The New England Patriots made a significant trade Tuesday that involved sending one of quarterback Tom Brady’s top pass catchers elsewhere in return for a handsome draft pick.

But it was wide receiver Brandin Cooks, not tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was exiting, and now the question about the Patriots becomes: What’s next?

They are well stocked in draft choices, and the issue becomes whether their top priority will be fortifying around Brady for another potential Super Bowl run, or moving into position to put Brady’s eventual successor in place.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other, of course. It could be both.

But that would be difficult if the Patriots’ intent is to trade up in the first round to land one of the coveted quarterbacks in a draft class filled with highly celebrated prospects at the sport’s most important position.

The Patriots already had the 31st overall selection in the draft and added the No. 23 pick with Tuesday’s trade of Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams. They also possess a pair of second-rounders, one of them courtesy of last season’s Jimmy Garoppolo deal with the San Francisco 49ers.


That gives the Patriots what they need to trade up for a quarterback, if that’s what Coach Bill Belichick wants. It is a draft filled with top quarterback prospects, from Sam Darnold of Southern California to Josh Rosen of UCLA to Josh Allen of Wyoming to polarizing Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma.

But they could come off the board very early on draft night.

The perpetually quarterback-needy Cleveland Browns have the first and fourth overall picks. The New York Giants, selecting second, could put their heir to Eli Manning in place. The New York Jets have traded up to third, presumably to get their quarterback. The Denver Broncos, who have the No. 5 selection, still could be looking for a young quarterback to wait his turn behind free agent addition Case Keenum. The Buffalo Bills, with five of the draft’s first 65 choices, could be looking to trade up for a quarterback.

Brady turns 41 years old in August. He cannot play forever, even if that sometimes appears to be his intent. He is coming off a season in which he became the oldest MVP in league history, and he threw for 505 yards in the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. He is the greatest quarterback in history. He remains the best quarterback in the league right now. Even so, the Patriots must put his replacement in place.

It is Garoppolo, not Brady, that the Patriots must replace. That gives them some time and it gives them some leeway. When the Patriots sent Garoppolo to the Niners at last year’s trade deadline, Belichick said that he’d had the best quarterback situation in the league before the deal but that it wasn’t, in his view, sustainable. It later was reported that the trade had come at the behest of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, which Kraft and others in the organization vehemently denied.

Garoppolo was not a top-of-the-draft quarterback. He was a second-round choice in 2014.


The Patriots don’t need a quarterback ready to play immediately. They need a prospect to develop behind Brady. They need another Garoppolo. Trading up to get one of the draft’s high-profile quarterbacks would not be particularly Patriots-like. Filling other needs earlier in the draft and then getting a quarterback prospect such as Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Washington State’s Luke Falk, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson or Western Kentucky’s Mike White – that seems more like it.

Cooks was a productive receiver in his one season for the Patriots after they obtained him in a trade with the New Orleans Saints. But he wasn’t exactly the next coming of Randy Moss, circa 2007, in New England. Obviously the Patriots feel they can replace him.

And replace him they must. The offense around Brady needs some help. The departure of Cooks means that the receiver group could use an addition. The offensive line needs bolstering. If Gronkowski is traded, which seems far less likely now that Cooks is gone, the supporting cast on offense could begin to look lacking. The defense was not exactly overwhelming last season, either.

If the Patriots are going to make a ninth Super Bowl appearance with Belichick as coach and Brady as quarterback, the roster must be improved. The Patriots have the draft picks to get that done. But just how they use those newly improved assets will be interesting to see.

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