Whether you love them or hate them, you have to admire the way that the New England Patriots operate. We are still months away from training camps opening around the National Football League, and the New England Patriots already look like the team to beat in the AFC in 2016. They may have been one of the least active teams in the league during free agency, as has been the case since Bill Belichick took over in New England, but they were able to make a tidal wave-sized splash by pulling off the two biggest blockbuster trades of this year’s offseason (with all due respect to the trade between the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins, of course).
The first of New England’s two trades sent 26-year-old pass-rusher Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for a second-round draft pick and offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, who was the seventh overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. While losing a player with Jones’ natural pass-rushing ability is undoubtedly a huge blow, the Patriots actually came out ahead. Here’s why.
If Cooper can stay healthy and tap into his immense potential in New England, he will fill a major position of need for the seven-time defending AFC East champions. On top of that, the Pats were able to add veteran defensive end Chris Long during free agency, and the draft pick they got will help them offset losing their 2016 first-round draft pick as a part of their Deflategate punishment from the league.
Moreover, after seeing the mega-deals that defensive ends Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon landed during free agency, we feel compelled to applaud Belichick for being bold and moving Jones before he became a free agent and while he could still get significant value in return. While their first trade of the offseason is built around potential, it was their most recent trade that makes us believe that they will represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI.
Despite having the league’s best tight end, Rob Gronkowski, already on their roster, the Patriots pulled the trigger and acquired Martellus Bennett and a sixth-round draft pick from the Chicago Bears in exchange for a fourth-round pick. Simply put, the Patriots got a steal here. At 6-foot-6 and 273 pounds, Bennett is a physical specimen. More importantly, though, he is an excellent blocker, a huge red zone target for New England quarterback Tom Brady, and one of the best overall receiving tight ends in the game.
At just 29 years old, Bennett likely has at least five good years left in his NFL career. The only negative for the Patriots in their trade for Bennett is that the 2014 Pro Bowler has a history of being outspoken and causing problems in the locker room. In fact, this is the reason why Bennett is no longer with the Bears. With that being said, Belichick and the Patriots have an outstanding track record of bringing in, and adequately dealing with, players who caused problems with previous teams (Randy Moss and Chad Johnson come to mind).
Assuming that both Gronkowski and Bennett are healthy in 2016, the Patriots’ offense will be extremely difficult for opposing defenses to stop — again. It will be similar to the days of Gronkowski and the now incarcerated Aaron Hernandez teaming up to give New England the best tight end duo in the league.
And the harsh reality of the situation is that few teams have one player, let alone two players, on their roster who can successfully defend either Gronkowski or Bennett for four quarters. Like it or not, smart moves like this make it abundantly clear that the Patriots will remain among the cream of the crop in the NFL for several years to come.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.