Surprising news was emerged last week, as the New England Patriots traded star Wide receiver, Brandin Cooks, to the Los Angeles Rams. This trade comes just one season after the Patriots gave a first round draft pick to the New Orleans Saints to acquire the wideout. Cooks was a useful weapon in a potent Patriots offense, racking up over 1000 yards, and 7 touchdowns. He was a dynamic deep threat, able to generate decent chemistry with Tom Brady, as the 40-year-old Quarterback showed no signs of his long passing game deteriorating. The question, then is why was he traded?
A Limited Asset?
Like most things in football, the trade can be chalked up to cold hard cash. Cooks sees himself, and is arguably viewed around the league, as an above average, primary receiver. As we have seen with contracts given to the likes of Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and even Sammy Watkins recently, high end receivers can demand a lot of money. Cooks is heading into a contract year this coming season. Simply put, if the Patriots felt Cooks was not worth the investment of a long-term contract, and the attendant cap hit, why not try and shift him to a borderline contender who would be willing to make the long-term commitment? This, however, leads to another question though: Why did the Patriots see Cooks as a receiver not worthy of serious investment?
Stats-wise, Cooks had a good year. He continued the fine form he began in New Orleans and used his natural speed and ability to make himself a constant threat in the passing game. However, Cooks’ style of play makes him a slightly limited asset. Cooks is a deep threat receiver, but the Patriots offense does not always rely heavily on this style of play. Throughout Brady’s tenure, the offense has adopted a ‘death by 1000 papercuts’ methodology. The process of short passing, option routes and slow, methodical and defensively disheartening drives.
Cooks’ limitations were evident on a number of occasions last year. If the deep threat was removed, or Cooks was against a more physical receiver, he would be thrown off his game and become a tad anonymous. Sure, there were games Cooks would just dominate, namely the Texans win in the first quarter of the season. But for every Texans-style performance, there was a performance against the Bills or Dolphins that showed Cooks’ shortcomings.
Cooks’ poor Super Bowl also likely played a role. He looked jumpy, and nervous during the short time he was on the field. It was this nervousness and indecisiveness that led to his early exit, and he seemed afraid to use his speed, stood still and was absolutely levelled by the Eagles DB, Malcolm Jenkins. Not the most glamourous end to his solo season with the Patriots. It did not help Cooks’ chances to remain in New England when Brady still went on to break a number of passing records in the losing effort, without the help of Cooks.
Unfavourable Comparisons in Foxborough
There is no denying Cooks is a good receiver and had a great year. But when compared to other Patriots receivers, perhaps money could be saved, and spent elsewhere in the receiving corps. Take Chris Hogan for example. Hogan has been a marvellous addition to the Pats since joining from the Bills a few seasons ago. Hogan was on pace for a year that would have eclipsed Cooks’ stellar season. A rib injury side-lined Hogan for multiple weeks of the season, and during that time Cooks’ targets increased. Heading into next season, Hogan will be healthy, alongside the returning Julian Edelman. Both of these players can more than make up for Cooks’ absence.
Edelman has multiple years left on his contract, and Hogan is entering a contract year, but it is expected that Hogan’s asking price for an extension will be dwarfed in comparison to Cooks’ expected demands. For arguably similar production, it’s understandable why Cooks’ was moved. Patriots also have a broad set of receivers heading into next year. Whilst Cooks’ big play ability will be missed, I fully expect Brady to get the best out of the likes of Dorsett, Britt and recently added Jordan Matthews.
What Does Belichick Want?
A key component to the trade is the value Cooks drew. Usually, in a predicament like Cooks’, a player’s trade value can decrease significantly. This is not a knock-on Cooks, it’s just a well-known fact that players in their contract years tend to have a lower trade value. But this was not the case for Cooks. The Patriots getting a first rounder, a year after they gave up a first rounder is astoundingly smart business. A simplistic way of looking at it is the Pats gave up a late round pick for a slightly later round pick, for a year of a receiver who tallied over 1000 yards and 7 touchdowns and played a significant role in a season that came close to winning the Super Bowl.
The question now is, what have the Pats got in mind? There seems to be several schools of thought on the matter. First you have the Odell Beckham theory. Beckham, who is also approaching a contract year, has been open about his desire for a large contract extension. The Giants are allegedly willing to listen to offers for the star wide out, with the suggested asking price being 2 first round picks. Following the Cooks trade, the Patriots now have 2 first round picks at their disposal.
Obviously, most would expect Beckham to flourish in New England, and he has spoken of his admiration of Brady, so it does not seem outlandish to suggest the move could happen. However, 2 first round picks for a receiver heading into the final year of his contract, and coming back from a rather ghastly ankle injury, just does not seem like a move the Patriots would choose to make.
Trading up for the Future?
The second theory is the Patriots will use the collected draft picks to trade up in the draft, to have a shot at a high-end quarterback who can be the eventual successor to Tom Brady. This draft appears to one filled with potential future star quarterbacks, with most expected to fly off the draft board quickly and early on draft day. If the Patriots feel they have a shot at grabbing a future franchise player, they now seemingly have the ammunition to make it happen.
The third, and in my opinion most likely scenario, is that the Patriots simply keep the picks they have to fill the gaps left after free agency. As mentioned previously, this draft has a decent amount of quarterback depth, perhaps the Patriots will be able to grab a talented signal caller late in the first or second round. The Patriots can also look at using a number of picks to strengthen the offensive and defensive lines. The Patriots have had a limited amount of high draft picks in recent years, so it will be interesting to see what they can cook up leading up to, and on draft day.