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Trading for Brandin Cooks Shows the Rams Are All In

Meanwhile, the Patriots have the draft capital to rebuild … or reload

AFC Championship - Jacksonville Jaguars v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Deal

Patriots Receive: First-round pick (no. 23 overall), sixth-round pick (unknown, somewhere between no. 176 and no. 198)

Rams Receive: WR Brandin Cooks, fourth-round pick (no. 135 overall)

Let Sean McVay Cook(s)

The Rams acquiring Cooks is titillating from a football standpoint, if puzzling from a team-building perspective. Cooks had 1,082 yards on 65 receptions (16.6 yards per catch) to go with seven touchdowns last year with the Patriots, and now the Rams have once again given Jared Goff a valuable receiver to look to and brought in someone to draw attention away from Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, albeit with a different style than the departed Sammy Watkins, who left for the Chiefs in March. Plugging Cooks into the Rams offense is going to be awesome, especially if head coach/offensive coordinator/savant/wunderkind/sorcerer Sean McVay envisions him as a supercharged version of Jamison Crowder from McVay’s days in Washington.

Yet the price paid to acquire him is pause-worthy considering he’s a free agent after this season. The Saints traded Cooks and a fourth-rounder to the Patriots for a first-rounder (no. 32 overall) and a third-rounder in March 2017, when Cooks had a $1.56 million cap hit in the fourth year of his rookie deal. A year later, the Patriots flipped him for a higher first-rounder despite his cap hit quintupling on his fifth-year team option this season ($8.5 million), and him being a year closer to free agency. (For what it’s worth, Cooks got to play with both Drew Brees and Tom Brady in back-to-back seasons, and both Sean Payton and Bill Belichick decided to trade him.) Considering what the Rams paid, and that they’ll need to get him a contract or to use the franchise tag on him to keep him in 2019 and beyond, it’s hard not to wonder whether they should have held onto their pick and drafted a rookie receiver who would be under team control for five years—or added in another high pick and splurged for Odell Beckham Jr. Adding Cooks feels like an awkward middle ground.

Les Snead Is Out of Picks to Give

As wild as it is to trade for a player as good as Cooks, he might be only the fourth-best player the Rams have acquired this offseason. This is the fifth trade the Rams have made in the past six weeks. In case you’re losing track, here’s the net result of the Rams’ offseason.

Rams Added: WR Brandin Cooks, CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, DL Ndamukong Suh (free agency), Giants’ 2018 fourth-round pick, Giants’ 2018 sixth-round pick, unknown Dolphins mid-round pick, Chiefs’ 2018 sixth-round pick

Rams Lost: 2018 first-round pick, 2018 fourth-round pick, 2018 fifth-round pick, 2018 seventh-round pick, 2019 second-round pick, 2019 seventh-round pick, DE Robert Quinn, ILB Alec Ogletree, WR Sammy Watkins (free agency)

Holy crap! That’s what you do in Madden when you want to play franchise mode but don’t have the patience for more than a season or two. Every player listed above is a former first-round draft pick, and Cooks is the only one the Rams acquired who hasn’t been named a first-team All-Pro. Adding Peters was savvy, Talib was aggressive, and Suh was silly, but trading for Cooks might be a bridge too far. The Rams built their core with a stunning number of picks, though not all of them worked out. Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Michael Brockers, and Lamarcus Joyner are all homegrown players, with Brockers representing the only player left on the roster from the eight picks acquired in the 2012 Robert Griffin III trade.

The Rams have dealt a startling collection of draft picks for certifiable contributors, but they may not have the cap room to keep the gang together for very long. The Rams are all in with their core—perhaps more than any team in recent memory—and now they are officially a “Super Bowl or Bust” squad.

The Patriots’ Offseason Looks Like a Disaster ...

On paper, the Patriots sure seem like they got a lot worse this offseason. New England lost wide receiver Danny Amendola, running back Dion Lewis, tackles Nate Solder and Cam Fleming, and cornerback Malcolm Butler, and now it’s traded Cooks. Without that group, the Pats have to replace 158 of their 389 receptions last season (40.6 percent) while figuring out how to protect 40-year-old Tom Brady’s blind side. The Pats added cornerback Jason McCourty, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, and running back Jeremy Hill this offseason, but the roster still seems far from where it was two months ago.

Cooks, who left the Super Bowl in the second quarter with a concussion, could have been the difference-maker for a Patriots team that fell one drive shy of winning the Super Bowl. Now the Patriots roster is littered with holes that seemingly make it much harder to patch together another Super Bowl run ...

… But Doubting Bill Belichick Is a Felony in Massachusetts

Last year, the Patriots flipped a first- and a third-rounder for Cooks in a deal that seemed to signal a change in league economics, where two years of a known player on a cheap contract, like Cooks, might be more valuable than four or five years of an unknown player on a cheap contract. (Random tangent: How many players in NFL history have been traded for first-round picks in back-to-back seasons? What a bizarre stretch for Cooks, who started this flurry in part by questioning Drew Brees’s arm strength when he was with New Orleans.)

It’s foolish to doubt Belichick’s ability to cobble together his roster, but the person showing the most concern here seems to be … Belichick. The Patriots now have picks no. 23, 31, 43 (from the Jimmy Garoppolo trade), and 63 in this year’s draft. New England could take the classic Patriots route and trade down with those picks—Belichick’s greatest weapon is patience—but (Tom vs.) time is running out. Unless Belichick drafts a quarterback with one of those top selections, it seems the plan is to rebuild and reload at the same time. Whether the Patriots trade down from those slots and multiply their draft capital (entering his 19th year as the team’s head coach, Belichick’s Patriots have made 61 draft-day trades), stand pat and select a new batch of contributors, or even trade up and select Tom Brady’s successor, what they do in the draft should reveal what Belichick’s long-term plan is.

It might also reveal what Belichick believes to be a new market inefficiency in league economics. Perhaps he feels teams are once again foolishly willing to part with draft picks, or that he went all in for a couple of Super Bowl runs but now needs to rebuild. Yet the most likely scenario is he sees a team that is being held together by shoestrings and Tom Brady’s penchant for avocados, and that it’s long past time for the Patriots to restock.