The Patriots are going all-in with an unusual offseason that should scare the rest of the NFL

Scott Davis
belichick brady

Chuck Burton/AP

The New England Patriots are not known for making the flashiest offseason moves.

Instead, the Patriots are known more for picking players from the scraps of the other 31 teams and turning them into valuable role-players.

And that's what makes this offseason so unusual — the Patriots are spending big and going after big-name players whom they wouldn't usually pursue. The Patriots entered this offseason with $60 million in cap space, and it appears they've decided to go hunting with it.

As a result, they're once again looking like the team to beat in the AFC and perhaps the entire NFL.

The Patriots' biggest free-agency signing was a five-year, $63 million deal for former Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore. While some have questioned Gilmore's status as an elite cornerback — Pro Football Focus gave him a 73.2 grade for 2016, 61st among cornerbacks — he also pulled in five interceptions last year.

The signing of Gilmore may signal the end of Malcolm Butler's career with the Patriots, as the two sides have been unable to come to a long-term extension. While Butler was graded higher last season, Gilmore is taller, longer, and more physical than Butler, according to Ben Volin of The Boston Globe. It's easy to imagine him thriving with better coaching and culture in New England.

The Patriots' other splashy move was trading their 2017 first- and third-round picks to the New Orleans Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Bill Belichick reportedly has long coveted Cooks and had planned on drafting him before the Saints traded up to snag him in 2014.

Cooks is a scary addition to Tom Brady's already extensive arsenal. In 2016, Cooks pulled in 78 catches for over 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns. According to ESPN's Trey Wingo, Cooks has 11 touchdowns on over-30-yard grabs since 2014, behind only Odell Beckham Jr. With Brady improving his deep ball out of nowhere, the Patriots may be able to stretch the field with Cooks and open up space in the slot for players like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.

The Patriots have made a few other moves. They traded for Carolina Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy, who, despite a disappointing 2016, was part of the Panthers' Super Bowl run in 2015. Volin called it a "low-risk, high-value" move for the Patriots, who could cut Ealy, 25, if he underperforms.

They also signed defensive lineman Lawrence Guy to a four-year, $20 million deal, re-signed defender Alan Branch to a two-year deal, and traded for tight end Dwayne Allen, who appears to be the replacement for Martellus Bennett.

The Patriots aren't done yet, either. According to Volin, they still have $36 million in cap space. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower is still a free agent and, according to ESPN's Mike Reiss, hasn't found the market he may have expected, possibly leading to a reunion with the Patriots.

Additionally, LeGarrette Blount is still a free agent, and the Patriots have to cement their running-back situation, whether by re-signing Blount or someone else or drafting a replacement.

Perhaps the one weakness for the Patriots is their lack of draft picks in the first two rounds. However, that could change if the Patriots reexplored the trade market for Butler, since talks with the Saints fell through. And though ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the Patriots were not trading Jimmy Garoppolo, if they changed their minds, there's a team in Cleveland stocked with draft picks with interest in Garoppolo.

It's hard to imagine any team in the AFC currently threatening the Patriots, and perhaps that's why the Patriots seem to be going all-in. Despite Brady's belief that he can play until he's 45, as he prepares to turn 40 the end of his career is getting closer. The Patriots may see the end in sight and feel that while they have the resources available, they should go after big-name players who could help him.

There's still work still to be done, but as things stand right now, the NFL should not be excited about how the reigning Super Bowl champs are shaping up on paper.

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