Do Patriots have another trick up their sleeve?


Do Patriots have another trick up their sleeve?

The NFL trade deadline is nearly upon us, and the question is: Will Malcolm Butler get the Jamie Collins treatment?  Could he be gone next week?

TOM E. CURRAN: It's easy to scoff at this possibility but don't forget how stunning it was last Halloween when the Patriots traded Collins, who player after player would describe as the team's best defender. Collins had a reduced role in his final game with the Patriots and had been remarkable in just one game -- the Week 3 win over Houston -- but nobody thought the last grains of sand were coming out of his Patriots hourglass. His situation does mirror Butler's -- both guys essentially in the last years of their contracts and approaching free agency with a desire (deservedly) to make a boatload of dough. But while Collins was becoming actively non-compliant, Butler hasn't been. He's had his down days but he never fails to compete. He hasn't -- in my limited view -- burdened his teammates with his business and he's not poop-stirring with the media. Additionally, he's their best corner. Still. How does the team get better in 2017 by trading him? He's going nowhere until March and then... he gone.

OTHER TRADE QUESTIONSWill Patriots trade Jimmy Garoppolo? | Will Pats trade for linebacker with Hightower out? | Will Larry Fitzgerald pipe dream become a reality?

MIKE GIARDI: Au contraire mon frère.  Butler has been a pain in the ass at times, and his private persona has been a lot different than his public one. But the combo platter of Gilmore's injury and poor play, coupled with Eric Rowe's groin, makes this a long shot at best. Whereas before all that, I'd say it would have definitely been on the table. Now Butler seems to be getting his on-field mojo back and that only adds to a difficult equation. Curious to see what he looks like when Gilmore returns. Suspect the Pats feel the same and would like that to happen this weekend. 

PHIL PERRY: We've said it since Stephon Gilmore put pen to paper on his new contract this offseason: Malcolm Butler is an obvious trade candidate, and it wouldn't surprise me if the Patriots dealt him before Halloween. It may not make them better in 2017, Tom, but we know that's not necessarily a pre-requisite for a trade in Bill Belichick's mind. Did the Patriots get better when Chandler Jones was dealt? What did the Patriots linebacker group look like when Jamie Collins was sent off? Addition by subtraction in those instances, you say? Maybe, but Mike is saying there are things bubbling under the surface with Butler where maybe the same logic could apply. And don't forget, Logan Mankins was dependable and as beloved as anyone in the Patriots locker room before he was moved. The Patriots eventually ended up more than fine after all of those moves (in fact they won the Super Bowls immediately following all three), but it couldn't be argued that they were better in the immediate aftermath. If Gilmore is healthy (he returned to practice on Wednesday), if Eric Rowe is expected to return for the stretch run (he's been doing light running as he rehabs, but his groin issue continues to linger and may have to be managed all season), and if Johnson Bademosi is all of a sudden a legitimate option, then I think there's a possibility Belichick tries to get something for Butler before losing him this offseason. They've done it before.

Cooks shines on his biggest stage yet


Cooks shines on his biggest stage yet

FOXBORO -- You’ve always wanted something more from Brandin Cooks. I mean, 65 catches for almost 11-hundred yards is nothing to turn your nose up at yet we have.  But there’s something very un-Patriot like about his style.

We’ve grown accustom to seeing smaller receivers who fight for every inch, from Troy Brown to Wes Welker to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. They would scrap and claw to get that extra yard, sometimes risking their own health. Cooks isn’t that guy, despite a similar build of the aforementioned players. He’s a willing blocker, but as a runner will go out of his way to avoid contact. I wouldn’t say that changed in Sunday’s AFC Championship game. He’s still not running slants or crossing routes with any regularity or success, but the 23-year-old wide receiver shined his brightest in his biggest moment and is now headed to the Super Bowl.


“It’ s a blessing,” he said pausing briefly before repeating “It’s a blessing.”

Cooks himself helped kick start a sluggish Patriots offense late in the second quarter with his team trailing 14-3. Almost nothing had gone right for the Pats since putting up a field goal on the game’s opening drive. With 1:28 on the clock, Tom Brady threw a pretty pass to Rob Gronkowski running down the seam. He appeared to make the catch for a brief moment before safety Barry Church knocked both the ball from Gronk’s hands and Gronk from the game. Church was flagged for unnecessary roughness, putting the ball on Jacksonville’s 40 yard line. But with Gronk staggering toward the sideline, you couldn’t help but feel a slight air of “oh bleep” in the air. Enter Cooks. 

Jags cornerback A.J. Bouye appeared as if he was going to get up in Cooks’ face before backing away just prior to the snap, surrendering some 8 or 9 yards off the line of scrimmage. But with that elite speed, Cooks got on top of Bouye quickly, forcing some contact. Instead of whimpering through the physicality, Cooks pushed back and pushed forward, again causing Bouye to use his hands. This time though the ball was already in the air and out came the penalty flags. A 32-yard pass interference call had the Pats sitting pretty at the Jags 13. Brady went back to Cooks on the very next play, picking up 12 more yards before James White crashed into the end zone for a touchdown. We had ourselves a game again, 

“You just gotta keep fighting {in those moments} because you can never put it into the hands of hoping you’re going to get a PI {pass interference},” said Cooks. “You just want to fight an make sure you get the ball or no one does.”

After his flawless first half, Cooks let one slip through his hands just as it appeared the Pats were poised to answer a Jacksonville field goal with points of their own. Instead, isolated one-on-one with a linebacker, the lithe wideout couldn’t reel in a potential big gainer and the Pats drive stalled. As the game wore on, you couldn’t help but circle back to that drop and wonder if that was an ominous sign. 

“Obviously you want to make every catch,” said Cooks of the play. “I didn’t but had to keep playing. I hoped I’d work to get another chance….Tom trusts me to put the ball in my area and let me make a play.”

It came to start the Pats’ second touchdown drive of the game, this one not beginning until 12:03 remaining on the game clock. Cooks’ speed forced Bouye to overreact, turning his hips and committing to a deep route. Instead, Cooks’ slapped on the brakes and hauled in an 18-yarder, giving him the first 100-yard receiving game of his brief playoff career. 

“That doesn’t mean anything,” said Cooks. “Winning is everything.”

Cooks didn’t make any more catches the remainder of the game, but his speed influenced the Jags to switch Bouye off him and put Pro Bowler Jalen Ramsey on. Cooks got Ramsey too, drawing a 36-yard pass interference call later in the 4th. It didn’t lead to points but did help flip the field which eventually did lead the game-winning touchdown.

“It’s football,” he said. “We knew it’s not going to be easy. You’re talking about a great team, one of the best defenses. We knew it was gonna be hard. We knew we had to play 60 minutes of football. Not get too high. Not get too low. Just play till the clock says 0:00.”


Cardinals reportedly choose Wilks; Flores a logical choice to replace Patricia


Cardinals reportedly choose Wilks; Flores a logical choice to replace Patricia

The brain drain in New England after this season may not be quite as severe as it once looked like it might be.

According to ESPN, the Cardinals have chosen to hire Panthers assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks as their next head coach. That would mean that Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores, a finalist for the job in Arizona, will shoot to the front of the line of candidates to succeed Matt Patricia as Patriots defensive coordinator. Patricia is expected to be named Lions head coach after Super Bowl LII. 

For the Patriots, holding onto Flores would be a significant boost to their coaching staff in 2018.

The team is also expected to lose Josh McDaniels, who could be named head coach of the Colts after the season. Special teams coach Joe Judge is working on an expiring deal, per ESPN, and could be elsewhere next season as well. Then there's offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who will be 70 later this month and could be interested in going back to the retirement life he enjoyed for two years in 2014 and 2015 before returning last season. 

Flores, 36, has been with the Patriots since 2004. He's served as a scouting assistant, a pro scout, a special teams assistant, a defensive assistant and safeties coach (2012-2015) before taking over linebacker duties. As our Mike Giardi wrote earlier this month, Flores is highly-respected by Patriots players and would make all kinds of sense as the team's next defensive coordinator.