The Patriots are back at it.
New England has once again pulled off a stunning trade, dealing wide receiver Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round (136th overall) draft pick to the Rams in exchange for a first-round (23rd overall) and sixth-round (198th overall) pick.
The move may come as a surprise to some — Cooks recorded 65 receptions for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns last season — but there are several positive implications for the Patriots. For starters, the team avoids paying the 24-year-old a $7 million jump in salary, freeing up some additional cap space.
Here’s a look at what else the trade means for New England:
The Patriots have considerable draft capital.
With four selections in the top 64 picks of the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft, the Patriots have immense flexibility in how they would like to address their perceived roster needs. They could stand pat and keep their first- and second-round picks as is — Nos. 23, 31, 43, and 63 overall — or they could package a pair together in a trade to move up the draft board.
As NFL insider Adam Schefter said on WEEI’s “Kirk and Callahan” Wednesday morning, the front office now has “the ammunition to do what they want.”
What exactly Bill Belichick plans to do is left to be determined and could be revealed as late as draft day. Given the Patriots’ history, however, it would come as no surprise if they continue to manipulate the draft order. The last time the team had two first-round picks, Belichick coupled each with a later round pick in two separate deals so that he could trade up and draft Chandler Jones at 21st overall and Dont’a Hightower at 25th overall.
As for which players New England might be after this time around?
Having traded away former backup passer Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers last October, the Patriots are expected to draft a quarterback to succeed Tom Brady following his inevitable — though consistently pushed back — retirement. Other prominent positions the team is rumored to be eyeing include left tackle to replace Nate Solder, defensive end, and tight end.
Rob Gronkowski reportedly will not be traded.
Schefter said the Cooks deal means the Patriots will not be trading Rob Gronkowski, despite some speculation the All-Pro tight end could potentially be on the trading block this offseason.
New England trading Brandin Cooks to LA means that the Patriots will not be trading Rob Gronkowski this off-season, as some have speculated. Pats will rely on Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Rob Gronkowski, amongst others.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 3, 2018
Gronkowski has yet to confirm his plans to return to New England, after expressing some uncertainty following Super Bowl LII. Recent reports, however, suggest the 28-year-old will be back in a Patriots uniform for 2018.
A trade for Odell Beckham Jr. is reportedly not in the cards.
In addition to trading their picks for better positioning in the draft, the Patriots could also leverage their two first-rounders in a trade for a player.
The Giants’ reported asking price for Odell Beckham Jr. is two first-round picks, which naturally begs the question: Are the Patriots trying to make a push for the talented, but troubled, wide receiver?
The answer is no, according to NFL reporter Jason La Canfora.
I'm told the Pats trading of Cooks is not a precursor to an attempt to land Beckham. New England won't be in that market
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) April 3, 2018
The wide receiver depth chart looks a little different.
With the loss of Cooks and fellow wide receiver Danny Amendola, the Patriots will certainly have to shift things around at receiver, but not as much as some might expect. As ESPN’s Field Yates said, “the collective pass catches group in New England is still an area of strength.”
Julian Edelman — who missed the entirety of last season with a torn ACL — and Chris Hogan will return to lead the capable, but perhaps underrated, group of players. Some of the familiar faces include Phillip Dorsett, whose 40-yard dash time actually matched that of Cooks; Malcolm Mitchell, who is coming back from a knee injury; and Kenny Britt, whom the Patriots acquired from the Browns in December.
New England also recently traded for Cordarrelle Patterson from the Raiders. Although Patterson’s greatest asset is his kick-return abilities, averaging 30.2 yards per return over the course of five seasons, he also caught 31 passes for 309 yards last season with Oakland. Patterson, along with others in the receiving corps, will be looking to capitalize on the opportunity to prove themselves in the Patriots’ system.
The offense can also utilize running backs Rex Burkhead and James White, as both players have proven to be effective rusher-receiver hybrids. The two combined for 86 receptions for 683 yards and six touchdowns last season.