Should the Patriots trade for Brandin Cooks … again?

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 26: Brandin Cooks #14 of the New England Patriots reacts after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter of a game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on November 26, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 26: Brandin Cooks #14 of the New England Patriots reacts after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter of a game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on November 26, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) /

The Patriots’ NFL-worst WR group could improve with the addition of Brandin Cooks.

During the offseason after the 2017 campaign, the New England Patriots traded their first-round pick to the New Orleans Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

The trade shook the NFL world as many fans across the country collectively sighed in disbelief as the evil empire, which was fresh off the greatest comeback in the history of sports after beating the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51, just added another weapon to their already deep arsenal of skill players.

Cooks caught 65 passes for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns during his lone year in Foxborough. It was a rough start at the beginning of the season as it took a few games for Brady and Cooks to really develop some chemistry, but it all came together Week 3 against the Houston Texans as Brady connected with Cooks for a game winning 25-yard touchdown with under a minute left in regulation.

Although the Patriots’ offense had its ups and downs throughout the 2017 season, a large factor in their struggles was due to their true No. 1 receiver, Julian Edelman, who missed the entire year after tearing his ACL in the preseason.

Cooks wasn’t brought in to be Brady’s top option; he was brought in to be the third behind Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. Without Edelman on the field, teams were able to focus on Gronk even more while exposing Cooks for what he truly is — which is an excellent downfield threat but not a completely rounded No. 1 receiver.

His Patriots career ended after the first half of Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles when he left the game with a concussion and never returned.

New England traded Cooks to Los Angeles that following offseason and he immediately signed five-year $81 million extension with the Rams. Cooks was entering the fifth year of his rookie deal and it’s likely Belichick didn’t feel his increasing price tag wasn’t worth it. Maybe if Cooks was more of a complete receiver, Belichick would have signed him long-term like LA did and the Patriots receiving corps wouldn’t be the dumpster fire that it is now.

Just three seasons later, New England has nothing remotely similar to a playmaker like Cooks. Damiere Byrd is their closest thing to a speedster, Edelman is truly showing his age, and 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry has been about as good as reheated french fries.

New England is receiver poor. They need help. Why not turn to the Houston Texans, who are receiver rich?

Former head coach/general manager of the Texans, Bill O’Brien, traded for Cooks this past offseason in an attempt to salvage the departure of DeAndre Hopkins after trading him to the Arizona Cardinals.

Now that O’Brien has run himself out of town for making such bad roster decisions, the Texans are looking like sellers at this season’s trade deadline as they may want to acquire as many draft picks as they can while also cutting salary to begin their rebuild.

Enter the receiver-needy Patriots.

Cam Newton could use a player like Cooks to move the ball down field. Over the last few games, one trend has become more glaring for Newton, and it’s that the former MVP wants to go deep.

Newton is taking sacks and holding the ball too long, mainly because of the lack of separation his current receivers are getting, but also because he’s trying to make big plays.

Cooks solves both of those issues.

Cooks ranks 12th in the league with an average cushion of 4.53 yards between him and his assigned defender. Byrd is currently the highest-rated receiver on New England’s roster at No. 64 with an average of 3.59 yards of separation.

Rumors around the NFL link New England to another Houston receiver: Will Fuller. He’s playing under the last year of his rookie deal and will be a free agent come March. Fuller (26) is only a year younger than Cooks (27).

Kenny Stills at 28 years old is another speedy receiver who, like Fuller, is in the final year of his contract. His name has also come up in NFL rumors as a likely trade candidate, but New England would be wise to target Cooks from Houston because of his contract already in place. Stills is also the least talented of the three.

Fuller has earned roughly $20 million during his career compared to Cooks’ nearly $59 million. The cap hits for the remaining three seasons on Cooks’ deal are $12 million, $13 million, and $14 million, and there’s an out after the 2020 season in which Cooks can be released with zero dead cap space.

Cooks may be overpaid in the eyes of some as he’s ranked 10th in the league based off of his $16 million yearly average value on his current contract. However, the fact that there’s an out after this season in his deal means if New England were to trade for him and happened to be unhappy with the results after eight games, they could walk away with no cap penalty or possibly renegotiate a more team-friendly deal.

They also have $22 million in cap space as of right now and are projected to have nearly $63 million in the offseason, so New England could just keep Cooks’ contract as is without an issue.

Another potential advantage for that Pats is that Cooks is playing on the fourth team of his seven-year career and may just want to settle somewhere. Renegotiating a longer-term and team-friendly deal to stay in New England, where he already has familiarity, might be appealing to him — certainly more so than it would be for Stills or Fuller. Nobody wants to see New England send away another draft pick for a receiver just to have them not be on the team the following season, like what happened last year with Mohamed Sanu.

As stacked as the 2020 draft class was at wide receiver, the 2021 class could be on par or even better. Houston could flip their expensive Cooks contract and/or expiring Stills and Fuller contracts and still land top receiver Ja’Marr Chase out of LSU in the draft, seeing how they’re currently slotted for a top-six pick based off of their 1-6 record.

With the 27-year-old Cooks having already documented success in New England and the fact that he still has three more years on his current contract makes him more appealing to me than Fuller or Stills. Any of them would be a good fit in New England and help turn the offense around, but Cooks give them much less to worry about when the offseason arrives. Plus, the Pats don’t need rental players. They’re going nowhere fast in 2020.

On the surface, Cooks returning to New England sounds preposterous, but given the Patriots’ and Texans’ situations, it’s really not that farfetched.