Free Agency Debrief: No team trades like the Patriots

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No NFL team trades like the New England Patriots.

Friday evening's deal to acquire Saints wideout Brandin Cooks in exchange for a package that included the No. 32 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft is another example of how the Patriots do business differently.

The Patriots acquired five players via trade last year, more than any other NFL team. Four of the players had big roles in the team's championship run. After adding Cooks and Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy on Friday, the Patriots are already up to three big trades this week. (Colts tight end Dwayne Allen came first.)

The trade notably did not include Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, who is due for a new contract. It raises questions about the future of the Patriots' receiver group -- will Cooks get a long-term deal before Julian Edelman? -- but the deal undeniably makes this group loaded in the present. Edelman, Cooks, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Rob Gronkowski and Allen make for a ridiculous pass-catching group, with James White and Dion Lewis catching passes out of the backfield. That group will keep Tom Brady younger than any diet could. 

It's almost silly to evaluate this Patriots group now because they clearly aren't done making moves on either side of the ball. More trades and free agent signings are to come, with line Dont'a Hightower one notable big name whose status remains up in the air.

Belichick, like Cleveland's Sashi Brown on Friday, is enjoying the flexibility that massive cap space allows. No team does a better job exploring every avenue to improve the team, something that showed up in the trade for Ealy.

There's no need to throw a parade for the deal; he's been inconsistent at best in his career. But the Panthers were clearly done with him and the Patriots picked up a potentially solid role player for moving down less than 10 spots in the draft. (They gave up their late second round pick in exchange for the Panthers' third-round pick.) Belichick still seems to relish taking the calculated risks of player acquistion as much as he enjoys going for it on fourth down. 

While the Patriots ended the day with a bang, there was another future Hall of Fame quarterback that was smiling earlier on Friday...


Happy Birthday, Marty B!


Packers general manager Ted Thompson gave Martellus Bennett a new contract and a future Hall of Fame quarterback for Bennett's 30th birthday.

Thompson doesn't dive into free agency headfirst often, but he has an incredibly high success rate when he does. Charles Woodson, Julius Peppers and Jared Cook are living proof. Picking up Bennett is another safe score for Thompson, a tight end who has already proven he can succeed as a blocker and a pass catcher in most any system. Aaron Rodgers approves:

Bennett was one of the biggest names to sign Friday, as free agency cooled down dramatically from the frenzy of day one. The market transitioned from "phase one" to "phase two" value-hunting awfully fast, catching some agents and players flat-footed. Jared Cook, who caught the greatest play of the 2016 season from Rodgers, asked the Packers for more money than they were comfortable with. Eventually, the Packers moved on. Terrelle Pryor, who NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported turned down a multi-year offer from the Browns, wound up settling for a one-year contract in Washington.

The free agent market can move fast on players who overestimate their value. I'm just glad that Thompson moved fast enough to pick up Bennett so I can watch Rodgers throwing the ball to Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Bennett next season. 


Narratives that were busted


1. Alshon Jeffery and Terrelle Pryor weren't paid like No. 1 receivers. Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reported that Jeffery is earning $9.5 million in base salary, with $4.5 million more in incentives. Pryor is earning a $6 million base salary from Washington after turning down more money in Cleveland. These short-term deals have become the new norm in the NFL unless a player is at the absolute top of the market.

2. The Indianapolis Colts front office is no longer a mess! New general manager Chris Ballard has been impressive in his time in front of the media and his early free agent moves make a lot of sense. The Colts addressed pressing needs with quality starters at reasonable prices by signing former Texans linebacker John Simon and former Patriots defensive end Jabaal Sheard. Simon and Sheard won't be superstars, but they will upgrade positions with minimal long-term risk. The Colts' decisive move to sign tight end Jack Doyle long-term before dealing away Dwayne Allen also is an indication that they have conviction and a plan.

3. The Mike Glennon deal is not a long-term commitment. Glennon will earn $16 million in his first season but has almost no guaranteed money in his contract after that. The Bears essentially made a medium-sized, short-term bet that does have potential to pay off for both sides.


Storylines that deserve more attention


1. Julius Peppers' return to Carolina just feels right. He can still be a valuable pass rusher and adds to a deep group of defensive linemen with the Panthers. General manager Dave Gettleman wants his identity built up front and has done a nice job solidifying their big uglies this offseason.

2. Teams rarely win in free agency by signing slow, veteran linebackers. That's why Miami's decision to give $12 million over two years to Lawrence Timmons was curious. Miami's linebackers struggled in coverage all last year and Timmons was not a strong coverage linebacker in Pittsburgh. Consider it a red flag that the Steelers didn't want to keep him.

3. The Vikings' front office and coaching staff has struggled to fix its offensive line. They are counting on free agency to save this this year. After signing former Panthers tackle Mike Remmers on Friday, the team will have two new starters at tackle with Remmers and former Lion Riley Reiff, who was presumably signed to play left tackle.

Teams around the NFL looking for solutions at tackle paid huge money to sign guys that other teams didn't want to keep. The Vikings essentially swapped problem spots with the Lions and Panthers. The Broncos addressed one tackle spot with Menelik Watson, a player that the Raiders didn't want to keep.

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