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In True Patriots Fashion, Brandin Cooks Trade Gives Tom Brady Extended SB Window

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystMarch 11, 2017

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 27:  Brandin Cooks #10 of the New Orleans Saints on the field during a game against the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 27, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Saints defeated the Rams 49-21.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has made a career out of sprinkling his pixie dust on discarded or overlooked receivers.     

Chris Hogan went undrafted in 2011 and had a season-high 450 receiving yards prior to pairing with Brady. Then he averaged 17.9 yards per reception during a championship season in 2016 and finished with 332 yards over three playoff games.

And it's easy to forget now, but slot standout Julian Edelman was a draft castaway too. He waited until the 232nd pick in 2009 to hear his name. The Brady-Edelman marriage has blossomed since, and the slippery receiver finished with a career-high 1,106 yards in 2016.

That says plenty about the likes of Edelman and Hogan but much more about Brady and how he elevates the play of those around him.

What happens, though, when an emerging young receiver who's already a proven producer is on the other end of Brady's passes?

Brandin Cooks is set to provide the answer to that question. The rest of the NFL—and especially the AFC—likely won't enjoy what it sees.

A perennial contender added yet another weapon when the Patriots finally pulled the trigger Friday on a long-rumored trade with the New Orleans Saints. They paid a hefty draft price, giving the Saints first- and third-round picks in 2017, and the Patriots also received a fourth-rounder.

ESPN's Dianna Russini first reported the deal:

Dianna Russini @diannaESPN

TRADE! The Patriots have traded their #32 & 3rd #103 pick to the Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks & their 4th #118 pick per sources

For the second straight day, the Patriots did something to open free agency that wasn't, well, very Patriots-like—except for the fact it will keep the league on its toes. They made a significant investment while aggressively throwing some financial elbows to keep a championship window open.   

Brady somehow isn't showing any sign of age yet. But history shows that fight gets tougher at the age of 40, a birthday Brady will celebrate prior to the start of the 2017 season.

So he needs the continued support of a stellar defense. Which is why the Patriots secured one of the best cornerbacks available, showering Stephon Gilmore with riches. And it's why they paid an expensive price for what could be a short-term relationship with Cooks.

He has one more year left on his rookie contract, which makes this an especially uncharacteristic move for Patriots head coach and personnel shot-caller Bill Belichick. New England typically looks to maximize value either by agreeing to affordable contract extensions or dealing top assets before they become expensive (see: Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, among others).

The Patriots also won't be on the clock until the 72nd overall pick of the 2017 draft now. That's a long time to wait for youthful reinforcements, and it would be concerning if this wasn't a team trying to add more Super Bowl banners before Brady begins to fade.

But that is the battle New England faces and the risk it's willing to take as the clock continues to tick on the Brady-Belichick era. If Cooks helps put up another championship flag, the lost draft picks will be forgotten.

Cooks celebrating has been a familiar sight, with 21 touchdowns over 42 career regular-season games.
Cooks celebrating has been a familiar sight, with 21 touchdowns over 42 career regular-season games.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The addition of Cooks raises the Patriots offense from a five-alarm fire to a potential weekly volcanic eruption.

The team will be pairing a receiver who has already logged two 1,000-plus-yard years in just three NFL seasons with the aforementioned Edelman and Hogan. Then the Pats have tight ends Dwayne Allen and Rob Gronkowski, and the latter is a generational talent who's already a three-time first-team All-Pro.

Just how much dynamite is packed into this offense now? Well, Hogan and Edelman combined for seven 100-plus-yard receiving games in 2016, including the playoffs. Gronkowski, of course, is a rumbling ball-spiker when healthy and at the ripe age of 27 ranks third all-time among tight ends with 68 receiving touchdowns. He'll now be flanked by Allen, who scored six times with the Indianapolis Colts in 2016 even while playing in a reduced role.

Cooks adds the last missing element and a vertical speed threat that's been absent since the days of Brady's heaving balls deep to Randy Moss.

He's not just an effective field-stretcher the defense has to account for at all times. As Pro Football Focus noted, Cooks is also a reliably sure-handed pass-catcher when his team asks him to roast secondaries:

Pro Football Focus @PFF

Patriots acquire WR Brandin Cooks via trade. On deep balls in 2016, Cooks had 11 catches and no drops, best ratio of any NFC receiver. https://t.co/mkRehZkXNP

Cooks finished 2016 with 544 yards on balls that traveled 20-plus yards through the air, according to PFF. That accounted for 46.4 percent of his overall yardage, which shows the explosiveness he can add to the Patriots offense with consistency.

Cooks can turn that speed (4.33 40-yard dash) into points and has already scored 21 total touchdowns in his young career. The 23-year-old will bring that chunk-yardage presence to an offense that finished tied for the third-most touchdowns in 2016 (51) and had the third-highest per-attempt passing average (8.1 yards).

It's probably a good time to remind you that happened without Gronkowski for much of the season.

Now the defending champions will get their star tight end back, and they'll add a spry 2014 first-round pick who hasn't reached his peak yet.

No one said dethroning the champs would be fun. Or easy.

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