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  • Mike ReissCloseMike ReissESPN Staff Writer
    • Covered Patriots since 1997
    • Joined ESPN in 2009
  • Mike TriplettCloseMike TriplettESPN Staff Writer
    • Covered Saints for eight years at New Orleans Times-Picayune
    • Previously covered LSU football, San Francisco 49ers
    • Iowa native and University of Iowa graduate

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Continuing their aggressive offseason blitz, the New England Patriots have agreed to trade their 2017 first-round draft choice to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for receiver Brandin Cooks, sources tell ESPN's Dianna Russini.

The first-round pick is No. 32 overall, the last selection of the round. The Patriots also trade a third-round pick (No. 103) to New Orleans and receive the Saints' fourth-round pick (No. 118), sources tell Russini.

Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler had been part of trade speculation in a deal for Cooks. As a restricted free agent, Butler has been tendered an offer of $3.91 million but until he signs the tender, he can't be part of a trade because players aren't allowed to be traded if they aren't under contract. It is not known if the Patriots and Saints have discussed another layer to the trade that involves Butler, as the Saints have made it a priority to improve their defense this offseason.

Another reason for the Saints' urgency to trade Cooks is that he is due a $781,599 roster bonus on Monday, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. That is now the Patriots' responsibility.

The 23-year-old Cooks has been the object of trade talks since the NFL Combine earlier this month, and the Patriots reportedly made an offer for the receiver earlier this month. But NOLA.com reported the Saints wanted more than the No. 32 pick in the NFL draft.

On ESPN's "NFL Insiders" earlier this week, Saints coach Sean Payton explained the team's thinking with Cooks.

"For us specifically, we're looking for ways to improve our defense. And you have X amount of assets, it might be draft picks or money to spend in free agency," he said on the program. "Brandin's someone that we think the world of. I love him. Not only is he a great player, he's a special guy. And yet Mickey's (GM Mickey Loomis) position if you do get a phone call from a team or another team, you're always gonna listen.

"As we're trying to improve on defense, you look at every avenue that might give you that chance. … And yet we'll communicate with Brandin like, 'Hey, we're not just out here going around the combine looking to trade Brandin Cooks.' I mean he just finished with 1,200 yards receiving and had a great season himself."

The emergence of 2016 breakout rookie Michael Thomas also helped make Cooks expendable, and the Saints agreed to a deal Thursday with free-agent receiver Ted Ginn Jr. – a speedy vertical threat who can help fill the void left by Cooks.

The Saints have led the NFL in total offense six times during the Payton-Drew Brees era, including last season, and they have always been confident in their ability to keep thriving on offense, even after parting ways with elite playmakers. The same line of thinking led to their blockbuster trade of tight end Jimmy Graham to Seattle two years ago.

Cooks is under contract for 2017 at the bargain rate of $1.56 million, with the Patriots now holding a fifth-year option for about $8.5 million in 2018.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been a fan of Cooks since he entered the NFL as a first-round draft choice out of Oregon State in 2014. He got an up-close look at him in 2015 and 2016 when the Patriots and Saints held joint practices and said after a preseason game, "I'm glad we don't have to play him twice a year and he's not in our division. He's a really good player."

Cooks is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons. The Saints traded up to draft Cooks with the 20th pick of the 2014 draft. He has emerged as one of the NFL's most dynamic playmakers, with a total of 17 touchdown catches over the past two years and two of the four longest receptions in the NFL last year (98 yards and 87 yards).

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