When it comes to the business of the New England Patriots, always expect the unexpected.
On Tuesday, the team once again surprised the NFL universe by reportedly trading wide receiver Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams. In return, the Pats would receive a first-round pick (No. 23 overall) and a sixth-round pick.
To say the move was an eye-opener would be an understatement. Cooks had been viewed as a formidable and speedy downfield threat, whose performance would surely increase during his second year of catching passes from quarterback Tom Brady. Instead, Cooks heads to the Rams, while the Patriots bid adieu to another member of their 2017 corps of receivers. The team already had lost receiver and playoff-hero Danny Amendola, when he signed with the Miami Dolphins last month as a free agent.
Time to panic in Foxboro? Not quite…
Despite the prognostications of doom emanating from social media, it should be noted that the team did receive great value in this trade. Despite the on-field value that Cooks provided them, the Patriots likely realized that their chances of retaining him (after his contract expires in 2018) would be slim. The salaries for the league’s top receivers have increased dramatically, and Cooks would likely command top dollar on the open market.
Instead, the Patriots made a tough decision to part with a true asset, to secure longer-range plans to sustain success. The team is entering a critical time as it looks to the future. Tom Brady is set to turn 41. Tight end Rob Gronkowski appears to be on a year-to-year plan in terms of whether to continue his career. As a result, the Patriots find themselves in need of accumulating assets. Although he was highly regarded within the Patriots organization, the Cooks deal allows the Pats to add a first-round pick (23rd overall), while maintaining their initial first-round selection (31st overall).
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
Despite it also being known as a Peter Cetera-penned tune on the album Chicago II, the above question is understandably on the collective minds of Patriots Nation. In the immediate aftermath, the Patriots still employ a strong depth chart at receiver that includes Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley McCarron and Cody Hollister.
As noted by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, as well as WEEI.com’s Ryan Hannable, the trade also should end any speculation that the organization will be trading Rob Gronkowski. Rather, it likely signifies that the Patriots prolific tight end will be back for 2018. Having lost reliable weapons in Cooks and Amendola, the Pats offense will rely on Gronkowski’s experience and athleticism for production in 2018.
As for the Draft…
With the 2018 NFL Draft squarely on the horizon, the Patriots now have four selections in the first two rounds (Nos. 23, 31, 43 and 63 overall.) All of a sudden, Bill Belichick now has a myriad of options from which to choose.
Should he be targeting a specific player, Belichick now has the ability to trade up by packaging the selections. On the other hand, he could stand pat (pun intended) and choose to select four quality players.
Some have speculated that the move indicates Belichick’s intention to select a quarterback, and thus a successor to Brady. That is certainly possible, but isn’t a sure thing, either. The team does have other, more pressing needs, especially on defense. They could still get their quarterback in the middle rounds, and use the higher draft choices to enhance their defense or offensive line.
In what would have seemed like an unlikely move just days ago, the Pats have also raised the possibility of selecting a wide receiver early in the draft. Despite the obvious talent at the position, age is a factor. Could the Pats look to draft a young wide-out to fill the spot vacated by Cooks? At this point, no move made in New England would be shocking.
Placing emotion aside, this was a ‘very good value’ deal for the Patriots. In short, they obtained a first-round pick in exchange for Cooks, who was entering the final year of his contract and scheduled to earn $8.459 million. The trade frees up significant cap space and the team now has over $14 million with which to work. When examining the move with an objective eye, one can see that the move was not only justified but smart, as well.
That being said, the Patriots will certainly miss Brandin Cooks. His speed and athleticism will not easily be replaced on the field in 2018. In addition, he had become a model Patriot in the community. The Los Angeles Rams are getting a good man. Patriots Nation will always be appreciative of his contributions during his brief tenure here.
For Bill Belichick, he now has the assets he needs to help improve the team for 2018 and beyond. With four picks in the first two rounds, next month’s draft just became a bit more interesting. Should we expect more of the unexpected? In Foxboro, that seems to be the only sure bet.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC.