By Justin Flory ’17
This offseason, the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots have been very busy. This has been one of the most active and aggressive offseasons for the team in recent memory. The Patriots have made a lot of big moves, some of which were rather unexpected.
Long-time offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer was cut by the team in early March. On the first day of free agency, the Patriots made a flurry of moves. The team re-signed defensive tackle Alan Branch, traded for tight end Dwayne Allen to replace outgoing tight end Martellus Bennett, signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year deal, and re-signed safety Duron Harmon.
The following day, the Patriots made two big trades. First, the Patriots acquired defensive end Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers for a 2017 2nd round pick. A little later in the day, the Patriots acquired speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints in exchange for a 2017 1st round pick.
The Patriots re-signed linebacker and key defensive contributor Dont’a Hightower to a four-year contract. There was a lot of speculation regarding Hightower, and many believed that there was a decent chance that he would sign elsewhere going into the start of free agency. They also re-signed cornerback Justin Coleman to add to the secondary depth and went out and signed defensive end Lawrence Guy from the Baltimore Ravens.
To add to the running back group, the Patriots went out and signed Rex Burkhead from the Cincinnati Bengals, re-signed Brandon Bolden, and signed Mike Gillislee from the Buffalo Bills. The Bills had the opportunity to match the Patriots offer, but they declined. These signings will be added to Super Bowl hero James White and Dion Lewis as a pretty formidable running back core.
It will be interesting to see what happens with running back LeGarrette Blount. The signings mentioned above make it a long shot that the Patriots re-sign Blount, who led the team in rushing last season and led the league in rushing touchdowns. It will also be interesting to see what happens with cornerback Malcolm Butler. He signed his tender to return to the Patriots this season for $3.91 million, but there is still a slight chance that he gets traded before the season begins, or during it. The Patriots may want to get value for Butler now that they signed Gilmore, who can take over as the number one corner. Butler will become an unrestricted free agent next season unless the Patriots use the franchise tag on him, so they run the risk of letting him walk for nothing if they don’t trade him before.
Key players from last year’s squad that have moved on to other teams this offseason include defensive end Chris Long, tight end Martellus Bennett, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, and cornerback Logan Ryan. Key players that still remain free agents from last year’s team include LeGarrette Blount and Michael Floyd. Wide receiver Danny Amendola restructured his contract to remain with the team.
The NFL draft kicks off on Thursday, April 27 and runs through Saturday, April 29. Currently, the Patriots have two 3rd round picks and then one pick in each of the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th rounds for a total of 6 picks overall. This could change do to trades that could happen before draft day or on draft day.