The Patriots pulled off their third trade in three days early Friday evening and it was the biggest of them all.
According to a league source, New England acquired Saints receiver Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick (No. 118) for its first-round pick (No. 32 overall) and third-round pick (No. 103).
Cooks had been at the center of rumors all week, including one in which he would come to New England in exchange for cornerback Malcolm Butler. For now at least, the two will be teammates.
Cooks is a speed burner with 215 receptions for 2,861 yards — an impressive 13.3-yard average — and 20 touchdowns in three seasons. The former first-round pick out of Oregon State has one year left on his rookie contract with a cap hit of $2.6 million.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots staff have gotten an up-close look at Cooks the last two preseasons as the teams have held joint practices (in West Virginia in 2015 and Foxborough in 2016) before playing exhibition games.
Battles between Cooks and Butler have been particularly entertaining during those competitions. The teams are set to square off in the regular season in New Orleans in 2017.
Used mainly as an outside-the-numbers receiver, Cooks has the quickness and foot speed to play in the slot if necessary.
Despite putting up back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns with the Saints, there were signs that Cooks was becoming frustrated with his role in the offense.
Days after not being targeted in a 49-21 win over the Rams in Week 12, Cooks told reporters that “closed mouths don’t get fed.’’
The Saints have a pair of talented receivers in Michael Thomas and Willie Snead and recently bolstered their group by signing free agent Ted Ginn.
Cooks, 23, brings some youth to a Patriots receiving corps that includes Danny Amendola (31), Julian Edelman (30), and Chris Hogan (28).