SB Nation Theme Week! Just like a theme party, except you don’t have to go out and scour thrift shops for a 90s outfit or stuff that’ll look rad under a blacklight and hopefully when you wake up in the morning, you won’t have a headache and you’ll know where your phone and keys are.
(Who you wake up next to, well, that’s on you)
Wait, shoot, sorry, that’s how I started this theme week last year in the pre-Rona times. Hopefully if we get a football season this year, they can let us do Halloween like normal too.
Anyway, the last two seasons have been tough sledding for everyone that’s grown to expect the Patriots to hang a 50-burger every week for the past decade; as rough as a season that ended in a Super Bowl victory can be, anyway. For as many times as we’ve heard the trade proposals from both fans and Very Serious Analysts alike that told Bill he needed to trade for everyone from Larry Fitz to Jimmy Graham to Stephon Diggs, for the past few years, the “TOM NEEDS WEAPONS!” crowd was, annoyingly, correct.
The dearth of wide receiver talent certainly wasn’t due to Belichick’s lack of trying, though. In an anecdote that more or less got lost to the sands of time in the immediate aftermath of the 28-3 Bowl, Ian Rapoport casually dropped this almost-doesn’t-count trade that never was the same day that Tom Brady would go on to complete almost all of his passes to Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, James White, Martellus Bennett, and Danny Amendola:
Yeah. THAT DeAndre Hopkins.
Tell us more!
The two juiciest: The Patriots asked for frustrated receiver DeAndre Hopkins in a potential trade for Collins — offensive building block in need of an extension for defensive building block in need of an extension. That was a non-starter for the Texans, even with Hopkins battling uneven quarterback play.
The other offer the Patriots spent weeks researching: Veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph for Collins. New England loves him. Though intriguing, Joseph is so valuable to Houston that the team would not part with him.
If only Bill O’Brien had been GM of the Texans back at the 2016 trade deadline, right?
For a quick refresher on where Nuk was at around the midpoint of the 2016 season, that was the year the Texans rolled out Brock Osweiler at QB and Hopkins had held out that summer for a new contract. 2016 ended up as DeAndre’s worst season as a pro since his rookie campaign, which, to be fair, is still a season most wide receivers can only dream of and maybe get to in Madden playing as themselves. For the first time since his rookie campaign, in 2016 Hopkins failed to crack 1,000 yards and only scored 4 times after logging 1,521 yards and 11 scores in 2015. Suffice to say that if you were him, you’d be rightfully pissed that the Texans looked at Brock Osweiler the year you were trying to score a new contract (and, you know, win a championship) and thought “Yup, that’s our boy!”
Let’s say for our purposes the Texans bite and agree to a straight-up swap of Nuk for Jamie Collins, though. Pro Bowler for Pro Bowler. Both locker rooms add a BAMF talent and achieve the whole addition-by-subtraction thing of getting a player that had gripes with the team out of town. Win-win-win.
So what happens with the rest of the 2016 Patriots season?
Being that New England eventually shipped Jamie Collins out to the Factory of Sadness anyway, and also given that they cruised to the 1-seed in the AFC and thrashed both the Texans and the Steelers by 18 and 19 points in the playoffs (respectively), getting back to the Super Bowl to face the Falcons seems reasonable, maybe even to a “no sh*t, Sherlock” extent. The Super Bowl itself, I will respectfully decline to get into because, well, we all know what it took for that to go down with New England even clawing back to tie it for overtime. That’s why they have t-shirts and everything, kids.
How about after that, though?
For one thing, in real life, Hopkins ended up signing a 5-year, $81,000,000 extension in August of 2017, meaning after the 2017 season, he would’ve been an unrestricted free agent in 2018 without a new deal. Would Bill pony up that kind of cheddar for a top-5 wide receiver that can go up and get it with the best in the NFL? We’ll get into the butterfly effect of DeAndre getting F-you money and a multi-year extension in New England to play with MVP-caliber Brady in a minute, but if for some reason DeAndre wasn’t feeling it with the Patriots after the end of 2016 and part of 2017, one could definitely see Belichick shipping him out of town at the ‘17 trade deadline for whatever he could get from, like, Cincinnati or Seattle or something.
Let’s say this goes down in New England instead of Texas, though:
Texans signing WR DeAndre Hopkins to a 5-year contract extension, per sources. Will include largest guarantee for any WR in NFL.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 31, 2017
(Before you laugh, recall that among the many other players Bill has backed up the Brinks truck for, he gave Rob Gronkowski a record-setting contract that reset the tight end market in 2012, so, don’t tell me “Bill would NEVER!”)
Hindsight and all that, given how we know the 2017 draft shook out, maybe shipping that first-rounder down to New Orleans might be for the best anyway?
Either way, that means in the 2017 season, you have 1 of the two following options:
A) DeAndre Hopkins, Gronk, Danny Amendola, James White, and the last great Tom Brady regular-season campaign (please recall he was named 2017 NFL MVP)
B) All those dudes, plus Brandin Cooks.
Even with the ‘17 Patriots defense looking brutally hung over for most of the regular season, by the time brand-new cornerback Stephon Gilmore got over his concussion/Foxboro Flu, the defense started slow but ended the season 5th in the league in points allowed, among other nifty metrics. Being that offense wasn’t exactly hard to come by in the Philly Super Bowl, and Brandin Cooks got headshotted out of the game in the second quarter, how does the rest of that game go down? Is Bill’s benching of Malcolm Butler still too big of an all-time shoot-your-own-dick-off move to overcome? Or between a Herculean 116-yard 2-touchdown performance by Gronk in that game and Nuk on the outside, with MVP Brady slinging it, does that final score shake out differently?
And then, apologies for going into full Bill Simmons here, if New England has Hopkins locked up on a long-term contract through 2022, does Belichick make any of the moves at wide receiver that blew up in the Patriots’ face in 2018 or 2019? Does Josh Gordon happen? (Probably, given that the cost to roll the dice on Flash was basically negligible). What about Demaryius Thomas? Kenny Britt? Mohamed Sanu? Dare I mention Antonio Brown? And those are just the greatest hits in the last couple years of trying to power up the Patriots offense that suddenly became Julian Edelman, a beat-up Gronk, and the classic platoon of running backs. Does Bill still draft N’Keal Harry last year at pick #32 instead of trading down or pulling the trigger when talents that could fortify other positions for years like TE Irv Smith Jr, CB Greedy Williams, or (gulp) WRs AJ Brown and Deebo Samuel are still chilling on the board?
And going into the 2020 season, just to play this out till present day and catch up in a 2⁄3 of the way through Deadpool fashion, incoming QB Jarrett Stidham could be lining up next to Julian Edelman, Mo Sanu, N’Keal, and the Patriots’ rookie duo of tight ends and DeAndre Hopkins still rocking in his prime at 27 years old (and under contract for Stidham’s entire rookie contract), as opposed to, well, everyone I just mentioned, minus Hopkins.
These are the things we think about. And make happen in Madden.