The New England Patriots have had an awfully busy start to free agency, something the fans are not used to. Bill Belichick has made moves by both signing free agents and exploring the trade market.
Without any further ado, let’s go straight to grading the offseason acquisitions the Patriots have made.
Dwayne Allen, TE
Trade: Dwayne Allen and a 6th-round (200th overall) pick for a 4th-round (137th overall) pick
Analysis: This is another example of how Bill Belichick loves to play the trade market. Dwayne Allen became expendable after the emergence of fellow tight end Jack Doyle and Allen’s underwhelming 2016 campaign.
This is your classic low-risk, high-reward proposition, where the player has become expendable and Bill takes a flyer on him, and usually gets meaningful production from the player.
Dwayne Allen is smaller than most tight ends, but is built and comes in with great blocking technique. He knows how to use pad level very well, and is solid in being able to not allow the defender to shed his block, something many tight ends struggle with.
Allen has struggled with injuries and inconsistency, but has shown the raw talent that he is capable of being a starting tight end.
It was a great move to provide the offense with a capable second tight end, and insurance for if/when Rob Gronkowski gets injured again.
Stephon Gilmore, CB
Contract: 5 years, $65 million w/ $40 million guaranteed
Analysis: I was originally going to give this signing a B since I liked it but I felt the guaranteed money, which is the most for a cornerback in the league, was far too much.
After analyzing the contract details though, the contract seems to be favorable for both parties. The real guaranteed money is $31 million, with the other $9 million being an injury guarantee should the Patriots pick up the third-year option.
Essentially, the contract is a fully guaranteed 2 year, $31 million contract, with a team option for every year afterwards.
Good business for both parties, as Gilmore gets his guaranteed money throughout the first two years of the contract, and if the Patriots feel as if Gilmore’s production does not meet the contract, then they can cut bait with very minimal repercussions after the 2018 season.
Now to the player. Stephon Gilmore has the potential and the skills to play at an elite level, but he has struggled with consistency throughout his 5 year career.
He has got great length and strength, which makes bump and run coverage his specialty. An interesting thing to note is that he does not fare well in zone coverage, something the Pats ran a lot of throughout last season.
Gilmore can certainly be your number one cornerback, but he can purely be matched up against bigger receivers, since his acceleration, quickness and hip fluidity is not up to par with the shiftier wide receivers in the league.
All in all, a really good signing for the Patriots, especially after the contract details were released, essentially front-loading the contract so if the team does decide to move on from Gilmore, they can easily do so.
Alan Branch, ID
Contract: 2 years, $8.45 million w/ $3 million guaranteed
Analysis: It seems as if the market was not as friendly as Alan Branch had hoped. This contract is extremely team-friendly, with a ton of incentives in terms of in-game bonuses among other incentives.
There is only $3 million guaranteed, and the Patriots have an option for next year to pick up or decline. If the Patriots do not pick up the option, they save over $4 million in cash spendings.
This is a terrific re-signing, as Branch was one of the key cogs in the Patriots defense, specifically the run defense. Branch allowed them to play nickel most of the time, and not get exposed by the running game since he was able to swallow double teams, and even beat them head on.
Kony Ealy, EDGE
Trade: Kony Ealy and a 3rd-round pick (72nd overall) for a 2nd-round pick (64)
Analysis: The Patriots dropped down 8 slots in the draft and picked up a defensive end with terrific potential. What’s not to love about this deal?
It seems like the management and coaching were done with Ealy’s inconsistency, and after the Panthers re-upped defensive end Mario Addison, Ealy became expendable.
Many fans may remember Ealy from his dominant Super Bowl 50 showing, when he stuffed the stat sheet with 3 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. Had Carolina pulled through and won the game, it was likely Ealy would have been named the game’s MVP.
Ealy has prototypical size for a defensive end, and is solid at both rushing the passer and defending the run, a must for head coach Bill Belichick. He’s just never been able to piece it together game after game.
Part of it may be that Ealy was primarily a rotational player, as he only started 6 games last season. If Bill decides to start him on a consistent basis, he may be able to get more production out of Ealy.
A great trade by the hoodie, filling a need after both Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard have chosen not to re-sign with the Patriots, and getting a very high potential player to plug in opposite emerging stud defensive end, Trey Flowers.
Brandin Cooks, WR
Trade: Brandin Cooks and a 4th round pick (forfeited due to the Deflategate scandal) for a 1st-round pick (32nd overall) and a 3rd-round pick (103rd overall)
Analysis: This was the acquisition that opened eyes across the league. Brandin Cooks has established himself as one of the premier playmaking wideouts in the league, at age 23. Only 3 players have caught 80+ receptions, 1,100+ yards and 8+ touchdowns: Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr and Brandin Cooks.
There is a caveat here, and that is how quickly (and effectively) can Cooks pick up the option-based Patriots offense. Cooks has your prototypical slot build, but he is primarily an outside threat. His main responsibility is to take the top of the defense and make sure they are honest in their coverage.
The Patriots offense has become too predictable, so Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wanted to change that. While Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell are all viable pass catching options, they are not great at beating man coverage. In fact, only Edelman is the one wideout who can break man coverage with any sort of consistency, and that is why they went out and acquired Brandin Cooks. He can beat man coverage because he’s almost always the fastest player on the field.
Normally, I would consider a trade involving your first-round selection to be pretty high risk, especially since the Patriots now do not have a selection until the top of the third round. But Cooks is an exception. He’s a difference maker, and a player you feel comfortable giving up your first rounder for.
Lawrence Guy, DI
Contract: 4 years, $13.4 million w/ $4.9 million guaranteed
Analysis: This is a solid depth addition for the Patriots, and a true Belichick player. Guy is a very versatile player, and his technique is polished.
He can play as a 3-4 defensive end, 4-3 defensive tackle or as an EDGE in a 4-3. He adds depth to a defensive interior that did not have much last season.
Guy is solid against the run, and is effective at putting his hands in passing lanes and batting passes at the line.
Also Patriots fans, remember that awful decision by Brady, that led to the Eric Weddle interception against Baltimore last season? That was Lawrence Guy who came up the middle and disrupted everything, forcing Brady to make a quick decision. He’s a pretty good player.
Rex Burkhead, RB
Contract: 1 year, $3.15 million w/ $1.1 million guaranteed
Analysis: Another true Belichick player. Burkhead is a jack of all trades, master of none. He is a rare four down running back. He runs effectively, is a solid pass-catcher and is a great special teamer.
Burkhead screams Patriot, and the match was made by many at the beginning of free agency, also considering that he shares the same agent as head coach Bill Belichick.