Patriots get aggressive with Gilmore, Branch, Harmon on Day 1 of free agency

Patriots get aggressive with Gilmore, Branch, Harmon on Day 1 of free agency

Just. When you thought. You had them all figured out.

Recent history suggested that the Patriots might sit out the first 24 hours of the new league year while the rest of the league handed out big-money deals like candy, but Bill Belichick's front office was active Thursday. And the work started early.

About seven hours before free-agent deals could be executed, news broke that the Patriots would be signing Bills corner Stephon Gilmore to (presumably) a long-term contract that would (presumably) pay him near the top of the market. 

Ramon Humber this was not.

When the numbers came down, we found out that Gilmore's deal would include more guaranteed money ($40 million) than the Patriots had ever given a free-agent defender -- more than they gave safety Devin McCourty after he explored the market and agreed to re-sign two years ago.

While the timing and the aggressiveness to sign one of the top corners on the market may have caught some off-guard, it was a move that was oh-so-Patriots in other ways. 

They plucked a player away from one of their division rivals to fortify their own roster; they maintained their scheme flexibility by finding a someone whose skill set will fit whatever gameplan Belichick and his staff decide to employ from week to week; and they protected themselves against an uncertain future as it relates to the personnel already on their roster.

That last bit is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Gilmore's acquisition: What does this mean for others at that position? 

Logan Ryan seemed destined to land elsewhere before the Gilmore deal, and it was a virtual certainty after. Indeed he signed with the Titans before the clock struck midnight.

Even in advance of that move, the Gilmore acquisition led to rampant speculation that Malcolm Butler's time with the Patriots might be coming to an end.

Late in the day, the pride of West Alabama did his best to snuff out any rumblings that he wasn't happy with his contract situation -- he's currently staring at a first-round tender worth $3.91 million, giving the rest of the league some time to present to him offer sheets -- but when it comes to the team's long-term planning, even he might admit that it looks like a choice has been made.

After all, how many No. 1 corner contracts do the Patriots plan on handing out between now and the end of next season when Butler's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent?

The Patriots now have a few different avenues to pursue with Butler.

They could extend him. They could have him play on the tender if he signs it. They could trade him if he signs it -- say to New Orleans for wideout Brandin Cooks? Or they could let him walk with an offer sheet from another team, if he gets one, and get a first-round pick in return. 

There are decisions to be made. There's work to be done. And it may get done quickly.

If the Gilmore move reminded us of anything, it's that the Patriots aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and take action once their minds are made up. 

Here's a quick rundown of the rest of the day's Patriots-related news to catch you up on everything you need to know headed into Day 2 of the 2017 league year . . . 

* The team locked up its most consistent defensive tackle from 2016 for two more years by agreeing to terms with 32-year-old Alan Branch. He wanted to be in New England. The Patriots wanted him in New England. He fits the scheme perfectly. His fun-loving personality is embraced in the locker room. After a career year, it's no surprise Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio found a way to bring him back. 

* Duron Harmon will be back on a four-year deal worth up to $20 million, solidifying the back end of a secondary that has already undergone a pretty significant makeover. As the third safety in Patriots "big nickel" packages, the rangy Rutgers product has played over 50 percent of the snaps in each of the last two seasons. Alongside Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, Harmon has provided consistency in coverage and strong communication skills. On the first day of free-agency, the Patriots made sure he'll continue to do the same for the foreseeable future. 

* Logan Ryan, not surprisingly, found greener pastures elsewhere. His three-year deal with the Titans is reportedly worth $30 million. He'll go from working with one McCourty in Foxboro to another in Tennessee. Devin's twin brother Jason has been a staple in Titans secondary since 2009. 

* The Browns are apparently undeterred by New England's willingness to keep backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the fold. They swung a fascinating deal with the Texans to acquire a future second-rounder along with Brock Osweiler's albatross of a contract. Cleveland's stockpiling of picks, it's been posited, is a way to eventually put together a trade offer that Belichick wouldn't be able to turn down.

* No movement yet from free-agent linebacker Dont'a Hightower, running back LeGarrette Blount, tight end Martellus Bennett or defensive end Jabaal Sheard, but the Dolphins announced that Sheard had been in for a visit. 

What are the Patriots getting in Cordarrelle Patterson?

What are the Patriots getting in Cordarrelle Patterson?

The Patriots have made a trade with the Raiders to acquire receiver and special teamer Cordarrelle Patterson, according to a source. The deal, first reported by Pardon My Take, is an interesting one because it lands Patterson with the team that passed on the opportunity to draft him back in 2013. 


Bill Belichick dealt the No. 29 overall pick to the Vikings that year in exchange for four selections, including a second-rounder and a third-rounder. The second-rounder became Jamie Collins, and the third became Logan Ryan. The Patriots also took Josh Boyce with a fourth they received in the trade, and the fourth pick (a seventh) was traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for LeGarrette Blount. The Vikings took Patterson. 

Patterson's career to this point has been a mixed bag. One of the top athletes in the 2013 draft, the Tennessee product never quite panned out as a go-to No. 1 receiver. He has not missed a game in five seasons, but he has never cracked 600 offensive snaps in a single season. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has turned himself into more of a gadget receiver as well as one of the game's best special teamers. 

Here's what the Patriots are getting in Patterson . . . 

TOP-TIER SPECIAL TEAMER: Patterson has solidified himself as one of the NFL's best kick-returners. In five seasons, he's ranked as the top returner in terms of average yards per return three times. He's never been outside of the top 10 in the league in that category. Last year he was sixth in the NFL with a 28.3 yards per return average. Patterson has also become a highly-effective gunner on punt units, a role he thrived in once he embraced it, and he has kick coverage experience. Patterson has not been a punt-returner. He has just one punt return under his belt compared to 153 kick returns. Patterson has been named a First-Team All-Pro twice for his work in the kicking game. 

INCONSISTENT RECEIVER: Patterson has never been able to take his explosiveness and translate that into consistent production offensively. He's not thought of as a precise route-runner, and he has a reputation as a "body-catcher." Yet, because he's so dynamic with the ball in his hands, offenses in Oakland and Minnesota have found ways to get the ball in his hands. He'll align in the backfield, take reverses and catch screens just to try to get him the ball in space where he can let his natural abilities take over. If he gets a crease, he can create a chunk play in a blink. 

THE COST: Patterson is in the second year of a two-year deal he signed with the Raiders last offseason. He has a base salary of $3 million and a cap hit of $3.25 million. The Patriots will be sending a fifth-rounder to the Raiders and getting a sixth-rounder back. (As an aside . . . The Patriots have used one fifth-round pick in the last six drafts. It was spent on long-snapper Joe Cardona. Why are they constantly dealing fifths away? Inside the Pylon's Dave Archibald did an interesting piece on that topic about a year and a half ago. The gist is that a) there's a significant drop-off in your chances of finding a star in the fifth compared to the fourth, and b) the talent in the fifth round, by some metrics, hasn't proven to be all that different from the sixth or seventh rounds.) 

THE FIT: Patterson is a relatively low-risk acquisition because of his cap hit (which on the Patriots slots him in between Shea McClellin and Chris Hogan) and because of the draft capital required to nab him. Trading for a player like Patterson as opposed to signing another team's free agent has the added benefit of not impacting the compensatory-pick formula. Patterson also fills a few needs. His abilities as a kick-returner will be more than suitable with last year's primary kick returner for the Patriots, Dion Lewis, out of the mix. What Patterson can do as a gunner and in kick coverage will also be useful with Johnson Bademosi now elsewhere. There's also a chance Matthew Slater plays in a different city in 2017, in which case Patterson's contributions as a gunner and in kick coverage could be critical. With Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman and Hogan all established in the Patriots offense, Patterson won't be expected to take on a heavy role in the Patriots offense. However, if he can pick up a new system, perhaps he could take on a role as a No. 4 or 5 wideout who benefits from plays designed to get him touches in space. Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt -- now alongside Patterson -- will all be competing for time in New England's offense. Former Patriots coaching assistant Mike Lombardi seems to believe it's unlikely Patterson contributes offensively


Patriots acquire WR Cordarrelle Patterson in trade with Raiders

Patriots acquire WR Cordarrelle Patterson in trade with Raiders

The Patriots have acquired wide receiver and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson in a trade with the Raiders, NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry confirms.

Pardon My Take, a podcast by Barstool Sports, first reported the news.

Ian Rapaport of NFL Network reports the Patriots sent a fifth-round pick to Oakland and received a Raiders' sixth-rounder along with Patterson.

More to come...