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Patriots very busy in opening days of free agency
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
BOSTON (AP) Under Bill Belichick the Patriots have typically taken a reserved posture at the start of free agency, opting to take their time before pulling off any major moves.
But things have been moving swiftly this offseason, with New England making a trio of trades and several signings over the first two days of the new NFL year.
The Patriots made a pair of big moves Friday to solidify their receiving group and secondary. A person familiar with the deal said the New Orleans Saints agreed to trade receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots in exchange for New England's 2017 first-round selection and a third-round pick. The Saints will also send back a fourth-round pick to New England, said the person who spoke Friday to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the teams have not announced the deal.
New England also signed coveted free agent and Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The No. 10 pick in the 2012 draft, Gilmore was an unrestricted free agent after spending the past five seasons in Buffalo. He joins a secondary that already includes standouts in cornerback Malcolm Butler and safety Devin McCourty.
Gilmore is coming off a strong 2016 season, earning the Pro Bowl selection after making 48 tackles and a career-high five interceptions.
The Patriots got the ball rolling the day before the free agency period even opened, agreeing to send a sixth-round draft pick to Indianapolis in exchange for tight end Dwayne Allen.
That was followed on Friday by a trade on the defensive side, which sent this year's second-round pick to Carolina for edge rusher Kony Ealy and a third-round pick. The trade won't become official until Ealy passes his physical.
The move to pick up Allen came a day after unrestricted free agent Martellus Bennett tweeted a series of goodbye messages to Patriots fans, signaling his intentions to sign elsewhere. He did Friday, signing with the Packers.
Allen said on a conference call that he had an idea he might be traded, but didn't think he'd wind up with the Super Bowl champions.
"Of course initially (I was) a bit shocked," Allen said. "But after the initial shock wore off, then came some excitement and definitely a lot of joy."
He said he is looking forward to playing alongside Rob Gronkowski.
"I have been in situations where I've split time with other tight ends," Allen said. "I'm not sure what my role is going to be, but I'm excited just to get to work and learn from everyone around me."
With Gronkowski battling injuries, Bennett picked up the slack this past season for New England, leading the team in receiving touchdowns during the regular season. But the 30-year-old Bennett was in search of a more lucrative contract on the open market than the Patriots were willing to offer.
In Allen, 27, New England gets a younger player to complement Gronkowski, who is recovering from back surgery. In 2016, Allen started all 14 games that he appeared in and had 35 catches for 406 yards and six touchdowns.
Ealy had three sacks in the Super Bowl against Denver two years ago, but never developed into the dominant pass rusher the Panthers hoped he would become.
He also became expendable when the team agreed to terms with Julius Peppers earlier Friday.
But he could have value for New England, which is looking to replace the production of Chris Long. Long, who just completed the one-year deal he signed with the Patriots, recently announced his intention to sign elsewhere.
In addition to the new faces, the Patriots also locked a key member of their young core.
Safety Duron Harmon has agreed to a four-year deal to return to a secondary that will be without cornerback Logan Ryan, who signed with the Tennessee Titans. Harmon, 25, appeared in all 16 games of the regular season, registering 29 tackles and an interception in support of starting safeties McCourty and Patrick Chung.
The former Rutgers standout also had a strong postseason, appearing in all three games and grabbing an interception in the divisional-round win over Houston.
AP Sports Writers Steve Reed in Charlotte, and Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.
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Updated March 10, 2017