Patriots come out ahead after dealing underappreciated Cooks


This isn’t going to be one of those, “Good, he sucked anyway . . . ” revisionist history takes on the New England contributions made by Brandin Cooks.

He played all 16 games. He made 65 catches for an offense that -- without Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell and (for a chunk of games) Chris Hogan -- desperately needed him.

He had 1,082 receiving yards and seven touchdowns and he caught another 10 balls for 155 yards in two-plus playoff games.

He also drew five pass-interference calls for 141 yards in the regular season and, in the AFC Championship Game against Jacksonville, caught six passes (on eight targets) for 100 yards and had 68 yards in pass-interference calls drawn.


Unfortunately, a pair of ignominious plays in the Super Bowl were among the last ones of his Patriots tenure. His ill-fated hurdle of Eagles defensive back Rodney McLeod resulted in Cooks smashing his privates into McLeod’s facemask and then getting bundled. Things got worse when, on the ensuing drive, Cooks caught a pass downfield, tried to double-back, circle around and cross the road. And then he got smushed by Malcolm Jenkins, driving him from the Super Bowl.

And Tom Brady still threw for 505 yards.

The two circumstances -- Cooks’ weird decision-making and Brady’s productivity without him -- help explain why Cooks was sent to the Rams in exchange for the 23rd overall selection in this month’s draft.

Cooks was good and, at 24, he’s bound to get better. But he wasn’t a seamless fit with the Patriots. He’s a vertical, downfield, outside-the-numbers receiver and the Patriots are not a vertical offense, they are a horizontal offense.

Cooks was meant to be a complement for this team, a field-stretcher who would help take middle-of-the-field heat off of Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.

When Edelman got hurt, the Patriots’ 2017 offensive approach changed a bit. Nobody could replicate Edelman’s ability to uncover in short spaces so Brady was suddenly tasked with holding the ball a beat or two longer and throwing outside. And Brady took a ton of punishment in the early part of the season as a result.

When more was asked of Cooks in terms of working the middle of the field, he and Brady had a hard time getting on the same wavelength. The Patriots’ offense is a nuanced one that relies on option routes and the ability to be almost telepathic. Cooks didn’t pick it up to Brady’s satisfaction and the frustration was sometimes apparent. It was a misfire to Cooks by Brady that led to the sideline dustup between Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Cooks is blazingly fast but he’s not slippery and elusive. His escapability is limited to slowing down to let players run past him and speeding up to get past them. And trying to hurdle people. For an offense that wants to use “every blade of grass”, Cooks didn’t threaten in varied ways.

Malcolm Mitchell, who missed all of his second NFL season with a knee injury, may not be as highly-touted as Cooks but he has a better skill set for the Patriots offense.

Aside from and more important than all that, though is the value aspect. The Patriots were able to ship a player they would likely have lost in free agency after the 2018 season (Cooks will hit the market next March) and turn him into a first-round pick who will probably help the program for at least four seasons. They will also dodge his $8.5 million salary.


Cooks was acquired last year (along with a fourth-round pick) in exchange for picks in the first and third rounds.

Cooks was more valuable than whoever the Patriots would have gotten at 32. And now that they’ve moved him, they don’t just break even on the deal, they’ve sold him for more than they got him for.

Had the Patriots completed the much-discussed Malcolm Butler-to-New Orleans deal last spring, they may have gotten the 32nd pick back and been able to use it on a player who’d be entering his second season with the team and they would have no flipped Cooks. But I’m getting in too deep with the hypotheticals now.

So what will the Patriots do with the pick? They have options. With picks nos. 23, 32, 43, 63 and 95, the team has ammo to go up and get players at positions of perceived need (left tackle, quarterback, defensive end, tight end, linebacker or safety). Or they can stay put and add players at all those spots which – after retaining just three players from their entire 2017 draft – isn’t an outlandish proposition.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who first reported the trade, added that the Patriots dealing Cooks “means that the Patriots will not be trading Rob Gronkowski this off-season, as some have speculated.”

In my experience, Schefter doesn’t walk out on a limb that assuredly without making sure the limb is very strong. So I think we can stand down on the Gronk trade talk.

So in the end, the Patriots got back a little bit more than they initially paid for Cooks. And they got a year of his services when they desperately needed it. That’s a win for them.

Now we’ll see what they do with their windfall.


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