As a Patriots fan, even I didn’t see this kind of an offseason coming, but the Patriots are reminding everyone (just in case they may have forgotten) that they are the team to beat.
Bill Belichick was a man on a mission during the first day of free agency. He made a splash by spending a lot of money on a new cornerback. Stephon Gilmore was landed right as the opening bell rang but he didn’t stop there and also re-signed some of his own free agents – Alan Branch and Duron Harmon.
The New Players
Simply put, if you though the Pats were going to ease up after Super Bowl LI and all that cap space then you were wrong. As for the teams in the AFC, well they have their work cut out to try and keep up and looking at the AFC East, well the Dolphins, Jets and Bills are probably just rolling their eyes and saying, ‘yep here we go again…’
It was uncharacteristic of Bill, he went out and landed a player that could be a true number 1 cornerback. He had the money and clearly felt that Gilmore was worth it at 26 years old, he was the 10th pick in the 2012 draft and had 14 interceptions and 62 passes defended in Buffalo.
After Gilmore, Bill went out and acquired tight end Dwayne Allen from the Colts and moved down eight spots in the draft to secure DE Kony Ealy from the Panthers. It was looking like a good start to the offseason at the time and then the Patriots went big, really big.
They traded their first round pick in the upcoming draft as well as their third round pick to the Saints for Brandin Cooks. Bill is a fan of Cooks, I remember him saying after a preseason game last year against the Saints:
“I’m glad we don’t have to play him twice a year and he’s not in our division, He’s a really good player.”
The Saints have been trying to offload Cooks for weeks to get help for the secondary. At one point it was rumoured that Malcolm Butler could be packaged up in a trade deal, however he remains in a turbulent position in New England for now. Because Malcolm has not signed his franchise tender he is not technically under contract and therefore cannot be traded.
Hightower and Butler
Two of the names floating around right now with the Patriots are Hightower and Butler, each one has a different story. Hightower seems to be more than likely on his way back to the Patriots if the reports are to be believed. He visited the Titans and Jets and is expected to visit the Steelers but each team so far seems to be inclined that he will return to New England. The deal is reported to be worth $10 million per year should he decide to take it.
As for Butler, well there is a standoff going on right now. Butler wants to be paid, his agent appears to be in way over his head with expectations and Michael Lombardi has reported that the player is “asking for the moon.” This is a statement that Bulter’s agent denies.
Several teams have expressed an interest in the restricted free agent but according to a source close to the player, Butler thought he would be a “Patriot for life” and would like to try and make a deal work. With the signing of Stephon Gilmore on day 1 of free agency, Butler has learned a hard lesson about the business side of the NFL and when it comes to the Patriots, this is all business and nothing more.
As a RFA, he can sign an offer sheet with another team and the Patriots would have five days to match it, should they fail to match it then they would receive that teams first round pick in the upcoming draft. Last season the Patriots offered $6 to $7 million per season, a sizeable raise.
But at the age of 27, this is likely to be Butler’s one shot at a big pay day and the Gilmore signing will have also rocked the boat. His understanding seems to be the the Patriots had no intention of offering a CB more than $10 million per year and while he may have accepted that deal last year, it could well be out the window now.
While I think Hightower will stay, I am a lot less certain about Butler. I think the Patriots would be more open to letting him go if they were to get a first rounder back in the upcoming draft especially with Gilmore in the mix. He was the Super Bowl XLIX hero, but when the Patriots get down to business then it really is all business.
Loading Up For Six?
No doubt about it, after they won Super Bowl LI they trademarked “Blitz for Six” and the Patriots seem to want to get there as soon as they can. Tom Brady will be 40 when the season starts and that is the age when quarterbacks can suddenly fall off a cliff.
When the season starts he will have his best receiving corps in years. Cooks, Gronk, Edelman, Hogan, Mitchell and possibly Amendola. The AFC East won’t be able to keep up and the rest of the league may not fare better. This is clearly a team setting up to get the job done fast over a short period of time.
Brady’s playing career is coming to an end, the Pats reportedly see Jimmy as the future and he is waiting in the wings though I could see the Pats trading if the price is right and by that I mean way overpriced. They currently have no picks in the first two rounds of the upcoming draft though I think they could look at trading Butler to rectify that and get a first rounder back.
The Patriots are gearing up to run riot in the league next season and if Tom doesn’t fall off a cliff they could be cruising to another Super Bowl. Even if his performance does fall off a cliff and Jimmy G has to step in, with the roster they have they would be strong playoff contenders regardless.