Curran: Is something really Cooking between Pats and Saints?

Curran: Is something really Cooking between Pats and Saints?

The courtship of Brandin Cooks began in 2015 when -- after Cooks caught four passes for 117 yards and a 45-yard touchdown during a preseason game against the Patriots down in New Orleans -- Bill Belichick sought Cooks out for a handshake and brief on-field chat h

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After the game, Belichick -- who usually has next-to-nothing to offer immediately after preseason road games -- singled out Cooks by saying, "I'm glad we don't have to play him twice a year, he's not in our division. He's a really good player."

Last summer, Cooks disrobed Malcolm Butler repeatedly when the Saints and Patriots again engaged in joint training camp practices.

“Woo,” Butler said after the session. “I got some work put in on me today, but that’s the goal to come out here and compete each and every day, go against the best, no matter who it is. I’m going to go all out. Got another day to get better . . .

“I’d say he got the best of me today, but we got another day to improve.”

Cooks, still just 23, does okay after August as well. He caught 78 passes for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He had 84-1138-9 in 2015 and 53-550-3 in 10 games as a rookie from Oregon State (20th pick) when he broke his thumb.

Saturday night, it was reported that the Patriots offered the 32nd overall pick in exchange for Cooks and another Saints pick. Josh Katzenstein of reported that wasn’t enough to entice New Orleans, which is a good sign Saints GM Mickey Loomis hasn’t completely lost his mind.

Cooks is under contract for this season for $1.563 million and -- if his first-round tender is picked up -- he’ll make about $8 million in 2018. Trading Cooks will leave the Saints with $1.8 million in dead money on their cap.

Even though Cooks appeared miffed at midseason with his decoy role in the Saints offense, I still don’t get the urgency in trying to move a young player of Cooks’ ability. No matter how bad the Saints defense needs to improve.

Be that . . . as it may . . . let’s play this out from the Patriots’ side, because this isn’t just about Belichick’s appreciation for Cooks as a player but how they view their own depth chart at that position and tight end.

Danny Amendola’s 31. Julian Edelman’s 30. Chris Hogan is 28. Michael Floyd is 27, serving a 30-day sentence for DUI and is a pending free agent. Rob Gronkowski is returning from back surgery. Martellus Bennett is probably headed elsewhere in free agency. Malcolm Mitchell, 23, is the only Pats wideout you can say with certainty will be better in two years than he was in 2016.

Meanwhile, once Belichick develops a crush on a player, he’s hard to dissuade. That habit stretches back to 2003, when Belichick fell hard for Rosevelt Colvin during 2002 and gave the Bear a seven-year, $30 million deal (that used to be a lot of dough) in free agency the next season.

Through the years, the best way to get the Patriots in pursuit was to play well against them or show out well in joint practices or at the Pro Bowl when Belichick happened to be coaching. Wes Welker, Adalius Thomas, Akiem Hicks, Scott Chandler, Jonathan Fanene and Brandon Lloyd are just a few examples of players Belichick fell for after extended looks or seeing them victimize New England.

Cooks fits that bill.

Aside from Cooks, the possibility of dealing the 32nd overall pick after not having a first-round pick last year is intriguing.

How would the Patriots recoup a first-rounder if they deal 32? By trading. Who’s the player that could return a first-rounder? Jimmy Garoppolo. Or Tom Brady.

All that said, the level of conversation involving Cooks still makes me skeptical.

There’s usually nothing but the chirp of birds before the Patriots execute a deal. The Patriots' interest and -- even stranger -- their offer being broadcast is unusual. And it at least introduces the possibility they’re being used as a stalking horse either by the Saints (with the Patriots okay) or by Cooks’ agents, who were mentioned in the piece by Katzenstein. The agents may do that to light a fire under the Eagles and Titans who -- earlier in the week -- were the only teams linked to a Cooks deal by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen who said, "One scenario has the Titans simply trading their first-round pick (No. 18 overall) for Cooks . . . Another scenario, per sources, has the two teams swapping slots in the first round, involving the Titans moving from the No. 5 pick (acquired from the Rams) to the Saints' 11th pick, with another pick or two also in play."

So the amount of open discussion makes it clear something’s likely going to happen with Cooks. You can’t dangle a player like this and expect him to be fired up about returning to the team. Will the Patriots be the landing spot? They’ll have to get a bit more aggressive.

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

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Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."