The New England Patriots are not known for making the flashiest offseason moves.
Instead, the Patriots are known more for picking players from the scraps of the other 31 teams and turning them into valuable role players.
And that’s what makes this Patriots’ offseason so unusual — the Patriots are spending big and going after big-name players that they usually don’t. The Patriots entered this offseason with $US60 million in cap space, and it appears they have decided to go hunting with it.
As a result, they’re looking once again like the team to beat in the AFC and perhaps the entire NFL.
The Patriots’ biggest free-agency signing was a five-year, $US63 million deal for former Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore. While some have questioned Gilmore’s status as an elite cornerback — PFF gave him a 73.2 grade for 2016, 61st among cornerbacks — he also pulled in five interceptions last year.
The signing of Gilmore may signal the end of Malcolm Butler’s career with the Patriots, as the two sides have been unable to come to a long-term extension. While Butler was graded higher last season, according to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, Gilmore is taller, longer, and more physical than Butler. It’s easy to imagine him thriving with better coaching and culture in New England.
The Patriots’ other splashy move was trading their 2017 first- and third-round picks to the New Orleans Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Bill Belichick has reportedly long coveted Cooks and planned on drafting him before the Saints traded up to snag him in 2014.
Cooks is a scary addition to Tom Brady’s already extensive arsenal. In 2016, Cooks pulled in 76 catches for over 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns. According to ESPN’s Trey Wingo, Cooks has 11 touchdowns on over 30-yard grabs, second most behind Odell Beckham Jr. With Tom Brady improving his deep ball out of nowhere, the Patriots may be able to stretch the field with Cooks and open up space in the slot for players like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
The Patriots have made a few other moves. They traded for Carolina Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy, who despite a disappointing 2016, was part of the Panthers’ Super Bowl run in 2015. Volin calls it a “low-risk, high-value” move for the Patriots, who can cut Ealy, 25, if he under-performs.
They also signed defensive lineman Lawrence Guy to a four-year, $US20 million deal, re-signed key defender Alan Branch to a two-year deal, and traded for tight end Jack Doyle, who appears to be the replacement for Martellus Bennett.
The Patriots aren’t done yet, either. According to Volin, they still have $US36 million in cap space. Key linebacker Dont’a Hightower is still a free agent, and according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, hasn’t found the market he may have expected, possibly leading to a reunion with the Patriots. Additionally, LeGarrette Blount is still a free agent, and the Patriots have to cement their running back situation, whether by re-signing Blount, someone else, or drafting a replacement.
Perhaps the one weakness for the Patriots is their lack of draft picks in the first two rounds. However, that could change if the Patriots re-explore the trade market for Butler, after trade talks with the Saints fell through. Additionally, though ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Patriots are not trading Jimmy Garoppolo, if they change their minds, there’s a team in Cleveland stocked with draft picks with interest in Garoppolo.
It’s hard to imagine any team in the AFC currently being a threat to the Patriots, and perhaps that’s why the Patriots seem to be going all-in. Despite Tom Brady’s belief he can play until he’s 45, as he prepares to turn 40, the end of his career is getting closer and closer. The Patriots may see the end in sight and feel that while they have the resources available, they should go after big-name players they feel can help them.
With work still be done, as things stand right now, the NFL should not be excited about how the reigning Super Bowl champs are shaping up on paper.
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