The 2018 NFL offseason may be looked back upon as the Year of Les Snead.

Last year, BCS Sports reported that he made headlines by signing a brilliant and very young offensive coordinator in Sean McVay to run a lackluster Los Angeles Rams team, balancing out the perceived inexperience by also acquiring the league’s most respected defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. These two men ushered in a culture of ingenuity, responsibility, and success that ultimately pushed the team from disappointing fans with a four-win season to shocking the masses by not making it beyond the Wild Card round of the playoffs in a matter of months.

Now that a winning foundation is set, Snead intends to push his roster from contender to conference superpower. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that his most recent trade partner happens to be with the most successful head coach/general manager in the salary cap era.

According to SBNation, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have agreed to trade wide receiver Brandin Cooks and their fourth-round pick (number 136) to the Rams in exchange for a first (number 23) and a sixth (number 198). While the trade is certainly a shock, considering the receiver spent only a year with New England and the Rams no longer have a pick in the top two rounds of this year’s draft, it dramatically benefits both teams, albeit in very different ways.

What this means for Los Angeles

Sean McVay’s reputation as an offensive wunderkind grew to legendary status when he took the league’s lowest scoring offense (14 points a game in 2016) and made it the league’s top scoring unit (29.9 points per game in 2017, more than double the previous season’s output). However, he did it with a unit which was thought to be utterly devoid of talent just months before.

Indeed, quarterback Jared Goff’s most reliable receiver was Buffalo Bills castoff Robert Woods and third-round slot receiver Cooper Kupp.

Even though Goff’s numbers were more than respectable – the second-year quarterback finished with 28 touchdowns to 7 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 100.8 – much of this was due to emphasizing eventual Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley in every possible aspect of the game, taking much of the work out of the quarterback’s (and by extension the receivers’) hands.

The departure of oft-injured Sammy Watkins cemented the Rams’ need for a reliable X receiver.

Brandin Cooks came as close to fulfilling this role for the Patriots as anyone since Randy Moss was lighting up scoreboards in Foxborough. Cooks is a younger, less injury-prone, and more productive version of Watkins. His route tree doesn’t limit him to catch-and-run plays (plays designed to get the ball in the receiver’s hands as quickly as possible, usually within two yards of the line of scrimmage) and bombs as Watkins’ does. With Sammy’s 3-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs averaging $16 million a season, the Rams ended up upgrading the position on a cheaper deal.

According to The Rams Wire, Cooks is just the latest star to join Los Angeles this past month, with Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, and Ndamukong Suh also joining the fold.

Snead took the window afforded to him by Goff’s current rookie contract (costing a little over $8 million per year over the next two years, chump change when considering the less-productive Blake Bortles is due an average of almost $18 million a year over the next three seasons) and brought in players that can get the Rams into the Super Bowl before the quarterback’s inevitable payday arrives. With the league-average salary of middling quarterbacks rising and the huge contracts the Rams are expected to hand out to Lamarcus Joyner and Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald before next offseason, Snead sees this year as the most optimal time to put all of his chips down.

Of course, there’s a method here, and it’s not a strategy that’s unfamiliar to successful programs.

Snead’s trading partner Belichick won his first two Super Bowls (with a strong case for the third, as well) on the backs of a slew of free agent signings while the team developed its own core of homegrown talent once they committed to a young quarterback earning less than a million over his first two seasons in Tom Brady.

Teams in recent years have tried to turn over the top of their roster with mixed results. On one hand, the 2014 Denver Broncos signed three of free agency’s biggest defensive names and landed in the Super Bowl a season later, while the Jacksonville Jaguars almost repeated the feat this past year. On the other hand, the 2016 New York Giants also signed three of free agency’s biggest names and propelled themselves to the playoffs that year – before recording the NFC’s worst record the following season.

Throwing money at talented players yields a mixed success rate in the NFL. The difference with Snead is that he’s not actually throwing money around. Peters and Cooks are both still on their rookie contracts, and Suh and Talib aren’t on long-term contracts. None of these players are currently signed through 2020, and Talib and Suh’s age further signal that they might not be brought back once their respective deals end lest they sign below their market value.

Snead has made it clear that he means to make his team peerless for this season, confident that McVay and Phillips will be able to coach-up young players as they’re drafted once Talib, Suh, and possibly Peters have gone elsewhere. The GM has already announced that his two highest priorities post-draft include extending Donald and Cooks.

If and when Cooks is extended, he’ll probably already be entrenched as Goff’s go-to receiving target, something all young quarterbacks must possess in order to develop confidently. He’s already established the Rams’ triumvirate of quarterback-running back-wide receiver as perhaps the league’s best this side of Pittsburgh, and the latter’s set of triplets is much closer to disbanding due to age and discontent.

At the end of the 2016 season, the future was bright in Los Angeles because it couldn’t possibly get any bleaker. Following their exit from the playoffs this past season, Rams fans were offered a glance at what the future holds with this still-gelling team. With Cooks in the fold, the only thing stopping us from calling this a Super Bowl-or-bust campaign is the fact that “bust” in this case isn’t the slightest bit indefinite.

In fact, Cooks may be spearheading a postseason offensive juggernaut for years to come.

What this means for New England

In trading Cooks for a first-round pick, the New England Patriots are obtaining Belichick’s most prized commodity: flexibility. Belichick is famous for giving away elite players for draft picks and trading short-term potential for a ridiculously-long period of success. reports that in the last three seasons, pro bowlers Logan Mankins, Jamie Collins, and Chandler Jones have all been traded to teams in exchange for draft capital in upcoming drafts.

Most of these departures were made because the talent necessary to fill-in for the departing players was either in place or in development.

This trade is no different. Although playoff sensation Danny Amendola also left for greener ($$$) pastures, the return of Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell from injury as well as the presence of Rob Gronkowski among others means that the 65 receptions, 1,082 yards and 7 touchdowns leaving town with Cooks can be replaced with players already on the team.

Chris Hogan, the former Buffalo Bill, has been with the club since 2016 has played a similar role to Cooks when he’s seen the field. Additionally, New England’s signing of another former Bill, Jordan Matthews, days after the Cooks trade ensures that Brady won’t be without options this season. Matthews will essentially be a bigger, younger and cheaper replacement for Amendola.

With the vacancies made by Cooks’ and Amendola’s departures more-or-less filled, Belichick has the opportunity to use his significant draft capital as he pleases. Belichick puts an emphasis on drafting large numbers of players to increase his chance of finding contributors: seven of his 18 drafts with the Patriots have included 10 or more players, including two from within the last five years. He’s accomplished this by trading away picks for multiple lower selections, usually on draft day, when making a selection would entail “reaching” (selecting a player whose draft stock or perceived value to the team is not as great as the pick with which he’d be chosen).

The Patriots can very likely use one or more of their four picks in the top two rounds (picks 23 and 31 overall in the first and picks 43 and 63 overall in the second respectively) to trade down and obtain a number of picks that can still potentially turn into starters in a way that trading mid- or low-round picks wouldn’t be able to bring in.

After all, the team lost a number of valuable starters on offense outside of their receiving corps (notably left tackle Nate Solder and halfback Dion Lewis), and their defensive performance last year wasn’t on par with the club’s output in years past.

What’s more likely, however, is that the Patriots use their newfound power in the draft’s most important round to select a quarterback. This is the most exciting crop of college quarterbacks to enter the draft in decades in terms of depth and talent, and New England’s trading of Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers midway through last season for a second-round pick has left a void behind Tom Brady at a time when it’s never been more important.

The New York Times noted that Brady will be 41 the next time he takes a regular season snap. While he’s enjoying perhaps his best seasons from a production standpoint, he’s also an enormous outlier to the rule that quarterbacks in their late 30s begin to see their numbers decline and their bodies erode. Solder’s absence on his blindside means the Patriots will need an insurance policy when Brady’s body realizes its age mid-game in the very near future. The team desperately needs a capable backup and successor, and he is likely to be drafted at some point in the first round.

Of course, many franchises see their future signal callers in this year’s top quarterback prospects, a lot of whom are picking long before New England’s 23 slot. Denver Post report that the rival New York Jets have already made a statement by trading their number 6 pick and 3 second-rounders (two in 2018 and one in 2019) to the Indianapolis Colts in order to move a mere 3 spots up, potentially mortgaging their roster’s future growth over the next two years in order to dramatically increase their chances of landing the QB of their choice.

The Patriots likely only have an outside shot of landing a top-10 draft pick with their current firepower barring a highly unlikely scenario, in which Gronkowski is added to a package with some combination of high-end 2017 and 2018 draft picks. However, if Belichick likes a prospect who unexpectedly falls beyond pick 6, the opportunity to pull off a trade similar to the Jets-Colts swap with a team in less obvious need of a quarterback (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, 49ers, and Oakland Raiders have all recently invested heavily in young QBs and possess selections between picks 7 and 10).

Belichick is nearing the end of a long career as Czar of the most successful team of the 21st century. This is the draft that will determine whether his successor (likely current offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) will inherit a talent-laden roster with a plan of succession at its most important position, a good-yet-flawed team with no clear direction at said position, or some combination of these outcomes. Regardless of how the roster looks come May, Belichick is in a much more comfortable position with the potential to add the next great quarterback prospect or a slew of talented players in various positions than he was a week ago with a wide receiver he’d likely be able to employ for no more than a year.