All offseason we've heard how masterful Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are at building a championship roster, and the first few months gave us a crash course in just how they do it.
The Pats both spent and saved money, let players leave and brought in new ones with signings, trades and the draft. And they still have two of their biggest assets — plus a healthy Gronk and, of course, Tom Brady coming back.
Bennett was a popular Pat last season, and provided them with a second stud tight end when Rob Gronkowski was sidelined. But Bennett made it clear he wanted big bucks after helping them win the Super Bowl, and the Pats wisely found an inexpensive replacement in Allen, acquiring him and a 2017 sixth-round pick from the Colts for the Pats' fourth-rounder.
Allen, 27, is younger than Bennett and under contract for three more years at $17.4 million — very reasonable for a No. 2 tight end — while Bennett heads to Green Bay for big bucks.
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Broke the bank for the top available corner
The Pats had money to spend, and they decided to throw a big chunk of it at the top free-agent cornerback, Stephon Gilmore: five years and $65 million, with a reported $40 million guaranteed.
A five-year starter in Buffalo, the 26-year-old Gilmore is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and a career-high five INTs. And he gives the Pats the flexibility to trade Malcolm Butler. Or they can keep Butler and have arguably the best defensive backfield in the NFL.
Plus the Pats weakened a division rival in the process, and that always helps.
Re-signed key free agents, let others walk
New England locked up its top free agent in Dont'a Hightower (pictured), on a four-year deal worth $43.5 million ($19M guaranteed). Duron Harmon, who played both corner and safety in 63 games the past four seasons, proved much cheaper to keep (four years, $20 million) than cornerback Logan Ryan, who got a three-year, $30 million deal from the Titans.
The Pats also brought back DT Alan Branch for two years and $12 million and extended Super Bowl heroes Julian Edelman and James White, while they said bye-bye to LeGarrette Blount along with Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo.
The Pats have money to spend, but even though they won the Super Bowl, they're not just bringing back everyone.
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Stole Brandin Cooks for a late first-round pick
Once the Pats got Gilmore, reports surfaced that they were discussing dealing Butler to the Saints for Cooks, a 1,000-yard receiver the past two seasons and just 23 years old.
So imagine our surprise — and Brady's euphoria — when they pulled off the deal without giving up Butler or any other players, sending the Saints their 2017 first-round pick (No. 32 overall) and swapping a late third-rounder for an early fourth.
That's what we call a steal. And if the Pats — who also acquired Carolina DE Kony Ealy for the small price of swapping picks and moving down eight spots into the third round — feel the need for future picks, they're still sitting on their biggest trade chips.
Didn't deal Jimmy Garoppolo
Reports say the Pats don't want to trade their coveted backup quarterback, and that's exactly what their position should be. As the Browns buy in on Brock Osweiler and other teams sift through the unsatisfying solutions available at QB, Garoppolo's value only soars higher.
If the Pats want picks, the Browns have a staggering stockpile.
The Pats are holding all the cards. And we've just begun the new league year.