For this week’s Sunday NFL Thoughts, I’m going to explain how I think each new acquisition fits into the New England Patriots’ roster and team-building strategy.
1. CB Stephon Gilmore
Gilmore has the 7th highest average annual salary for a cornerback, which shows how highly Patriots head coach Bill Belichick thinks of his talent. Belichick usually only gives top dollar contracts to players that the Patriots have drafted and developed, but to give an external player that type of cash is the highest form of support.
Gilmore has shadowed opposing #1 receivers for his entire career and he joins a theoretically deep roster of Patriots cornerbacks. CB Malcolm Butler is a trade candidate, but if he returns he will arguably be the top cornerback on the team and the Patriots will have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league. Add in CB Eric Rowe and you have a trio of cornerbacks that match-up well against almost every type of receiver you can find.
In fact, assuming Butler returns, there’s a real chance that Butler would assume the flex-role that was held by Logan Ryan. In base, Butler and Gilmore would be on the outside. In nickel, Rowe would take the field and Butler would be asked to move into the slot; Butler has experience in the slot, namely when asked to shadow Jarvis Landry.
Gilmore provides the Patriots top tier insurance in case an extension can’t be struck with Butler- and if an extension happens, then the Patriots will have a lock down secondary for half a decade.
2. WR Brandin Cooks
The Patriots shipped away a first round pick to acquire Cooks and the team views this as adding a #1-type receiver on essentially a 2-year, $10 million contract, when you include the 5th-year option in his rookie contract. Cooks ranks 9th out of wide receivers and tight ends with 2,359 yards from scrimmage over the past two seasons, just behind Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins, and Demaryius Thomas, and ahead of Brandon Marshall, Allen Robinson, and A.J. Green.
Cooks is cut from a different cloth than those players, but so are Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton, and Julian Edelman. Cooks is 5’10, 190 pounds, with 4.33s 40 yard dash speed and 6.76s three cone quickness. His 3.81s shuttle time is the third best for a wide receiver in combine history, right behind a former Patriots receiver named Deion Branch.
The Saints asked Cooks to be a deep threat and to clear out the coverage so other players could generate yards after the catch, but he’s capable of much, much more. The Saints rarely gave Cooks the ball with open field, so Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will cook up schemes to allow Cooks to better generate yards after the catch.
For now, the Patriots will be able to trot out Cooks alongside Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and Danny Amendola. Cooks, Edelman, and Hogan can align anywhere at wide receiver, allowing the Patriots to create mismatches with motions.
Edelman will be 32 years old and a free agent after the 2017 season, so there’s potential for QB Tom Brady to need a new star receiver in the near future. Cooks could represent a mix of Branch and Edelman and could be an absolute monster in the offense.
3. TE Dwayne Allen
The Patriots traded away a fourth round pick for Allen and a sixth round pick and the Patriots have to be pretty happy about that. While Martellus Bennett signed a cheap deal with the Green Bay Packers, the Patriots think that Allen provides better blocking ability.
Allen should fill the Bennett role in the offense almost seamlessly. Both players are productive out of the slot. Both can block in line. Both represent an opportunity for the Patriots to feature a two-tight end offense with Rob Gronkowski, and both provide insurance in case Gronkowski suffers an injury.
Allen is a big red zone threat and catches everything that comes his way. He’s not going to run away from defenders in the open field, like Gronkowski can, but he will use his body to move the chains and will force defenses to respect his blocking ability.
4. EDGE Kony Ealy
The Patriots acquired Ealy from the Carolina Panthers in exchange for dropping 8 spots in the draft from the second round into the third round. Ealy was a rotational pass rusher for the Panthers and actually led the team in defensive end snaps in each of the past two seasons.
Ealy’s big knock has been his inconsistency. He flashes All World talent, like against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50, and then is a ghost for the rest of the season. Ealy actually saw his playing time decrease over the second half of the 2016 season, but he turned up his production in a major way.
Kony Ealy first 6 games to bye: 67% snaps, 0 sacks, 1 QB hit, 1 PD— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) March 10, 2017
final 10 games post-bye: 53% snaps, 5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FF
Ealy will be the Patriots replacement for Jabaal Sheard as the third pass rusher in the rotation behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. The Patriots could ask Ealy to provide a similar function to Flowers, due to Ealy’s massive frame and quickness. Ealy could provide interior pass rush and allow Flowers to generate pressure on the outside on passing downs.
The Patriots still need to find another talented player for this group.
5. DL Lawrence Guy
Guy is a versatile 6’4, 320 pound defensive lineman that can play both 4-3 defensive tackle and 3-4 defensive end, and should fit right into the Patriots defensive tackle rotation with Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, and Vincent Valentine.
Guy held the best “run-stop percentage” for 3-4 defensive ends, according to Pro Football Focus, which means that he’s a force against the run. He also posted a top 10 ranking in NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats, which looked at how close a defender was to the quarterback at the time of the throw; Guy finished plays as the 8th closest player to the quarterback.
So Guy is a disruptive player in every capacity and should get the opportunity to step up in New England.
While the Patriots have a stellar run defense, thanks in part to Branch and Brown, there hasn’t been much pass rush production from the defensive tackle position. Guy will be asked to help break that trend and could provide a nice bridge in the middle of Branch’s level of play takes a dip.
6. New York Giants NT Damon Harrison has a great take on the Patriots recent moves.
Soooooo...trading everybody to the Pats huh lol. They know something about this draft class that we don't? Trading away picks— Damon Harrison (@BigDame900) March 11, 2017
Just tried to execute the cooks trade in madden switching to both teams to see if either would...the computer basically told me "hell no"...— Damon Harrison (@BigDame900) March 11, 2017
The Patriots have made the biggest moves this free agency period and they’re not done. They need to extend CB Malcolm Butler and LB Dont’a Hightower, and QB Jimmy Garoppolo will know his future in the coming weeks.
Head coach Bill Belichick is playing Madden this offseason since he has so much cap space. Maybe he’ll finally turn up the difficulty from “easy mode.”