For the first time in almost a decade, the 2019 New England Patriots did not make it to the AFC Championship Game. Even though they had one of the best defenses in the league, the team fell apart because they didn’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with the best teams in the league. Despite losing Tom Brady, the team didn’t add a single offensive weapon through the first wave of free agency. Jarrett Stidham isn’t going to have much of a chance in 2020 unless New England trades for a receiver. Looking around the league, a reunion with Brandin Cooks would make sense for both the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams.
New England Patriots Should Trade for Brandin Cooks
Brandin Cooks, of course, has his share of experience working in New England. The former first-round pick spent the 2017 season with the Patriots, recording 65 receptions for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. New England traded him after one year, but he was an obvious fit in the offense and could prove to be a reliable downfield target. While he’s obviously never caught a pass from Jarrett Stidham, his familiarity with the offense should make for a seamless transition into the 2020 passing attack.
The Patriots might be ok at receiver if Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu stay healthy and N’Keal Harry takes a Year 2 leap. However, even if all three pan out, the Patriots don’t have a true outside receiver capable of stretching the field. Cooks had his worst season to date in 2019, as concussions limited him to just 42 receptions for 583 yards and two touchdowns. While the concussions are clearly a concern, they didn’t limit his explosiveness and ability to change the game with one play. If he’s healthy (big if), the Patriots should be able to get something out of the speedy receiver.
Took a look at some pre-concussion Brandin Cooks plays from 2019, and if the dude's healthy, he's still got it. He's open on the first target of the season and Goff misses an admittedly tough throw pic.twitter.com/25FVQlvnRO
— Dave Latham, Lifelong Bucs Fan (@DLPatsThoughts) March 28, 2020
The biggest question with Cooks is if he can get healthy and stay healthy. Cooks suffered multiple concussions in 2019, but that wasn’t his first battle with head injuries. The 26-year old has suffered at least five concussions during his six years in the league, including the one that knocked him out in Super Bowl 52. Concussions typically don’t get better as you get older and keep taking hits, so Cooks will carry an advanced risk of re-injury. However, this could be worth the risk if the Rams want to shed salary.
Why the Los Angeles Rams Would Do It
It takes two to tango, so the Rams would have to agree to any potential trade. Fortunately for the Patriots, the Rams have every reason to move on from Cooks. Thanks to some interesting team-building, the Los Angeles Rams will not have a first-round pick until the 2022 season. Their last first-round pick came in 2016 when they moved up to select Jared Goff. Since then, they’ve used their first-rounders to acquire Goff, Cooks, and Jalen Ramsey. They’ve also handed out massive extensions to Goff, Cooks, Aaron Donald, and Todd Gurley, and now need to think about paying Ramsey and homegrown star Cooper Kupp.
In his current state, Brandin Cooks is not worth a first-round pick. However, the Rams would love to take his contract off their hands, so he should be available for a second- or third-round pick. The Patriots have three third-rounders in the upcoming draft and could probably send one or two over for Cooks’ services.
If the Patriots want to keep as much draft capital as possible, they could trade left guard Joe Thuney. The Rams offensive line fell apart last year and was the biggest catalyst behind their 9-7 finish. Thuney would represent an immediate upgrade, and Los Angeles has shown they prefer proven veterans to draft picks. Thuney is clearly the better long-term option, so New England could even receive an additional draft pick in this exchange. The Patriots could replace Thuney by drafting someone like Netane Muti and having him compete with Hjalte Froholdt for the starting job.
There’s also the money to consider. According to Over the Cap, the Rams would eat $17.8 million in dead cap if they trade Cooks before June 1st. However, if they announce it as a post-June 1st trade, then Cooks carries just $4.3 million in dead money. This would free up $12 million in 2020, which is obviously good news for Los Angeles. The Patriots would need to figure something out in the short term, but they’re more than capable of paying the rest of the deal. Thanks to the new CBA, New England should have roughly $110 million in 2021 cap space. Even if Cooks doesn’t pan out, his contract won’t stop New England from building a competitive team.
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