The New England Patriots' aggressive offseason has provided great copy for writers and fodder for television producers. The restless remaking of a championship roster was less warmly received throughout the rest of the AFC East and certain corners of the New England roster. For every big-name arrival, there is a corresponding Patriots veteran wondering about his future with the team.
Malcolm Butler is the most obvious example. Within days of cornerback Stephon Gilmore signing a massive deal in New England, Butler was on a plane to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport for a visit with the Saints. If Bill Belichick is willing to trade the author of the biggest play in Super Bowl history, Belichick is willing to move on from anyone not named Tom Brady.
Julian Edelman knows this deep down. He watched teammate Wes Welker leave New England and fail to get the contract he was hoping for. Edelman already has been through free agency once as a member of the Patriots and it wasn't pretty. He spent four busy days as a free agent in 2014 before signing a four-year, $17 million deal with the Patriots that looks almost criminal in retrospect. That deal ends after this season, a fact that shouldn't be ignored when considering the Patriots' acquisition of Brandin Cooks.
Cooks and Edelman have different skill sets, but Cooks might find himself playing more out of the slot in New England. It's hard to imagine Edelman attracting 159 targets again, no matter how closely he aligns his lifestyle to that of his buddy, Tom Brady. Acquiring Cooks with two years left on his rookie deal (including a fifth-year option) provides flexibility to a Patriots receiver group that is deeper than perhaps any in the Brady-Belichick era. Edelman, like Welker and Butler before him, looks destined to learn the Patriots have a price for everyone and rarely move off that price.
Another Super Bowl hero, running back James White, welcomes increased competition for snaps next season. Rex Burkhead and the Patriots joining forces is almost anticlimactic in its inevitability. His versatile skill set is custom-made for Josh McDaniels' offense, even if that versatility overlaps with what makes White and Dion Lewis so effective. Patriots players learn to never grow comfortable in any role. If the next guy isn't a locker over, he's one transaction away.
Butler, Edelman and White aren't the only veterans to take some hits this offseason. The six men below have suffered similar collateral damage early in the new league year:
Andy Dalton, quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals: Take the worst Bengals offensive line of the Marvin Lewis era, then subtract its best two players. That's what Dalton will be playing behind following the departures of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler. Usually, Dalton could trust that the Bengals' front office, led by Lewis and director of player personnel Duke Tobin, would have homegrown picks in place to survive any free agency departures. But 2015 selections Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher had mixed results (at best) last season. Dalton was sacked 41 times in 2016, a number that could climb this season.
Rod Marinelli, defensive coordinator, Dallas Cowboys: Marinelli doesn't get enough credit. The Cowboys coordinator came in second to Kyle Shanahan in the voting for the Associated Press' Assistant Coach of the Year Award in 2016, but the job he does with mediocre talent is second to none. In a league full of look-at-me schemes advertising their own genius, Marinelli wins by teaching. His teams play fast, are fundamentally sound and get the most out of their talent.
Dallas might be relying too much on Marinelli to work his magic. The Cowboys had a competitive group last season, but the team's defensive strength in the secondary has almost completely turned over. Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox can all be replaced individually, but all in all, that's a lot of snaps to replace for a team that wasn't deep to begin with. In Rod they trust.
Tyrod Taylor, quarterback, Buffalo Bills: Tyrod no longer has to worry about general manager Doug Whaley's favorite draft pick, EJ Manuel, taking his job. That's the good news. The bad news? His No. 2 receiver right now is ... Walt Powell? Losing Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin wouldn't hurt most teams that much, but any receiver group led by an injury-prone No. 1 wideout like Sammy Watkins needs depth. The Bills are still looking for two receivers in free agency and the draft to play starter-worthy snaps as offensive coordinator Rick Dennison builds a new offense.
Sterling Shepard, wide receiver, New York Giants: Every wide receiver wants the ball. Odell Beckham Jr. will get the ball. Brandon Marshall, if history is any indication, will get the ball or Eli Manning will hear about it. Shepard is too talented to be ignored in New York, but Marshall's arrival could delay Shepard's destiny as one of the freshest second bananas in football.
Kenneth Dixon, running back, Baltimore Ravens: A fantasy football legend before he ever hit the field, Dixon's struggle to maintain momentum continued into his first NFL offseason. While Dixon serves a four-game NFL suspension for violating the league's PED policy, Danny Woodhead can become Joe Flacco's new best friend. It could be difficult for Dixon to get those passing-down snaps back if Woodhead still looks like the guy we saw in San Diego before last September's torn ACL.
Thomas Rawls, running back, Seattle Seahawks: In each of the last two seasons, Rawls has shown flashes of top-five running back play. But they have only been flashes, because of a wide assortment of injuries. The Seahawks might've believed in Rawls too much last season, expecting him to carry on Marshawn Lynch's legacy while coming off ankle surgery. Despite an injury-plagued season, Rawls was flying high off a 161-yard destruction of the Lions in the playoffs. No one would have blamed the third-year back for believing the starting job was his.
Instead, the Seahawks made finding a veteran running back one of their priorities in the offseason. Rawls could still end up starting in Week 1 despite Seattle signing Eddie Lacy, but it's harder to see Rawls dominating the workload. Rawls, like Lacy, runs without considering the consequences. Perhaps, in the long run, the two bruising runners will help each other, if not their fantasy owners.