The New England Patriots started fast and furious in NFL free agency, wheeling and dealing and committing lots of guaranteed money to DB Stephon Gilmore and LB Dont’a Hightower.
Of course they also traded for speedy wideout Brandin Cooks from New Orleans and didn’t have to give up DB Malcolm Butler, who remains in New Orleans’ sights. After acquiring tight end Dwight Allen (and with Rob Gronkowski coming back), how many weapons does Tom Brady need? So we wondered what else the defending champs might have in store for the rest of the league and this is the result.
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Acquire Adrian Peterson for cheap, have him run wild
Realizing that perhaps the market for his services is not as robust as he thought it might be, and that he’d like to compete for a championship, the 32-year-old running back agrees to a modest two-year deal with New England.
The Patriots offense deploys him on alternating weeks with LaGarrette Blount, maddening fantasy football owners who cannot predict his usage. Peterson gets over the 1,000 yard rushing mark for the eighth time in his career and passes 100 career rushing scores in September (currently 97). The Patriots celebrate the milestone on the Jumbotron as Peterson beams with a smile.
Trade Jimmy Garoppolo to the Cleveland Browns for picks
Cleveland ultimately can’t resist a potential franchise QB at last and New England wins the game of chicken. The Browns don’t give up their No. 1 overall pick but they do give the Patriots their other first rounder, the No. 12 overall pick, plus a pair of second-round selections.
New England uses the No. 12 and a lower pick to trade up high to nab top cornerback prospect Marshon Lattimore out of Ohio State, who immediately becomes a solid starter and remains so for four years on an affordable rookie contract. And of course, Garoppolo bombs in Cleveland. Badly.
In a corresponding move, Malcolm Butler gets shipped to the Jets
Forget the Saints, Butler stays in the division as New York trades for Butler. The Jets send defensive end Sheldon Richardson to the Pats and he signs a restructured contract, giving New England a run-stuffing defensive end.
Richardson discovers that The Patriot Way is more effective than ... the Jets organization and experiences a full-fledged rebirth of his 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year form. Butler gets paid and plays well enough but wishes he was still in Foxboro.
Elvis Dumervil enters the building
Another great player on the experienced side of 30 trades his purple for Patriots gear as the free-agent linebacker adds more depth to the unit. Dumervil plays about 30 snaps per game for New England, primarily on passing downs, and clears 10 sacks for the first time since 2014.
Tom Brady loses his found Super Bowl LI jersey
After the international search for the jersey that ended in Mexico at the expense of Houston and U.S. taxpayers, Brady gets his jersey back and hangs it up in his walk-in closet at home. He's pumped to have it back. But when he goes to retrieve it to have it framed and placed in a special location, he just can't find it! Was it stolen again? Did Brady simply forget where he put it? Nobody knows. Eventually Brady just shrugs and frames a replica.
Greg M. CooperGreg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Belichick convinces the NFL Competition Committee to lay off the field goal leap play
Unable to identify a loophole in the NFL rulebook that would allow them to send a defender over the line of scrimmage cannonball style or otherwise, the Patriots decide that the best way to maintain an edge on special teams is to convince the Competition Committee to refrain from banning defenders from jumping over the long snapper on field goal and extra point tries (an increasingly popular maneuver that the committee is eyeing for abolition).
Belichick successfully reverses the committee’s thinking this by highlighting the fact that it’s an exciting play, but mostly through mental sorcery. Meanwhile, with a seventh-round pick acquired from Cleveland, the Patriots draft an All-American collegiate high jumper and turn him into their designated field goal blocker, a role that he dominates by blocking 19 extra points and field goals in 2017. Realizing they got totally bamboozled, the committee bans the move in the spring of 2018.
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Robert Kraft take sabbatical as owner to become a counselor to President Trump
Feeling a duty to serve his country -- he’s a Patriot, after all -- Kraft joins the Trump administration with a vague, Kellyanne-Conway-eque “counselor” title. Kraft avoids most of the White House drama and dazzles aides with his fistful of Super Bowl rings.
Then in early January 2018, he strikes. On the eve of the AFC Championship Game between the Raiders and Patriots in New England, Kraft convinces Trump to sign an executive order that classifies Khalil Mack as a lethal weapon, grounds the Raiders team plane in Omaha and results in Mack’s detention for 36 hours, causing him to miss the game. The Patriots win the AFC Championship 31-10 en route to yet another Super Bowl title.