The conspiracy theories started roughly one minute after the first report emerged that the Patriots traded wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Rams.
This is a sign Tom Brady is retiring.
The Patriots are loading up for a run at Odell Beckham Jr.
New England will trade up for a top quarterback.
The reality is probably a lot more boring: The Patriots likely didn’t want to pay Cooks. Entering the final, fifth-year option of his rookie contract, Cooks was due for a massive extension this offseason or next. Based on what receivers Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson earned on the open market this year, that could have been a difficult contract for Patriots coach Bill Belichick to swallow. Then again, trying to get inside of Belichick’s mind is a lonely, fool’s errand.
The Rams were clearly interested buyers here, with multiple reports indicating they chased Cooks for weeks, ultimately sending the No. 23 overall pick and a sixth-rounder to New England. That first-round selection is nine spots higher than the one the Patriots sent to the Saints for Cooks a year ago in a trade that proved to be a fruitful one-year rental for Belichick and Co.
Seeing Cooks dealt again so soon is stunning, but perhaps nothing should surprise us when the Rams and Patriots are involved. It’s a post-trade tsunami NFL, and fans are just along for the ride.
Here’s a look at some more winners and losers from Tuesday’s trade:
NFL draft intrigue: The first night of the draft will be even more interesting with the Patriots holding two first-round picks. Belichick also holds three of the first 43 selections and four of the first 63 picks. The only safe prediction here is that Belichick won’t stand pat, as he has plenty of assets to move up and down the draft board.
The last time the Patriots had two first-round picks, they moved up to select Chandler Jones (No. 21 overall) and Dont’a Hightower (No. 25) in 2012 to reshape their defense. Their needs are much more varied going into the 2018 draft. I expected Belichick to take a quarterback relatively high this year even before this move because of past precedent; they took Ryan Mallett No. 74 overall in 2011, Jimmy Garoppolo at No. 62 in ’14 and Jacoby Brissett at No. 91 in ’16 — all well before Tom Brady hit 40 years old. Now, with Brady turning 41 in August, it would be shocking if the Patriots didn’t draft a signal-caller.
New England also could use some pass rushers, pass protectors and pass catchers. It would be very much on brand for Belichick to use his surplus of picks to move down in the draft and accumulate additional selections to try to re-stock a roster that could use more core young talent to build around.
Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski: Cooks led the Patriots in targets last season. Edelman and Gronk should be back on top this season. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Tuesday the Patriots haven’t fielded any trade calls for Gronkowski, who has mulled retirement this offseason. This trade would seemingly all but rule out dealing Gronkowski because the Patriots couldn’t afford to lose another key weapon this offseason.
With that said, it’s not like the cupboard is bare. The Patriots still have Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell as their top three receivers, with Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett providing depth. This is the same team that lined up with Brandon LaFell as a starting wideout as recently as the 2014 and ’15, seasons, when they totaled 24 regular-season wins and a Super Bowl title. In the majority of Belichick and Brady’s eight Super Bowl appearances, they competed with a wideout group similar, or inferior, to this one, so wide receiver doesn’t exactly feel like a screaming need.
Les Snead’s confidence: The Rams, who will introduce Ndamukong Suh to the Los Angeles media on Wednesday, were already Showtime before this move. General manager Les Snead has acquired Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Cooks via trade this offseason. Talib and Suh were relatively low-risk moves that are designed to be short term. Peters and Cooks are in a different category because they are nearing the end of their rookie deals. (Cooks’ contract ends after 2018, Peters could be retained with the fifth-year option in 2019.)
Snead has now given up his first- and second-round picks in this draft to get Cooks and one year of Sammy Watkins. It shows a lot of chutzpah to make this trade after Watkins didn’t quite work out, the sign of an organization that is feeling itself. As the Rams should be. The trade puts a lot of pressure on Snead to make this Cooks partnership last, and there is already reportedly interest in extending Cooks’ contract. Speaking of which …
Brandin Cooks’ agent: Cooks has the Rams over a barrel. I love the fit of Cooks in the Rams’ offense, even if he’s not a traditional “No. 1 receiver.” But he’s going to be paid like one. All Cooks has to do is point to Sammy Watkins’ contract and then point to Watkins’ production compared to Cooks’ over their respective careers. There is a ton of leverage here, although Snead also has other priorities like finishing defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s megadeal.
Jared Goff: He hit the young quarterback lottery by landing with head coach Sean McVay, Pro Bowl running back Todd Gurley and a GM intent on supplying Goff with as many weapons as possible. Cooks is ultimately an upgrade on Watkins.
Odell Beckham Jr.: The dream of landing in Los Angeles, his offseason home, all but died on Tuesday. Perhaps the Giants could still find a suitable trading partner for Beckham, but it’s hard to imagine one as motivated and bold as the Rams. Finding a team willing to give up two high picks for Beckham is one thing, but any interested team will also need to be ready to make Beckham the highest-paid receiver in history. It looks more likely that Beckham remains in a stalemate with the Giants for the foreseeable future.
Tom Brady: No Patriots wideout played more snaps or saw more targets than Cooks, who impressed a lot of people surrounding the team by never missing a practice and always giving maximum effort. While he wasn’t always an efficient deep threat, Cooks helped to stretch the field with a speed element the team otherwise lacked. Even if he’s not a top-10 receiver, Cooks was a quality piece to the puzzle.
Brady’s job just got a little harder in 2018 at a time when there’s still some question about how much he’s enjoying the job at all.
The rest of the NFC West: Cooks makes the Rams more difficult to game plan against because he can line up inside and out. McVay will drive opposing defenses crazy by running Cooks deep, over the middle and on the shallow crosses where he can do damage after the catch. Loading up on big-name players doesn’t guarantee another NFC West title for the Rams, but they clearly have the division’s most talented roster. The Cardinals and Seahawks are retooling. The 49ers should still be a year away. The Rams, meanwhile, sure look ahead of schedule entering Year 2 of the McVay era.
The Los Angeles Chargers: The Rams’ roommates in 2020 are going to have an even harder time gaining traction in their new city with the Rams soaking up so much of the oxygen.