The difference-maker in the Patriots’ trade of Brandin Cooks to the Rams on Tuesday? I’m told the deal, which had been discussed several times since the end of the season, got rekindled when Sean McVay and Bill Belichick talked at the University of Georgia football coaches clinic late last week. I hear the Rams had their first-round pick on the table, but it was the ancillary picks that needed to be reconfigured for the deal to finally get done; the Rams wanted better than a fourth-rounder in return from New England, and the Patriots stuck to their guns on their proposed compensation. And it got done Tuesday afternoon.
“When it got finalized,” Rams GM Les Snead said from Los Angeles on Tuesday night, “you had a very happy head coach and offensive play-caller [McVay] in our offices—and you know that they are one and the same.”
There’s a lot we learned about the Patriots, the Rams, the Giants and the first round of the draft when New England sent wide receiver Cooks and a fourth-round pick to Los Angeles for the Rams’ first and sixth-round picks. Breaking it down:
What it Means for the Rams
Cooks is not a consolation prize for losing out on Odell Beckham Jr. That is clear. Last year, months before the Rams traded for Sammy Watkins in August, they tried to trade with New Orleans for Cooks, before the Saints sent him to New England. “At that time we didn’t have a first-round pick and New England did, and that made all the difference,” Snead said. “We discussed [cornerback] Trumaine Johnson with New Orleans, but we could not trump New England’s one.” Beckham would cost two firsts and, if the Rams were able to sign him, about $20 million a year. Cooks, I’m guessing, will be around $17 million a year (if they can sign him beyond this year), and the Rams saved a first-rounder and dropped down 113 picks (from their one to the Patriots’ four) with the other. So in money and draft compensation, LA saved. It means very little, though, if they can’t sign Cooks. I’m assuming that has a good chance of getting done, seeing as Cooks is a Californian (Stockton) and has the same agent as Jared Goff—the Rams quarterback will likely become a big Cooks fan, soon.
McVay is so enthused because he has wanted a reliable outside speed receiver since he got to Los Angeles. Sammy Watkins, who left for Kansas City in free agency, was fast but not altogether reliable. Now McVay can deploy Cooks and Robert Woods on the outside and Cooper Kupp in the slot, with prospect Josh Reynolds a promising fourth receiver and Tavon Austin a gadget guy if he stays.
The Rams have now acquired four Pro Bowl-caliber players in the past month—Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Cooks, and now will not pick until late on the second day of the draft, the 87th overall choice. “I can honestly say we can’t do much more now,” Snead said. They likely won’t sign even bargain unrestricted free agents now, because they want to capitalize on compensatory picks in 2019.
The biggest looming issue for the Rams: Star defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Cooks are both looming 2019 free agents. If they both get to the market, the Rams can only tag one. That’s likely to be Donald, the best defensive lineman in football. So the race will be on to get one or both signed long-term and, if necessary, put a franchise or transition tag on the other to keep him for 2019.
“One of our main priorities now is to make Aaron Donald a Ram for a long time,” Snead said.
What it means for the Patriots
New England is in enviable draft position now. This is the first time since 1998 that the Patriots have had two first-round picks and two second-round picks in a draft. That’s great, because the Patriots have a lot of holes to fill. They need a quarterback heir to soon-to-be 41-year-old Tom Brady. They need a left tackle after the departure of Nate Solder to the Giants in free agency. They need a corner and could use a young receiver to build around. I doubt this means the Patriots will collect a bunch of draft capital to move up for one of the hot quarterbacks in the draft. It doesn’t make sense, especially considering that the Browns at one and the Jets at three seems locked on quarterbacks … and to trade from the 23rd slot into the top five or six will take more than four picks they’ve got in the top two rounds—numbers 23, 31, 43 and 63 overall. At quarterback, it makes much more sense to stand pat for a second-tier quarterback like Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph.
The Patriots, I’m told, tried to re-sign Cooks beyond this final year of his deal. But that was problematic because they didn’t view him (or any receiver) as being worth $15-17 million a year, and because of the domino effect it would have had to pay any pass-catcher significantly more than tight end Rob Gronkowski (due $8.9 million in salary and bonuses this year).
Trading for Beckham seems a preposterous notion, both in compensation and in contract size.
This is the most important draft in years for the Patriots. This is an aging team without many young players of star quality. This draft is strong for potential cornerstone players until about pick 12, then, as several personnel gurus have told me this offseason, it’s fairly strong in starter quality well into the third round. The Patriots, to build for the post-Brady era, have to hit on two or three stalwart players.
What it means for the Giants
The team with the best chance and motivation to deal for weird star wideout Odell Beckham Jr. was the Rams. But inside the Rams the feeling was they weren’t going to denude two straight drafts and pay an excellent receiver quarterback money. There’s no doubt Giants coach Pat Shurmur was thrilled to see the Cooks deal Tuesday night, because Shurmur very much wants to make Beckham the centerpiece of his long-term offensive attack. I’d think there’s very little chance, unless the price comes way down, for the Giants to move Beckham now.
What it means for the 2018 Draft
Bummer. Snead’s the most aggressive GM in the league, and he’s got one of the most aggressive coaches and a front office led by COO Kevin Demoff that loves the action. None of them is married to the old way of roster-building, and the Rams with multiple picks high in the draft would have made draft weekend in Dallas a lot more fun.
More than ever, it seems likely that one of the great storylines in this draft will be New England picking the man to replace Brady one day. With the Patriots settling on Josh McDaniels as the heir apparent to Belichick, you can be sure he’ll have every one of the top college quarterbacks studied and slotted in order of his preference. As the development in Foxboro of Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett showed over the past four years, sitting behind Brady is an excellent prep school for a strong prospect. Imagine, say, Lamar Jackson having the chance to watch and soak in what it takes to be great from Brady for a year or two. Or Luke Falk, or Rudolph, or whomever.
And now for your mail...
WHY THE NFL DOESN’T WANT TO COACH RICH KIDS
The fact some teams may pass on Josh Rosen because he comes from wealth makes it sound like the league wants players they can “control” with a paycheck. As in: “You want to make big bucks? You better behave.” This kind of thinking may sound motivational, but I think it starts the relationship between player and owner on a very sour note.
The money is part of the reason, I think, but not a big part. Rosen said to me at the combine that the fact his family does have money should illustrate why this is a moot point. If money hasn’t dulled his desire to achieve enough to be considered a top-five pick in this draft, shouldn’t that mean the money is meaningless? If he’s got money now, why would he in five years after getting a mega-deal all of sudden be a changed man? Makes no sense to me.
MORA AND MILLENNIALS
“He needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored. He’s a millennial. He wants to know why. Millennials, once they know why, they’re good.” So former UCLA coach Jim Mora said about Josh Rosen. Did Mora just make a pitch that Rosen is a young John Elway sitting in on coaches meetings, wanting to be more than just a robot but also a coach on the field? And isn’t this also Mora saying that he wants a dumb QB and has no shot with a Luck or a Manning? “Do what I say. That’s it.” I am now a fan of Rosen and also understand why Mora underperformed with him.
—Morgan D., Oklahoma City
You’re the 9,561st person to tell me that this week, and that’s only a slight exaggeration.
IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN CONCUSSION, GENETICS AND DEPRESSION?
Do you know if there has been any sort of research into the link between concussions, depression and genetics? The article about Mark Rypien was very interesting. I went to high school with his nephew, Rick Rypien. Rick essentially fought his way through the Western Hockey League and eventually played several years for the Vancouver Canucks. He was one of the most feared enforcers in the NHL for a few years. Rick committed suicide, which was attributed to depression related to multiple concussions. The article you linked just made me wonder if you’re aware whether or not anyone has done any sort of research into concussions, depression and any sort of genetic susceptibility that may exist.
I don’t know about genetics, and I have not heard of a study linking genetics to concussions and depression. But I have heard enough stories of athletes who have suffered head trauma suffering depression that I would believe there’s likely a link between the two.
WHY THE BROWNS SHOULD DRAFT TWO QUARTERBACKS
While realizing that there might be some generational non-QB talent available to the Browns at one and maybe at four in this year’s draft, this is still a quarterback-driven league. The main reason for the sad plight of Browns fans over the last several years has been the failure by the Browns organization to draft a franchise quarterback. The consensus leading up to this draft seems to be that none of the top quarterback prospects are flawless and therefore any of these would be drafted with a certain risk attached. On top of that, the league-wide hit rate on first-round quarterbacks seems to be spotty at best. With that in mind wouldn’t it make the best sense in the world for the Browns to hedge their bets and take not one but TWO quarterbacks in the top four? I realize that one of them is going to lose out in camp, and as a result of this the organization would be stuck with a relatively redundant first-round pick, but if one of them turns out to be a franchise quarterback everything else will be forgiven, and if both turn out to be starting-caliber players the Browns could trade one of them for a new first-round pick.
—Jens V., Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
My first letter (I believe) from the Faroe Islands! Jens, the reason why I don’t think this would work is—how would you be able to give both rookies ample playing time to find out which one will succeed and which will fail? Especially with a quarterback there this year (Tyrod Taylor) likely to get much of the practice time with the first unit on offense. In an ideal world, you’d have enough practice time for all three of the promising quarterbacks (two rookies and Taylor). But there are restrictions on how much you can practice. I don’t think it’s practical.
THE CONSEQUENCE OF BEING A TROLL
Wholeheartedly agree on the praise for Greg Bishop and Michael McKnight for the trolling article. I am stunned that people will just show the worst of themselves (and nearly the worst of humanity) online, and then act as if it is no big deal. As someone who hires people and talks to college students about what awaits in the job world from time to time, employers do social media background checks. It is a frequent source of red flags and in the cases of everyone noted in the article, in my area of work, it would ensure they don’t get the job. It is okay to be witty, sarcastic, disappointed, even frustrated on posts, but there are lines you should just never cross, and all of those in the article simply obliterated that line. Please help get the word out: this WILL impact your future career prospects.
—Grant J., Tallahassee, Fla.
Thanks so much for writing, Grant, and for reading the other stuff in the column. I like to include stories that make you think and make you say, Wish I’d thought of that.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE NO-HELMET-TO-HELMET HITS RULE
I think the leading with a helmet rule is too complicated for split-second decisions by on-field officials. We all know that to do the review properly will delay the game. I think this should be a post-game review by the league that results in suspensions for upcoming game(s). This would give the league generally a week to review documentation from all angles and make the calls accurate and consistent.
But how would they be penalized? This isn’t just about fining or suspending players. It’s about penalizing your team when you make an over-the-line hit. We should probably wait to see how this works before piling on.
ARE RUNNING BACKS SUBJECT TO THE NEW RULE?
I have yet to hear anyone clarify if running backs are subject to this rule. So many backs “lower their head” and push through a hole or to hit a defensive player once past the line of scrimmage. Will that be a penalty on the offensive player?
Yes. Running backs can no longer duck their heads and use the helmet as a battering ram.
ODELL’S EMPTY THREAT
Enjoy your work! Question about OBJ and his threat to hold out: Isn’t that an empty threat? He has to play this year in order to be granted free agency (at least report before Week 9), so what leverage does he have? Plus, the Giants can franchise him for two more years a la Kirk Cousins.
Good point—assuming Beckham doesn’t want to lose out on the money this year. A long time ago, former Giants GM George Young said a lot of things are said in March and forgotten in September. That applies to this case. Wake me on Labor Day if Beckham’s not in camp.
MALTED MILK EGGS
Whoppers and Brach’s both make Easter malted milk eggs. You should be able to find them at a Target or Wallyworld near you (if they're not already sold out).
I should have clarified my point. I stopped eating most sugary things, and so I didn’t have the malted eggs. Every Easter, I used to devour those things—which, I believe, shows.
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