When the New England Patriots make a trade there is always a firestorm of coverage around it. They moved Deion Branch for a first round pick in 2006 and the football media went crazy. In the age of instant hot takes, Twitter, and 24-hour news, the decision to trade Brandin Cooks set the football world alight. “What are they doing!?!” they said, “But who will Brady throw to!?” people cried, “This is so they can trade for Odell Beckham!!” they dreamed.
The first two are what people said when Branch was traded, the sentiment was repeated when Wes Welker and Randy Moss left. The Patriots have chugged on regardless thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and that is exactly what they will do in 2018.
Why was Cooks traded?
When the Patriots made a deal with New Orleans for Cooks last year it was seen as an all-in move. New England rarely trade their own first rounders for actual players, so when they did it was a shock.
Cooks helped them make the Super Bowl once again, reeling in 65 catches for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. He acted as the outside, field-stretching, threat that the Patriots had not had since Moss left town. But they traded him because he was going to leave regardless.
Belichick doesn’t mess around, and when Cooks was unreceptive to initial contract extension talks at the price the Patriots were willing to pay he was immediately expendable, especially if the price was right.
Enter the Rams. The story is that at a Georgia coaching clinic Belichick and Sean McVay talked about a potential deal and hammered out the details later. With just one year left on his rookie contract the deal suited LA’s aggressive mentality as well as the Patriots’ pragmatism.
Sure, New England could hold on to Cooks and let him walk in 2019, probably getting a late third-rounder back as compensation. But why take one year of Cooks when you can move him and get five low-cost years from a high-end rookie?
The roster holes
New England lost a lot of talent this off-season, not least at left tackle, where Nate Solder was tempted away with the biggest left tackle contract in the NFL.
Solder arrived in New England as the eventual compensation for Richard Seymour, a Pro Bowler who was traded by the Patriots much to the chagrin on fans. Sound familiar?
Trading a player a year too soon rather than a year too early has long been the Patriots style, and it has served them well. They got more back for Randy Moss than they paid in the first place. They cashed in on Branch at the peak of his abilities. They aren’t afraid to let a good player walk to maintain the balance of the roster as a whole.
Which brings us back to that left tackle spot. Since 2001 the Patriots have two players fill the majority of snaps at left tackle. It has been one of the most stable spots in the NFL, with Matt Light playing 155 games between 2001 and 2011, and then Solder playing all but 14 since.
While neither were the best left tackle around, both were highly consistent and incredibly dependable. The sudden lack of a left tackle, together with a team willing to hand the Patriots a higher pick than they initially paid, made the trade too attractive to turn down.
But, who does Brady throw to?
Does it matter? Tom Brady will throw to a guy off the street and still make the AFC championship game. We know this because in 2006 he did it. In 2013 only Julian Edelman had more than 60 receptions, and the Patriots made the AFC championship game.
The loss of Cooks together with Danny Amendola does indeed change the complexion of the Patriots passing game, but no one has been more ready to throw to unique and new targets than Tom Brady.
Trade rumors have been flying about Rob Gronkowski, and if he were to be traded then the Patriots would really have issues, but as long as he is around they can crack every defense. Rex Burkhead offers matchup problems any time he is on the field, and the return of Edelman gives the 2018 Patriots a weapon they didn’t have throughout last season.
The #23 pick gives them a shot at a viable left tackle option. The #32 pick can be used on one of the many pass-catching tight ends or tricky receivers available.
Losing Cooks hurts, but this time next month the Patriots pass catchers will look very different, and come September they will still be a favorite for the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady may be nearing retirement, he may not, but the Patriot Way stops for no man.
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