FOXBORO -- Brandin Cooks has been paying attention. He watched as the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore and Mike Gillislee. He watched as they traded for Kony Ealy and Dwayne Allen.
"We’re on a mission," he said Tuesday. "Whatever mission that may be, I don’t know, but we’re on a mission. That’s what it seems like."
Cue the index fingers of Patriots fans from Block Island to Bar Harbor flying skyward as they hover over their phones and say, "See! They're all in!"
But are they?
I'd argue no. All in? Those two words together carry far too many implications. They presume 1) that a team is throwing away its future in order to make this year the year and 2) that in previous years a team could've done more to win, could've tried harder.
The Patriots are coming off of their fifth Super Bowl title. They have Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, Dont'a Hightower and Trey Flowers all under contract for 2018.
They seem set up to compete beyond 2017. They haven't mortgaged their future.
There is an argument to be made, though, that some of their moves this offseason -- the Cooks deal and the ones he reacted to earlier this week -- have put an emphasis on the short-term. By dealing draft picks for proven veterans, Bill Belichick and his staff bypassed the option to have younger players on longer, cheaper contracts. Instead, they'll pay more to have players who carry with them less projection.
And as Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft pointed out at the league's meetings in Arizona, the players who were brought in have enough football left in them to be long-term solutions at their positions. Allen (27 years old) is the oldest of the newcomers, followed by Gilmore (26), Gillislee (26), Ealy (25) and Cooks (23).
You can reference Brady's age and say that factored into this year's team-building strategy. And maybe it has, though Patriots director of player personnel said on draft weekend that wasn't the case.
You can point to the fact that the team could look significantly different next year with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Rob Ninkovich, Ealy, Kyle Van Noy, Malcolm Butler, Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner all headed into contract years. And maybe that has helped nudge the Patriots into more of a short-term mindset.
You can wildly gesture toward the recent swings and misses in the draft's early rounds, which Kraft alluded to earlier this offseason. And maybe that has altered Belichick's approach.
You can print out a copy of the Patriots roster and circle Jimmy Garoppolo's name in red. And maybe that's the best argument that the Patriots are hyper-focused on 2017. If a first-round pick was on the table in a pre-draft trade, the Patriots passed on a potential cornerstone piece (or more) for what could amount to one more year with a proven backup.
But what if something should happen to Brady in 2017? What if Garoppolo is given the starting job and inks an extension? Not trading him would look like the ultimate long-term choice in an offseason seemingly focused on the here-and-now.
So to say the Patriots have gone "all in" for 2017? To imply that they've mishandled their future to be at their best right now? That's a step too far.
Cooks probably had it right. "On a mission" is more apt.