The New England Patriots are just better at this than everyone else. When you ask why they have essentially dominated the NFL for the past decade and a half, the answer is quite simple: no one can construct a roster like they can. Over the past week that has, once again, become abundantly clear.
First the Patriots went out and traded for tight end Dwayne Allen, sending a fourth-round pick to the Colts in exchange for the 27-year-old pass catcher and a sixth-round pick. New England bought low on Allen, who had a disappointing 35 receptions in the first season of a four-year, $29.4 million contract. That said, the Pats are likely to lose Martellus Bennett in free agency and Rob Gronkowski can’t stay healthy. Allen gives them a high-upside option who can be an every-down guy. No one knows how to use tight ends better than Tom Brady, so expect to see Allen’s numbers explode next season.
Next, New England signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million deal with $40 million guaranteed. With Logan Ryan out the door, the Patriots threw a ton of money at Gilmore, a wildly talented Pro Bowler. The South Carolina product can be inconsistent, but the Patriots have the right structure in place to round out his game and turn him in to a stable star corner.
The Patriots made two other defensive back moves by re-signing Duron Harmon to a four-year, $17 million deal ($6.5 million guaranteed) and putting a first-round tender on cornerback Malcolm Butler. Harmon can play both safety and cornerback and mostly played in the slot during the 2016 season. If Butler is back that would give New England the makings of a really nice secondary, but reports now suggest the team is considering a trade to send him to New Orleans in exchange for receiver Brandin Cooks. A move like that would get Brady some speed at wideout, something he desperately needs.
The Patriots also started working to re-build their defensive line by re-signing Alan Branch to a two-year deal worth up to $12 million. Branch was a solid run defender last season and helps provide stability up front.
On Friday the team acquired Kony Ealy and a third-round pick from the Panthers in exchange for a second rounder. If the picks are from this year’s draft, it essentially means the Pats traded down eight spots and wound up with Ealy. While he’s been fairly average in his career, the defensive end out of Missouri has the potential to be a playmaker in New England. He won’t be asked to dominate in the Patriots’ system and he’s only 25. This is the kind of guy Bill Belichick and company have consistently turned into a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Ealy has only missed one game in his three-year career and has 14 sacks so far. He also had three sacks and a forced fumble in Super Bowl 50, so the talent is there, it just needs to be unlocked. Again, it’s a high-upside guy they didn’t have to give up a ton to acquire.
Getting guys like Allen, Ealy, Branch and Harmon are examples of the Patriots finding value and exploiting it. Doing so has allowed them to spend big money on a guy like Gilmore and still have cash left to shore up other areas.
When you look at what New England has done so far this offseason, it’s hard not to pencil them in for a return trip to the Super Bowl. And they’re clearly not done yet. They hold arguably the league’s most valuable tradable asset in backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and have yet to move him.
The Patriots should be the heavy favorites to repeat their Super Bowl LI victory.
UPDATE: The Patriots wound up adding Brandin Cooks via trade without giving up Malcolm Butler. New England sent New Orleans first- and third-round picks in exchange for Cooks and the Saints’ fourth-rounder.
So yeah, New England’s offseason dominance continues.