The Patriots had a busy free agency as they seek to stay atop the NFL mountain.
Wow. The rich get richer.
The Patriots made some splashes in free agency but the real story is in the trades, acquiring Brandin Cooks and Dwayne Allen, with reported interest in Seahawks star cornerback Richard Sherman, who will be available at the right price – possibly Malcolm Butler and a pick. In terms of players out, there’s not a significant amount of damage done, largely losing role players of the type Bill Belichick seems to find in other teams’ castoffs.
Biggest Signing: Dont’a Hightower, Linebacker
4 Years, $35.5 million, $19 million guaranteed
After what seemed like weeks of will they won’t they, Hightower finally re-signed with the Patriots. What he brings to the defense is big game experience – from stopping Marshawn Lynch at the one yard line in Super Bowl XLIX to the strip sack on Matt Ryan to regain possession in Super Bowl LI. Hightower comes up big when it counts and is one of the Patriots’ locker room leaders.
Despite offers from Tennessee and the New York Jets, who allegedly tried to entice Hightower with cup cakes, New England is the ideal spot for the linebacker, who has every skill in the book. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia love him, as do the fans in New England.
Biggest Loss: 1st Round Draft Pick and 2nd Round Draft Pick
Whilst this isn’t a free agent, and the argument could be made here for Logan Ryan, the Patriots acquired Stephon Gillmore from the Buffalo Bills to fill the hole left by Ryan.
The Patriots traded their #32 overall pick to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for the services of wide receiver Brandin Cooks and their second rounder to the Panthers for Kony Ealy. Whilst you can say that these are both proven players in the league, as opposed to going through the crap shoot that is the NFL Draft, this draft has talent at both receiver and on defense, and those players would come with at least four years of cheap play – five, in the case of first round picks – as opposed to players who will need to be paid soon.
What these moves say is that Belichick is building a fierce team around Tom Brady for what could be a final push for another ring.
Under The Radar Signing: Rex Burkhead, Running Back
1 year, $3.15 million, $1.1 million guaranteed
Burkhead has played serviceably for Cincinnati since being drafted in the sixth round in 2013, and should make a decent addition to the Patriots’ backfield stable. Whilst his running style doesn’t match what the Pats will potentially lose in LeGarrette Blount, Burkhead should be a decent change of pace back and may be pressed into special teams action as well.
Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback Chris Long, Defensive End
Lawrence Guy, Defensive Line Logan Ryan, Cornerback
Rex Burkhead, Running Back Jabaal Sheard, Defensive End
Brandin Cooks, Wide Receiver Barkevious Mingo, Outside Linebacker
Kony Ealy, Defensive End Sebastian Vollmer, Right Tackle
Dwayne Allen, Tight End Martellus Bennett, Tight End
Overall Grade: A
The Patriots held on to key pieces and acquired talent on offense and defense. Their attitude seems to be that they can’t stand still and rely on what’s worked before to bring them two Lombardi Trophies in the past three years.
Belichick is going for broke, and building what is possibly the most complete team New England has had for a number of years, possibly since the record breaking 2007 season. It’s hard to grade the Patriots as anything other than an A because of the fact that they have lost nothing bar what they expected to lose, and made some key acquisitions – Gillmore in particular should flourish in the New England secondary, which is quietly one of the better units in the league and has the help of a true elite free safety in Devin McCourty. What is lacking compared to recent years is an aging veteran looking for a ring on a short contract (Darrelle Revis and Chris Long being recent examples). All in all, a successful March in Foxborough.