FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady turns 40 in August, the free-agent checkbook is wide open, and Bill Belichick is wheeling and dealing in one of the most aggressive offseasons of his 18-year tenure as New England Patriots coach.
This doesn’t seem like a coincidence.
The latest fireworks came Friday night when the Patriots made the unprecedented decision to trade their 2017 first-round pick (No. 32 overall, last in the round) to the New Orleans Saints for receiver Brandin Cooks. The Patriots have never traded a first-round pick for a veteran player in Belichick’s tenure.
Meanwhile, the Cooks decision came two days after the Patriots traded for Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen -- a longtime Belichick favorite -- and one day after the club surprised many by signing free-agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a whopping five-year, $65 million contract that includes a hefty $18 million signing bonus.
When have the Patriots ever been this aggressive?
This is shades of 2007, when the Patriots traded for receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker, paid big in free agency for linebacker Adalius Thomas, and added some other notable parts, such as receiver Donte Stallworth. That was the year the Patriots were coming off a 2006 season in which Brady was throwing to a piece-it-together receiving corps, and it was almost as if Belichick said: Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again!
He has attacked this offseason with similar fury as the page has officially been turned from the euphoria of Super Bowl LI to the 2017 season, a year in which some around the club predict Belichick will be especially hard on the team so complacency doesn’t set in. The idea is that this is still a young team and the hard-driving Belichick will want to set a decisive tone.
Two days into the new league year, he already has, and part of the thinking must be that Brady has only so much time left in his career, so why not let it rip?
There are still big decisions to come that could alter the outlook, specifically with top free-agent linebacker Dont’a Hightower (will he re-sign?) and cornerback Malcolm Butler, who still could be part of trade talks with the Saints in the future. If those two players aren’t part of the 2017 snapshot, it will blunt some of the momentum and excitement that has been generated in New England, where Belichick has made eye-opening moves to surround Brady with an impressive arsenal as he hits 40.
Brady wants to play into his mid-40s, but there's no guarantee that will happen.
There's no doubt about this year, though, which already has a go-for-it feel.