The Patriots also have two second-round picks in April’s draft, one of which arrived last season when they dealt quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers, giving them plenty of ammunition to wheel and deal, or simply stay put and replenish a roster already among the NFL’s best. Having traded away both Garoppolo and third-stringer Jacoby Brissett last year, New England also could be eyeing a big leap to the top of the draft for one of this year’s highly regarded quarterback prospects.
The Rams, meanwhile, had already made it apparent that they were not content to simply bring back a squad that defied low expectations last year by going 11-5 and winning the NFC West. Over the past few weeks, Los Angeles has traded for cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, signed defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh in free agency and traded away pass-rusher Robert Quinn and linebacker Alec Ogletree.
In Cooks, Los Angeles gets a player who won’t turn 25 until September but has already spent four seasons in the NFL, improving his yards-per-reception average each year, with a 16.6 mark in 2017 that was good for seventh in the NFL. He posted fewer catches (65), yards (1,082) and touchdowns (7) last season than in either of the previous two, but still posted solid numbers, particularly among a crowded Patriots receiving corps.
Cooks wound up spending just one season in New England, which acquired him from the Saints last year for a first-round pick, 32nd overall, and a third-rounder, with the Patriots also getting a fourth-rounder. New Orleans had taken the Oregon State product 20th overall in the 2014 draft, making him the fourth wide receiver selected, following Watkins (No. 4 pick, Bills), Mike Evans (No. 7, Buccaneers) and Beckham (No. 12, Giants).
In effect, the Patriots turned the 32nd pick in the 2017 draft into the 23rd overall pick this year, renting Cooks and his affordable rookie contract for one season while giving up a third-round pick for a sixth-rounder. Cooks is entering the final year of the deal, and the Patriots were reportedly disinclined to sign him to a longer-term contract, a decision the Rams will now have to make. Los Angeles sent a second-round pick last year to the Bills for Watkins, who was a season away from free agency, then watched him sign a large contract last month with the Chiefs.
Tuesday’s reported swap also makes it far less likely that the Patriots will trade away tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has also been mulling retirement. Assuming Gronkowski plays for New England this season, the Patriots still should have some good weapons for quarterback Tom Brady, even after also losing Danny Amendola in free agency, with Julian Edelman expected to return from a major injury and join fellow wide receivers Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett.
The Patriots, as things currently stand, are also well-positioned to draft a wide receiver, should they so choose. New England has two first-round picks for the first time since 2012, while, as of now, the Rams’ highest pick is in the third round, 87th overall.
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