This offseason has been the same-old-same for the New England Patriots: they won the Super Bowl last season and are deservedly the favorites to win it again this year.
Thanks to the Patriots unprecedented success, you don’t question what moves they make, even you have reason to question it. And this offseason, there was nothing to question.
Here are the three best moves and the worst one made by the New England Patriots this offseason.
#1. Trading for Brandin Cooks
The Patriots have not had a big play, downfield receiver since Randy Moss's last year with the team in 2009. So when the New Orleans Saints began shopping Brandin Cooks and the Patriots were involved, people took notice. The Patriots worked out a deal with the Saints and acquired the fast, athletic, dynamic wide receiver.
Cooks is not going to scare opposing defenses the way Moss did, but they will have to respect his ability to get behind the secondary. His averages over the last two years are solid: 81 catches on 123 targets, 1,155.5 receiving yards, 8.5 touchdowns and 45 first down conversion catches. The Patriots have not had a wide receiver reach either of Cooks averages in receiving yards and touchdowns in the last two seasons.
Put simply, Cooks adds a dynamic dimension the Patriots have not had at wide receiver in some time.
#2. Signing Stephon Gilmore
Speaking of things that the Patriots do not usually do, it's rare for the team to make a splash in the top free agent pool, but this year they went out and signed the best cornerback on the market.
Gilmore got off a somewhat slow start to begin his career with the Buffalo Bills, but last year he progressed into one of the better cornerbacks in the league. Along with Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones and Justin Coleman, the Pats now have the best cornerback group in the league. Losing a top player to their always-successful divisional rival has to be especially demoralizing for the Bills.
#3. Re-signing Dont’a Hightower
The Patriots allowed Hightower to test the market, but the former first round draft pick circled back and re-signed with the Patriots. Last season, he ranked as one of the most complete linebackers in both run support and coverage, but his athleticism and size allow him to matchup well with tight ends and running backs in pass defense. Hightower also is a leader of the defense both on and off the field.
The worst: Letting LeGarrette Blount leave
Allowing the veteran RB to leave in free agency wasn't exactly a bad move. Instead, we'll just call it "the least good move" of the Patriots’ offseason.
Blount is a powerful, between-the-tackles running back that keeps the offense moving forward. The Patriots have a dynamic offense that needs a running back to pound out some yards every once in awhile and Blount was that guy.
Blount is now in Philadelphia, and the Patriots responded by signing Bills restricted free agent running back Mike Gillislee (cue another heavy sigh from Bills fans). He should work just fine as a replacement: Pro Football Focus ranked Gillislee among the league’s best running backs in yards after contact, breakaway percentage (percentage of runs of 15-plus yards) and elusive rating (runner’s ability to get yards independent of his blockers).
Even by their own impossibly high standards (notice we did not once use the name Tom Brady), New England looks formidable heading into the 2017 season.