The Patriots pulled off a predraft stunner Tuesday afternoon, sending wide receiver Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick to the Rams for first- and sixth-round picks this year, according to a league source.
With the trade, New England owns a pair of first-round picks (Nos. 23 and 31) and also a pair of second-rounders (Nos. 43 and 63).
The Patriots are expected to use their draft bounty (the extra second-rounder is from the Jimmy Garoppolo trade) with an eye toward building for the future, instead of making another splashy trade.
In other words, don’t look for Odell Beckham Jr. (also in line for a hefty pay raise) in a Patriots uniform any time soon.
Cooks was the Patriots’ second-leading receiver last season, but the trade gives the team significant flexibility when crafting its roster for 2018 and beyond.
The Patriots acquired Cooks and a fourth-round pick from the Saints last March for a first-rounder (No. 32) and a third-rounder.
Cooks was a productive player — his 65 receptions, 1,082 yards, and 7 touchdowns were all second on the team behind tight end Rob Gronkowski.
According to a league source, New England tried to hammer out an extension with the 24-year-old Cooks but the sides could not find common ground.
Cooks, the 20th overall choice in 2014, is scheduled to make $8.45 million this season, the final year of his rookie deal — and is likely in line for a big pay raise. For a point of reference, Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans was taken No. 7 overall in 2014 and recently landed a five-year, $82.5 million extension — with $55 million guaranteed.
Evans has beefier numbers (309 catches, 4,579 yards, 32 touchdowns in his career) than Cooks (280 catches, 3,943 yards, 27 TDs), but they’re in the same neighborhood.
And Sammy Watkins received a deal worth $16 million in average salary and Allen Robinson got $14 million per year during this free agency period.
Cooks was the star of the 2017 training camp, consistently flashing his blazing speed and making a ton of highlight catches as he worked to build a rapport with Tom Brady.
The plan was to have Cooks’s deep speed help loosen things up underneath for Julian Edelman, but that went out the window when Edelman tore his ACL in the preseason.
Cooks was exceptionally durable during his time as a Patriot — never missing a practice let alone a game. The last memory of Cooks in a New England uniform will be of him getting knocked out of the Super Bowl following a thunderous second-quarter hit from the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins.
Coach Bill Belichick often lauded Cooks for his work ethic and dependability.
Cooks provided some big plays during the season, twice eclipsing the 100-yard mark in the regular season. Perhaps his best performance came in the AFC Championship game win over the Jaguars when he had six catches for 100 yards.
His New England career turned out to be short-lived but Cooks left an impression on many of his teammates, particularly Brady.
“Brandin Cooks has been an incredible player for us since he got here — his attitude, his approach to the game for a young player, his maturity is really what struck me,’’ Brady said days before the Super Bowl. “He’s one of the last guys off the field every single day, always working on his techniques, his catching technique, tracking the ball. It’s just so impressive. What he’s done for our team in one year is really incredible.
“I haven’t seen it very much from anybody who’s come in and make the kinds of contributions he’s made. He does it in his own style, too. He’s not trying to mimic anybody. It’s just him. I love playing with the guy. I love his spirit. I love his attitude. I love his will and determination. I love his leadership. Very lucky to play with him. Hopefully we have many more years together.’’
Cooks is the second receiver to leave the Patriots since the end of the season, joining Danny Amendola, who signed a two-year deal with the Dolphins.
The Patriots have some question marks at the position, where two players who are expected to be major contributors in 2018 are coming off seasons lost due to injury.
Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell, who battled knee woes all season, are expected to be ready for 2018.
New England also has holdovers Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt, both of whom should benefit from having time in the system under their belts.
Cooks’s departure also could mean more offensive opportunities for Cordarrelle Patterson, who was acquired from the Raiders last month. Patterson’s biggest contributions as a pro have come on special teams, but he is a receiver by trade and does have game-breaking speed.
Additionally, practice-squaders Cody Hollister and Riley McCarron will battle for roster spots.