The Runner Sports

Bill Belichick Strikes Again For Patriots, Adds Cooks, Gilmore, & Ealy

If I told you a week ago that in the first two days of NFL free agency the New England Patriots would sign CB Stephon Gilmore to a top dollar contract, manage to re-sign both S Duron Harmon and DT Alan Branch on the cheap, trade for DE Kony Ealy, and trade for WR Brandin Cooks, you would have labeled me as a lunatic, and I would have been hard pressed to blame you for it. Well, it would turn out such claims would not have been so outlandish after all, because every single one of those things just happened.

Bill Belichick is famous for zagging when everyone expects him to zig, and this holds true yet again for the Patriots’ head man in 2017. After years of small-scale free agency contracts (Darrelle Revis notwithstanding) and small but notable trades, Belichick is doing his best Danny Ainge impression this offseason, swinging for the fences with these signings and trades.

That’s not to say there isn’t still work to be done. The Patriots still very much want to re-sign free agent LB Dont’a Hightower and extend Malcolm Butler’s contract, and there is also the X Factor that is the Cleveland Browns, who reportedly have not given up trading for Jimmy Garoppolo. But the Patriots have positioned themselves well for defending their title in 2017.

Now, long-term, all of this may have repercussions. After all, as it stands the Patriots are now without any selections in the top two rounds of this year’s NFL Draft, so they will be without some top-tier talent at bargain bin rates assuming Belichick doesn’t trade back into either round. However, short-term they are looking very good.

They have kept Branch; in my opinion, an underrated move as this year’s draft isn’t considered all that rife with DT talent. They also acquired a talented, albeit inconsistent, DE in Kony Ealy at the cost of just eight draft spots (Patriots traded the 64th overall pick for Ealy and the Panthers’ 3rd rounder, which was 72nd overall), certainly a bargain on their part, to help ease the losses of Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard. They also managed to keep Duron Harmon, who has been a huge part of the Patriots’ sub packages on defense, and is a very talented free safety in a league devoid of such players in recent years. Not to mention that Gilmore has the ability to be a true CB1, quite the upgrade over former CB Logan Ryan.

Then over on offense, the Patriots have become even more pick your poison than before. In recent years the only Patriots receiver who warranted consistent double teams from opponents was Rob Gronkowski. Yes, Julian Edelman is a very good slot guy, but he’s not a guy DCs look at and say, “Hey we have to double team him every play”. However, Brandin Cooks is. He is a home run threat from anywhere on the field due to his incredible natural athleticism, explosiveness, and speed. He’s capable of playing both inside and out if need be (always a plus for the Pats), and gives the Patriots a 2nd receiver after Gronk that opponents damn near must double team. And that opens up worlds of possibilities for the rest of the offense.

Just imagine Gronk up the seam, Edelman in the slot, Dion Lewis in the flat, and Cooks and Chris Hogan on the outside. Or Gronk and recently acquired Dwayne Allen manhandling defenders in two TE sets in a power-based ground attack for whoever the Patriots sign, or potentially re-sign, this offseason to take over the powerback role. Or how about spreading opponents out with Edelman, Cooks, Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and James White? How are you supposed to defend that with just 11 guys? The offense seems to be as loaded as it’s ever been in the Tom Brady era, which is only a good thing as he nears his 40th birthday.

Now, as I said before, the Patriots look very good for 2017, but all of this could come back to haunt them a few years down the road. What if Gilmore doesn’t work out as we expect him to and Butler leaves because he felt disrespected that the Pats gave so much money to Gilmore and not him? What if Ealy doesn’t work out or signs elsewhere after this season? Same with Cooks after 2018. There is definitely an inherent risk to all of these moves that cannot be ignored.

That being said, though, I trust Bill Belichick to figure it all out. He has for 17+ years of experience and has won five Super Bowls as the head coach of the Patriots. I trust that this man knows what he’s doing.

Phong Ta

Phong Ta

Grew up in both Boston and Memphis

Love the NFL, mainly the Pats, but Titans are slowly coming up

Also part-time Fantasy Football Expert on the side
Phong Ta