The rich got richer over the last week in the NFL offseason, as the defending champion New England Patriots landed coveted free agent Stephon Gilmore, traded for a star receiver in Brandin Cooks, and brought back Super Bowl hero Dont'a Hightower to remain as the leader of the defense.
Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe reacted to the Patriots' big moves on Thursday's episode of Undisputed, and Bayless said he's never seen a team have a week like the Patriots just had.
Skip Bayless: The Patriots just 'annihilated' the offseason
“In all my years, I have never seen anything quite like what just happened over one week’s time with the New England Patriots.
Let’s get this straight. The defending Super Bowl champion, the winner of two of the last three Super Bowls, the winner of five Super Bowls in the Tom Brady era just won the offseason.
Not just won it, annihilated the offseason. Distanced itself from all the rest of the NFL as the defending Super Bowl champion.”
Winslow TownsonWinslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Skip Bayless: New England improved all over the field
“So let’s get this straight. They go sign the best cornerback on the market with Stephon Gilmore. They trade for their first bona fide deep threat since Randy Moss [in] Brandin Cooks. And they acquire a tight end in Dwayne Allen who’s a terrific catcher and blocker.
And, by the way, Gronk will come back after he missed the last eight games last year. I don’t know how long he’ll last, he’s getting Romo-esque with his injuries, right?
The Patriots also traded for Kony Ealy. I like him. You said the other day you’re not quite sold, but he can do some if not a lot of, as an edge rusher, what Chandler Jones used to do, and obviously they got rid of Chandler Jones.
And the capper came yesterday when - I wasn’t sure they could pull this off - they actually managed to re-sign their best and most important defensive player. Their defensive captain, their defensive leader in Dont’a Hightower.
That’s game over for the New England Patriots.”
Winslow TownsonWinslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Skip Bayless: New England has replaced Dallas as the prohibitive Super Bowl favorite
“So, as you recall, the day before free agency began… when the breathless reports broke that ‘Tony Romo is being released!’ Remember that day? And I sat here and looked right in that camera and said ‘thank you Jerry Jones, [the Cowboys] just won next year’s Super Bowl.’ And I plunged that day and said ‘Dallas over New England in next year’s Super Bowl’
I plunged that day, and then this last week happened. And I’ve got to be honest, I’m going to have to re-think my position. While Dallas has done nothing, fiddled while Romo burned or didn’t do anything, I guess, the Patriots made themselves so much better that right now I would have to say it would be the Patriots over Dallas in the Super Bowl. I’m still hanging in with Dallas to win the NFC, they’re still favored to win the NFC.
As you say, ‘if you don’t get better you get worse.’ I’m not sure they’ve gotten worse, but they haven’t gotten a whole lot better, and Romo is still a Dallas Cowboy. So I’m horrified, and I’m re-thinking to the point that I’ve got to go with New England as the prohibitive favorite now to win next year’s Super Bowl.”
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Shannon Sharpe: Brandin Cooks will make a major difference in New England
“On paper, this is a better team than [the one that] won the Super Bowl over a month ago. A lot better. Because they have speed at a position that they haven’t had that kind of speed in an extremely long period of time. Brandin Cooks is a difference-maker. He can take the top off the defense. [Chris] Hogan has speed, but he doesn’t have this kind of speed. Julian Edelman, he’ll be Edelman. He’s reliable, he’s tough. He’s not very big, but in between the numbers he might be as good as we have in the National Football League.
Amendola, now, he has a big cap number. He’s probably going to have to take another pay cut, restructure, in order to stay on the team. Malcolm Mitchell will improve, he was a rookie. He understands, he made big plays in the Super Bowl, so he’s only going to improve… and as you mentioned, they signed the team captain back.”
Matt KartozianMatt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Shannon Sharpe: The Patriots handled the Hightower situation perfectly
“Here’s the thing, and I’ve said this before. When you’re a free agent, unless a team overpays and blows that player away, he normally returns to the team [he was with].
Now unless there’s some bad blood and he wants to get out, things have been said… but normally, 95 percent of the time he will return. And I don’t think [Hightower] got blown away.
If you look at the numbers he got (4 years, $43.5 million), they gave him a tad lower than what the Luke Kuechlys, the Bobby Wagners and the NaVorro Bowmans [got]. He’s in that, the Brandon Marshall of Denver, that tier right below that. So it just goes to show you… the Patriots were very smart, because they could have franchised him and it would have cost them $12.8 million.”
Richard MacksonRichard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Shannon Sharpe: Belichick knew Hightower was more valuable to the Pats than to other teams
“Coach Belichick realized ‘he’s more valuable to us than anywhere else in the National Football League.’ Because I’m sure they’ve been doing their homework. They didn’t just start when free agency started. This has been going on for about three or four months, looking at the market, ‘OK, who could possibly use a middle linebacker? What’s the scheme? He fits out scheme the best.’
Coach Belichick said ‘he’s more valuable to us, I don’t see somebody giving him more money than what they gave Kuechly.’ Kuechly got $34 million guaranteed. NaVorro Bowman’s about $22, Wagner’s about $22.”
USA TODAY SportsRobert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Shannon Sharpe: Hightower made the smart choice by coming back
Skip Bayless: “It did sound like the Jets, if the reports are correct, offered a couple of million a year more?”
Shannon Sharpe: “Right, but here’s the thing though, Skip. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, he got $19 million, $19.5 from the Patriots. And the Jets had $21, $22. If you blow $19 million, you’d have darned sure blow $21 million. Because what can’t you buy that you absolutely need at $21 million that you couldn’t buy at $19?
And so he says ‘I’m the team captain. I’m a leader. I know what to expect - practice time, meeting time. I know what the expectation is of me, and I know this absolutely, unequivocally. We’re going to go to the playoffs every year.
… With that being said, Skip, I think it was a very wise move for him to go back. He has a chance to compete every year for Super Bowls. He got really good money. He’s in a place he’s comfortable with. He knows they’re going to use him correctly. Seems like a no-brainer to me.