The way the Patriots are already wheeling and dealing just a week into free agency, you’d think that they just lost the Super Bowl in unprecedented fashion rather than win it in unprecedented fashion. Despite the fact that the Pats just went 17-2, made arguably the greatest comeback in the history of the NFL, their nearly 40-year old quarterback just played the best season of his career, the entirety of the team stayed relatively healthy throughout the season and so, so much more, Bill Belichick still doesn’t seem satisfied.
Just mere days into the start of free agency, New England has already made major splashes, which is totally un-Patriots like, if history has shown us anything. This is a surefire sign that Belichick wants to surround Tom Brady, the Benjamin Button-esque, coming on forty years of age quarterback, with as much talent as possible. We all know that Brady is slowly, inevitably aging, despite him playing at a beyond otherworldly level. Patriots fans and the organization alike want Brady to go out with a bang, whenever that may be, so they may as well start now and see how far it can take them. And they’re doing just that.
This, as it should, is making the thirty-one other teams and their fans tremble and shake in their shoes, and that’s what Belichick wants. Yeah, last year was cool and all, making that still completely unfathomable comeback on the biggest stage in sports, but if I know anything about Bill Belichick, those first three quarters were pretty despicable, and they can be better. Much better. I have a slight feeling that he’s itching to go...wait for it...19-0. At this pace, and if everything goes according to plan, it isn’t necessarily unreasonable.
Let’s take a look at the elephant in the room, Brandin Cooks. I get that he doesn’t have the resume like guys to the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and others, but that doesn’t make this guy any less impressive nor valuable. He’s of a different breed than current Patriots receivers in a number of ways, and New England’s offense can severely benefit from that. This current Pats receiving corps is made up of incredibly late-round picks, undrafted players and previous nobodies, so having a former first-round selection in Cooks brings something totally new to the Patriots. This already-fatal offense somehow got even deadlier.
It’s been awhile since Tom Brady has had a legitimate, proven deep threat amongst his notoriously overachieving targets. The last guy of that caliber was Randy Moss, and Cooks is hands down Brady’s most deadly outside threat since the Moss days. To highlight his pure downfield ability, Cooks caught 18 passes thrown 15+ yards last season, something that no Patriots receiver has done since 2011. His playmaking ability and upside is as appealing as it gets. Cooks has only grown and improved over the course of his three year professional career, despite New Orleans underutilizing him and deciding to spread the ball, therefore leading to fewer targets and receptions. Regardless of the fact that the Saints chose to do this, Cooks still showed that he can stretch the field, most recently racking up back-to-back 1,100+ yard seasons.
Sure, Cooks still won’t be the number one receiver in New England, but you can bet that under this system and under Belichick, especially in a contract year, he will thrive. Giving Brady a guy like Cooks really opens up the field for the rest of the corps and can stretch the opposing defense. I mean, hey, if you actually put forth the effort in New England as a receiver, Brady will do the rest and you’ll do great. The most targets he’s seen in one season was 129 back in 2015, though he totaled 1,138 yards, catching 84 of those passes. Plus, last season, Cooks averaged 15 yards per catch, marginally higher than any current Pats receiver. Drew Brees is pretty damn good, but give this guy Tom Brady, the rest of the league might want to tightly fasten their seatbelts up until February. Per usual, though.
The best thing about this, is that the offensive moves don’t end there. Kicked under the fridge for the most part was the Dwayne Allen trade, the first move that the team made this offseason. The tight end from Indianapolis is just the next Gronk backup to be traded to New England. When don’t the Patriots trade a fourth-round pick for a number two tight end, really?
Allen happens to be a Belichick favorite; on multiple occasions, the head coach has praised his blocking ability, vertical threat, you name it. That’s just one reason as to why he’s a pretty good fit in Foxboro. Not to mention, he defended the Patriots during Deflategate, in the tweet below. Never in a million years would I have guessed that I would respect a Colt as much as I do this guy:
Allen is a decent replacement for Bennett, who has since signed with Green Bay. The 27-year old is three years younger than Bennett, and brings a lot more to the table than Bennett in a number of ways. Though Allen isn’t as much of a receiver as Bennett is, he is most certainly a better run-blocker, he can still line up almost anywhere at the line, even in the backfield, and is just an overall more dynamic tight end as opposed to Bennett. The Patriots lose that receiving threat from Bennett, but definitely gain much more from a current need perspective at that position, I.E. Gronk when injured.
One possible concern is Allen’s injury history. He’s only played a full, 16-game season once in his career, has missed at least two games each season since 2012, missing 23 games over that span. Unless he’s one tough S.O.B. like Bennett was for New England or simply stays healthy for once, the Patriots will have to continue on in regards to adapting to tight end injuries, though that shouldn’t be a problem. If Allen does stay healthy, though, it’ll be great help towards keeping Gronk healthy en route to the playoffs. Using more of Cooks and Allen can help allow Gronk to rest and ensure that he’s full steam ahead once January rolls around.
As for the three defensive moves thus far, between Stephon Gilmore, Kony Ealy and Lawrence Guy, they give New England lots of flexibility and critical help on that side of the football. There are already a lot of question marks surrounding the D, from Dont’a Hightower to Malcolm Butler, this rollercoaster just keeps on keeping on. The signings arise obvious questions around those two players, making this particular offseason for New England notably drama-filled. And I love it.
As it stands for the Gilmore move, I love this one a lot. Rarely do the Patriots pay any player top-dollar, but they did this time, giving the 26-year old cornerback a 5-year, $65 million contract. This was a move that they needed to make, given that Logan Ryan just signed with the Titans and this Malcolm Butler situation is essentially a mess. It was kind of shocking at first, but it all makes sense. Hypothetically speaking, if Butler does end up playing elsewhere, though I don’t believe that will happen, Gilmore is a pretty decent replacement, and the Patriots can still win even without Butler. Though, I believe that Butler will stay for at least another season. Gilmore and Butler in that backfield is pure filth, and could make that set of defensive backs arguably the best in the league, right up there with Denver’s.
Ealy is sure to replace Chris Long, who opted to become a free agent, and Jabaal Sheard, who recently signed with the Colts, and not to mention, Indy overpaid for him. Any chance I get to mention the Colts doing something stupid, I’m going to take full advantage of. Anyways, back to the topic. Ealy is sure to become a Belichick favorite, mainly because of his athleticism paired with length at his position. The Patriots got younger at defensive end to replace previous age and picked up a guy who can easily fill that gap and then some, all while saving money and only moving eight spots down in the draft to do so. A classic Belichick fleece move, BB’s specialty. This is a decent get at a time in which the Patriots are looking to fortify at defensive end, thanks to, like I mentioned, Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard’s departures, plus Rob Ninkovich’s inevitable aging.
Last but not least, the Lawrence Guy signing. Guy, a 3-4 DE from Baltimore, is expected to be a rotational player on the defensive line and can be a helpful depth and versatile piece in this Patriots defense. Guy has long arms and is an upbeat, powerful player and recently thrived on the field goal unit with the Ravens. It is notable that Guy is primarily a 3-4 defensive player, as the Patriots currently do not employ that scheme, but in my opinion, this is all about depth and having a more flexible defense, providing the team with various options. New England has the ability to alter their scheme from game to game, and Guy helps in that department. He can tackle in a wide range of different formations and could play tackle or even end, depending on the formation. He’ll most likely be in that rotation of Malcom Brown and Alan Branch to stiffen the run defense.
As you could probably tell, Belichick is looking to do whatever he can to make this Patriots team the very best they can be, and even moreso compared to previous years, which is insane in and of itself. I absolutely love this as a Patriots fan, but then again, what Patriots fan doesn’t love this? I’ve never seen Belichick go all out like this, and especially so early on in the offseason. It’s fantastic to see the Patriots in on everybody and right in the thick of it. This new mentality is rather refreshing. I’m as eager as ever to see how this all pans out, and we’re only halfway through March. This is just the beginning.