The 2017 NFL league year is two days and both of those days have seen the New England Patriots be rather active on the free agency market. While the first day saw a huge free agency signing as well as internal re-signings, the second was also quite productive for the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Let’s break down what it means for the Patriots.
Plain and simple: The Patriots’ offensive arsenal is just ridiculous
Heading into the offseason, New England only had three of its primary offensive contributors of last year hit free agency. Martellus Bennett left, James Develin re-signed, LeGarrette Blount is unsigned. But despite losing at least Bennett, the Patriots’ offensive weaponry now looks as powerful as ever. Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman. Chris Hogan. James White. Dion Lewis. Dwayne Allen. Danny Amendola. Malcolm Mitchell. And now Brandin Cooks.
With an improving offensive line, Tom Brady at quarterback and one potential investment at running back, this – at least on paper – could very well be the deepest offense New England has ever had. Or, as Rich noted in his breakdown of the Cooks trade: The Patriots’ second-string offense would be an above-average unit in the NFL. That’s how deep they are.
Brandin Cooks and Malcolm Mitchell are the wideouts of the future
On opening day, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola will be 31, 29 and 31 years old. By October, all three will be on the wrong side of 30. While the Patriots’ top wideout trio has been productive as of late, it becomes clear that New England needs to look at its future at the position. And as of today, this future is Brandin Cooks and Malcolm Mitchell.
Cooks has shown he can be a dangerous and productive wide receiver in the NFL, while Mitchell has displayed tremendous chemistry with Tom Brady. At 23 years old and under contract at least two more years, it becomes clear that New England is working to develop its next generation of wide receivers.
New England bolstered its defensive edge depth...
Entering the second day of free agency, the Patriots were light on the defensive edge. Chris Long has already said goodbye to New England while Jabaal Sheard was on his way out as well. Consequently, the team opted to address the position by trading for the Carolina Panthers’ Kony Ealy. While the move itself is noteworthy, as the Patriots acquired the 25-year old by moving down eight draft spots, it gives New England another athletic option for its edge rotation.
...but it is likely still not set
Even with Ealy in the fold the Patriots appear to be in the market for another edge defender. While they could see Geneo Grissom as a piece of the rotation already on the roster, it seems more realistic that the team will go another way. At this point in time, another free agency signing could very well be possible – Connor Barwin on a team-friendly deal? –, as could be a draft pick.
The Patriots now lack a draft pick in the first two rounds...
New England gave up a lot to acquire Brandin Cooks and next to nothing to acquire Kony Ealy. Still, as a result of yesterday’s trades, the team now lacks a pick in the first two rounds of this year’s draft. Of course, the Patriots do own two third round and five day three selections, which gives them ammunition to move around the board and attack the depth of this year’s NFL hopefuls.
...but Malcolm Butler could change that
While Butler was not part of the trade to acquire Brandin Cooks, New England could still trade the Pro Bowler once he signs his restricted free agency tender. The team will get a high draft pick in return for the 27-year old, who would still be a starting cornerback for the Patriots even after signing Stephon Gilmore to a lucrative long-term deal. But if a trade is made and Butler leaves Foxboro, the Patriots should get a first round pick back.
Dont’a Hightower is still out there
Hightower was New England’s biggest name about to become a free agent. Yet, after two days of action, the linebacker is still unemployed. There have been conflicting reports whether or not he was close to signing with a Tennessee Titans team that appears to be the Patriots’ main competitor. As things stand right now, though, we are all left in the dark and Hightower could decide to join either team – maybe today is the day this will change.
Losing Martellus Bennett + Jabaal Sheard = compensatory draft picks
While the Patriots added a receiver and an edge defender yesterday, they also lost a tight end and another edge defender: Marellus Bennett and Jabaal Sheard were signed by the Green Bay Packers and by the Indianapolis Colts, respectively. Both will be part of the equation for the NFL’s compensatory draft picks formula and could net the Patriots’ two fourth round draft picks based on the contracts they signed.