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And then Tom Brady advanced to the Super Bowl, killing the evil wizard Bill Belichick, and everyone lived happily ever after. The End.
If that’s how you think this ends, then you really are living in a fairy tale. It’s true that in all sports, half the fun of winning is the other guy losing. So the celebration of Brady has come with the side benefit of Belichick losing.
It is a delicious thing to think of Belichick stewing at home, watching Brady on TV and hearing nonstop how the narrative has changed from Brady being a product of Belichick’s genius to the other way around.
But moving forward, there are two uncomfortable and unfamiliar forces converging in the NFL:
- In moving to Tampa Bay and bringing along friends and teammates, Brady might have followed LeBron James’ example in creating and assembling his own superteam. Now, jealous star quarterbacks are wanting to follow Brady’s example. They are looking to leave their teams, rather than building them, to construct their own Super Bowl. Such QBs include Deshaun Watson, Matt Stafford and maybe even Aaron Rodgers. The other force is this:
- While Belichick and the New England Patriots don’t have a quarterback, they do have a ton of room under the salary cap and also are loaded with early draft picks.
And keep in mind Tampa Bay plays New England next year, giving Belichick his first shot at redemption. His legacy surely doesn’t need it, but does his ego?
So you wonder what Belichick will do. Stafford has finally reached the end with the Detroit Lions. He paid his dues and asked to be traded. The Lions agreed.
This has to be the most tempting choice for Belichick. I mean, sure Watson is only 25 and is the biggest prize. But it’s hard to see how New England could compete with the New York Jets, who have the No. 2 pick in the draft, or the Miami Dolphins for the type of package it would take to give Houston for Watson. As for Rodgers, it’s possible he’s just angling for a multi-year guaranteed deal to stay at Green Bay, where they drafted his replacement in the first round last year.
Stafford will turn 33 in less than two weeks, meaning he still has time left. And with all those early draft picks available to the Patriots, it seems as if it shouldn’t be hard to outbid Indianapolis for him.
That’s the route I would go, if I were Belichick. But is it really the smart play? And maybe more importantly, is Belichick, who will turn 69 in the offseason, going to make decisions based on what’s best for the long term of the Patriots or on what’s best for himself and his ego?
The Patriots have six picks in the first four rounds of the draft. And depending on what the salary cap ends up being, the Patriots should have between $55 million and $70 million of spending room.
Maybe the best thing for New England would be to draft a quarterback in the first round, trade off parts and start a rebuild. They went 7-9 this year and have plenty of needs. As Belichick said during the season, the Patriots sold out their future to hang on to their dynasty a little longer.
“I mean, it’s obvious that we didn’t have any money,’’ Belichick said on Boston’s WEEI radio this season. “It’s nobody’s fault.’’
Well, that was part fact, part excuse for the losing season in 2020. But whatever. The point is that the Patriots need a lot of help.
But will a 69-year-old Belichick watch Brady in the Super Bowl and then draft a quarterback in the first round and develop him for three years?
I doubt it.
With all that cap space available, I look for Belichick to go for Stafford, not draft a quarterback of the future, and then use his remaining picks and get a few more free agents (Chicago receiver Allen Robinson?).
In doing that, Belichick could be selling out the future again. Stafford is a great talent, but he has spent 12 years with the Lions and never won a playoff game. He’s a loser. That’s not meant as an insult; it’s just what he knows. Constant losing changes a person.
And are we sure Belichick will still have his magic in landing free agents at low prices because they’re dying to go somewhere to win?
Rex Ryan, the former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills head coach, said this on ESPN: “Nobody wanted to go to New England to be coached by Bill Belichick. They wanted to play with Tom Brady. . .Why? That’s why you’re going to win.’’
Belichick will hear plenty more like that every day until the Super Bowl.
This isn’t The End.