You know, I was really expecting this week to be rather light in terms of content.
This is usually a quiet time for the New England Patriots. They very rarely make a big splash on day one of free agency, usually choosing to wait until all the over-priced players are scooped up before finding bargain deals with players looking to revive their careers.
This year has been different though. The Patriots have been one of the most talked about team as they have exploded onto the scene with a number of huge moves over the last week. Let’s take a look at what they’ve done so far:
Trading for Dwayne Allen: The Patriots traded a fourth round pick to the Colts in exchange for tight end Dwayne Allen and a sixth round selection. Allen is entering the second year of a four year deal worth up to $29.4 million that he signed with the Colts prior to last season. After a season with lower production than expected, the Colts were willing to part with Allen. During the 2016 campaign he caught 35 passes for 406 yards and six touchdowns. The Patriots bring him in as the replacement for Martellus Bennett, who departed for Green Bay this past week. Allen is not quite as talented as Bennett, but he is younger and his contract is much lower than the money that Bennett was looking for. Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels are enamored with a two-tight end offense, and also enjoy having a serviceable backup to Rob Gronkowski.
Trading for Kony Ealy: New England traded defensive end Kony Ealy and a third round pick from the Carolina Panthers in exchange for the Patriots’ second round pick. This was a great deal simply for the price they paid. The Patriots received a good defensive lineman and only had to drop back eight spots, from pick 64 (end of the second round) to pick 72 (beginning of the third round). Ealy is coming off of a season where he played in all 16 games and finished with 19 tackles and five sacks. He was a stud for Carolina in Super Bowl 50, finishing the game with three sacks and providing some of the few highlights in that game for them. He will help to fill in the spots left by Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard.
Resigning Alan Branch/Duron Harmon/James Develin:
– Alan Branch was quietly one of the Patriots most valuable players on defense last season. He was a stalwart along the Patriots defensive line, and was one of the biggest reasons as to why New England had great success against the run all season long. Resigning him was one of the more underrated moves of the offseason so far.
– Duron Harmon has been a solid safety for the Patriots in his four year career. He is a strong tackler, and has improved in coverage over the past few seasons. At four years and a maximum of $20 million, his contract is fair and helps hold together the Patriots secondary.
– James Develin is also another underrated signing for the Patriots. The fullback position is not nearly appreciated enough because it does not end up on the stat line, but watching the Patriots this season proves how valuable they can be. LeGarrette Blount had an average season in 2015 when Develin was out with a broken leg, yet he exploded for over a thousand yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016 when Develin was fully healthy for the season. He is a great blocker and makes the Patriots running game significantly more effective, particularly on the goal line.
Signing Stephon Gilmore: The highlight of day one of free agency was New England’s signing of Buffalo Bill’s cornerback Stephon Gilmore for five years and $65 million dollars, $40 million of which is guaranteed. This is a massive deal for a Belichick team, with Gilmore’s salary coming in at around $13 million per year. Gilmore certainly has the talent to back it up. The former 10th overall pick is coming off of what many considered a “down year”, despite finishing with a career high five interceptions and 42 tackles. There were certainly points where Gilmore was beat, and appeared frustrated with his teammates. However, he should receive the benefit of the doubt because he played under five different defensive coordinators in his five years with the Bills. It is hard to be consistent when your defensive scheme is changing year after year. At 6’0 and 190 pounds, Gilmore is a big corner with good press coverage skills. Combining him with Malcolm Butler is reminiscent of the Patriots 2014 season with Darelle Revis and Brandon Browner. This is one of Bill Belichick’s more exciting signings.
Trading for Brandin Cooks: As if the offseason couldn’t get any more wild, the Patriots then decided to trade their first round pick (32nd overall) and their second third round pick for Saints star receiver Brandin Cooks and a fourth round pick. In a way, this wasn’t surprising because of how much Belichick loves Brandin Cooks. Every time the Patriots and Saints have held joint practices, Belichick has gushed over the young receiver (well as much as Bill can gush over something). However this was a very un-Belichick move, trading a high draft pick for a wide receiver. It was brilliant however. Cooks is one of the best young receivers in the league. He is coming off back-to-back thousand yard seasons, and has caught 20 touchdowns in his three-year career. While he is not a particularly big receiver, he is blazing fast and runs crisp routes from both the slot and the outside. He adds another incredible weapon to add to Tom Brady’s arsenal along with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, James White, and Dwayne Allen. I wasn’t sure teams were going to be able to stop the Patriots offense last season. Now I feel really bad for opposing defensive coordinators. Also, this is great for the Patriots because Cooks is locked up through this season with a low cap hit, then the Patriots can pick up his option for the 2018 season at $8 million. They are getting one of the better receivers in the league for a at least two years for only ~$8 million. Ridiculous.
Losing Logan Ryan, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, Martellus Bennett, Sebastian Vollmer:
– I always had a love/hate relationship with Logan Ryan. Some games he was brilliant in coverage, other days he looked like he had no idea what he was doing. The one thing I could always give him credit for was being a fantastic tackler. Everyone knew that he would be leaving in the offseason, and Patriots fans everywhere should salute him for his contributions to two Super Bowl teams.
– Jabaal Sheard was a mixed bag. He had a horrendous first half of the 2016 season, was benched, then had a solid second half. While he was a good player, he was inconsistent and there was little chance of him returning to the Patriots.
– Chris Long was a class act in his one year in New England. He almost certainly did not like being a role player, but he never spoke out and did his job. He was a fun player to watch, and hopefully he has good luck in the rest of his career.
– Martellus Bennett was one of the most fun people that the Patriots have ever had. He was a genuinely good person who seemed to bring levity to New England. He toughed out the year through injuries, and it was a pleasure to watch him on this team.
-Sebastian Vollmer was released after spending the season on injured reserve. The emergence of Marcus Cannon at right tackle made this move a no-brainer.
-Malcolm Butler was tendered by the Patriots at a first round grade for just under $4 million. His future is uncertain, as he was originally tied to the Brandin Cooks deal, but ended up remaining on the team. However, over the past few days there have been rumors of Butler’s agent talking to other teams and seeing if they would be willing to part with a first round pick in exchange for signing Butler. While I would personally love to see him back on the team, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Super Bowl 49 hero.
-Dont’a Hightower has also not signed with a team yet (as of the moment I am writing this, you know how fast things can happen). He has visited the Jets and the Steelers over the past few days, with the Patriots also being heavily in the mix. My gut tells me that once he fields offers from those teams New England will simply match them and bring him back. However, there is still the possibility that he leaves, which would be a major blow to the Patriots defense.
Well that took way longer than it should have. I think Bill keeps forgetting that the Patriots actually did come back to beat the Falcons. He’s still stuck somewhere in that third quarter and is determined to make up for a Super Bowl that wasn’t up to his standards. Who knows that this next week will bring us?
Until next time- B$