2020 NFL season, however, even the most ridiculous is possible. And let's be honest: What would be more 2020 than including Marcus Williams in a trade package with the Minnesota Vikings that could help the New Orleans Saints in a title pursuit. 

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