Bill Belichick and the Patriots are now firmly in the market for a QB in the 2018 NFL Draft
After acquiring another first-round pick with trade of Brandin Cooks, look for Pats to make move for a QB
And the Patriots aren't close to done making trades, either (although not any involving Rob Gronkowski because that was fake news, anyway). Tuesday's trade of receiver Brandin Cooks as part of a package that included the Rams' 23rd overall pick had ramifications throughout the league, with tentacles that reached the Giants and Odell Beckham, Jr., and the Cardinals and, yes, even Gronkowski, but as we unpack the fallout of this latest blockbuster transaction we must start with what it means for the quarterbacks drafted in the first round at the end of this month.
Because in all likelihood one of them is going to Foxboro to be Tom Brady's eventual replacement. That process is well afoot and has long been a quiet vocation in New England, only now they have some of the pieces necessary to actually move from the 31st pick to a position to actual secure one of the top passers in this draft. Sure, this trade also means that Cooks isn't the difference maker the Pats hoped and he wasn't transformative in their offense or a player the Pats would or could pay big money to after his fifth-year option expires, but more than that it connotes just how badly Bill Belichick is motivated to land an heir apparent at quarterback.
When I asked a member of the Pats organization in the know if they would be shocked if Belichick moved well into the first half of the first round to land a quarterback, he responded: "Certainly not." This individual is convinced that this Cooks trade was a mere cog in the overall machine and a piece that will end up with one of the top three-or-four rated passers in this draft landing in New England. History – recent and dating back to guys like Richard Seymour - has revealed that Belichick is rarely averse to dealing current players for future assets, and he could move another veteran plus the three picks the Patriots now hold between picks 23 and 43 to do so.
Total hunch here, but I'm thinking Baker Mayfield could be the guy Belichick targets. He's been all about mobile quarterbacks the last few years – Tim Tebow love affair, dabbling with Johnny Football, drafting Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett before dealing them both. Belichick can handle the kid's attitude and curb his wayward tendencies and he could be the best value play – especially if three quarterbacks are drafted ahead of him – and Josh McDaniels could coach him up and scheme him up and put him in positions to replicate what he did best at Oklahoma.
And this is where, as much as I respect and have lauded Belichick's actions running the Patriots, we have to point out how shortsighted it was not holding a massive auction for Garoppolo before last year's draft, because it was always impossible the Pats could hold on to him beyond 2017. The time to get the biggest haul for him was then, and not just before the 2017 trade deadline when they landed only a high second-round pick for a quarterback who quickly became the game's highest paid player on a temporary basis. If they made the Jimmy G trade then – and exploited all they could have from the Cleveland Browns – then they'd already have been in position to control the quarterback market in this year's draft. I'm just saying. Oh yeah, and had Garoppolo not run the table in December for San Fran then the Pats would be sitting on like the 35th pick perhaps and not the 43rd as part of that trade.
So Belichick will be working the phones like a madman this month to get in position to land a quarterback, which likely means multiple trades to do so. We all know by now four quarterbacks could go in the first five picks, and with Arizona and Baltimore sitting in the middle of the first round, at least five are going in the first 15 picks. Belichick has work to do, and, for the Cardinals, already motivated to move up, the onus becomes even greater. You don't want Belichick getting into the low teens to land a guy, and Arizona can't really think Sam Bradford is going to stay healthy long enough to truly impact their franchise. They blew it not landing Pat Mahomes a year ago; they can't sit in a passive role as the Jets already made their move and Buffalo and New England are intent on moving more and the Ravens still badly need to find someone to take over for Joe Flacco sooner rather than later too.
Belichick certainly threw a monkey wrench in an already complicated quarterback market. With him on the move, teams like the Broncos and Giants and Browns, who are considering holding auctions for their top five picks, may be in even more of a position of power now, with more teams in the market to move up for a passer. Meantime, Gronk can breathe a little easier, as the money earmarked for Cooks this season ($8.5M) becomes part of a new compensation package the tight end will eventually land, and it frees up much-needed cap space for the Pats as well. This is definitely a win for Gronk, and with Julian Edelman coming back and with New England hopeful Malcolm Mitchell could stay healthy and pick up as a deep threat where he left off as a rookie, they can still win their division with this cast of skill guys as long as Brady is Brady.
With Cooks in Los Angeles, the Rams pursuit of Beckham is totally over, team sources said, though their intent to land him was real. Giants GM Dave Gettleman wouldn't budge off his demands and the Rams, though highly motivated to get him, were looking to center trade talks around the 23rd pick but not mortgage future draft classes as well. They get Cooks at their price, and while he ain't close to OBJ, they essentially rent-to-buy on a receiver on his fifth year option for the second straight year after dealing a second-rounder for Sammy Watkins before the season. In that case they let Watkins walk and will take the 2019 comp pick; Cooks is an upgrade over Watkins and is being viewed as such within the Rams organization; they've long liked him and wanted him over Watkins a year ago but it didn't work out.
Beckham suffers a loss in that the team most overtly hot for him, the Rams, are now out of his trade market. But it also helps in other ways. For the second straight year a team believed that Cooks – who, like Beckham, averages 14 yards per catch but has 33 fewer catches and 11 fewer touchdowns in 11 more career games – is worth a first round pick. That should reinforce that Beckham is worth substantially more than that … though Gettleman better re-think that price tag of two first-round picks. Was never happening and even less likely now given how much salary Beckham will command on his new deal. Maybe the 49ers or Seahawks step up, and perhaps a team comes out of nowhere, but not at that steep of a price (and the Pats, sources said, are not interested in OBJ and this trade was all about a quarterback).
If anything, this trade will further Beckham's stance that he isn't playing in New York on that fifth-year tag ($8.5M) and that he won't be showing up for work in the first half of the season at all if New York doesn't trade him or pay him. Seeing Cooks dealt twice in a year makes it clear that top receivers are swapped frequently enough before the draft, and Beckham is the best receiving talent to be dangled in trade since Randy Moss ended up in, you guessed it, New England.
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