It has become almost rote to decry a savvy acquisition by the New England Patriots, an established tradition that’s rendered the cognoscenti numb.

New England pulled off its latest coup by stealing Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick from the New Orleans Saints, in exchange for first- and third-round selections in this summer’s draft. In doing so, the defending champions fired a warning shot to the rest of the league, floating into a different echelon while everyone else fights for scraps.

By every metric imaginable, Cooks is a supremely rare talent to hit the open market, turning 24 during the third week of the 2017 NFL Season. Posting consecutive 1,100-yard plus seasons, Cooks injects the Patriots’ offense with gamebreaking pace and acceleration, adding another layer to the most versatile and unpredictable scheme in the league.

Bill Belichick just acquired the NFL’s seventh-leading receiver for pennies on the dollar, by simplifying an equation that confounds other general managers. It’s almost certain that the No. 32 overall pick wouldn’t equate to a 23-year-old burgeoning star, and the Patriots’ personnel group will certainly be celebrating, if only for a fleeting moment, before getting back to their scrupulous work.

There’s a cottage industry steadfastly dedicated to overvaluing draft picks, but Belichick is the lone general manager that doesn’t conflate potential against proven assets. The Patriots sacrificed their first-round pick in order to acquire Cooks, a talking point that will surely circulate to assuage the fears of Saints fans – and to a lesser extent, the supporters of 30 other clubs. New England’s refusal to fetishize its draft picks and personnel, even when they land a potential star (hello Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins!) makes it easy for the team to recycle and extract maximum value from the market at all times. In jettisoning Cooks for the No. 32 overall selection, the Saints couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

For Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, the Cooks trade will likely be assessed as a catastrophic failure. Barring an undisclosed personal or medical issue, Cooks is the type of talent that sparsely becomes available and the accumulation of draft picks doesn’t match his proven output. Based off return on value, the Saints extracted a far lesser sum than the No. 20 overall pick in the historically loaded 2014 NFL Draft where Cooks was selected. There is scant justification for the trade if you’re the Saints: either Cooks made it clear that he’d balk after the team would hypothetically exercise their fifth-year option this spring, or there’s an undiagnosed character flaw. Cooks complained about not being targeted during the latter half of the year and briefly entered an online feud with teammate Michael Thomas, but it’s a matter the team should’ve opted to resolve, instead of opting for a subpar deal.

It should be unfathomable that the defending Super Bowl champion improves by operating with such finesse and tact, but here the Patriots are again, roaring past their competition. New England signed marquee cornerback Stephon Gilmore to be paired alongside second-team All-Pro and now sport perhaps the best duo in the league. When Martellus Bennett made it clear he wouldn’t be returning to New England, the Patriots acquired a relative facsimile in Dwayne Allen, to say nothing of Rob Gronkowski’s return from back surgery this fall. The Patriots sustain greatness by merely outsmarting their opponents and pulled off the rarest of heists in acquiring a 23-year-old star from a desperate organization. Don’t be surprised when it happens again.

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