Ever since Touchdown Tom announced his departure from New England, effectively pulling the plug on the nearly two decades of Brady-Belichick terror, people around the sports world have been trying to discern what the move means for the future of the evil empire. I am of the strong belief that no one outside of Bill Belichick’s massive brain knows exactly what the next step for the Patriots is, but sports people, being as we are, will speculate endlessly regardless. I have my own opinions on what exactly the Patriots will do to remedy their situation at quarterback this coming NFL season, but I will not be discussing that at this point, for that is not why we are here.
I have gathered you here today to instead refute one of the more popular and controversial theories concerning the next step for the Pats, one that has become so mainstream as to be perpetuated by Fox Sports’ own talking head extraordinaire himself, Colin Cowherd. This theory posits that the the Patriots will tank in the upcoming 2020 NFL season (if there is one at this point), purposefully losing games in a bid to score a top draft position in the 2021 draft, with which they would select one of two quarterback phenoms in either Justin Fields of Ohio State or Trevor Lawrence of Clemson.
Now, I don’t necessarily hate this line of thinking in general. For a team that lost its longtime franchise QB without a contingency plan in place, and for one that lacks the draft picks to select an elite replacement in the draft, tanking for a year in order to build for the future would make perfect sense. The thing is, this plan makes sense for any team other than the Patriots. As long as they are under the leadership of Bill Belichick, the Patriots have not and will never tank. This is true especially for this coming season.
Whether or not you believe him to be the greatest football mind of all time, all football fans can agree that Belichick is an elite coach. After being fired from the Browns following their move to Baltimore and after a (very) brief stint with the Jets, Belichick took over head coaching duties for the New England Patriots on Jan. 27, 2000. Since then, he has led the team on an unprecedented two-decade tear throughout the league, a timeline of success culminating in nine superbowl appearances and six Lombardi trophies.
However, despite all the accolades that have come his way, Belichick’s football legacy is indelibly tied with pick #199 in the 2000 NFL draft, quarterback out of Michigan, one Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. All of his success has come in conjunction with Brady, leading many to wonder what exactly each of their careers would look like had the two not been united. While not to the full extent considering Brady is well past his prime, we can now see that question has been answered with Brady’s departure to Tampa Bay.
Armed with a lethal passing game and a staggeringly dominant pass rush, Brady and the Buccaneers are primed for success and are looking to secure their first playoff berth since 2007 in a historically insecure NFC south. Even if the Tampa Bay experiment were to fail for Brady, many will not blame the quarterback by claiming that 43-year-old Brady is well past his prime athletically.
However, the same can not be said for Belichick. At the spry age of 67, he is in the prime of his coaching career, expected to continue running the ship up in New England for the next decade or so. If Belichick were to have a lackluster year next season, especially if Brady were to find any semblance of success down in Tampa, the coach would be absolutely massacred by the football world, with pundits and fans alike claiming that we as a sports-loving public have finally found our answer in the Brady-Belichick debate — the success was Tom the whole time, and the coach was just along for the ride.
This of course is a ridiculous conclusion, as the Pats would not have found nearly as much success without Belichick at the helm, but that would be the prevailing narrative throughout the entirety of the season. “But Zeke! Belichicks a robot! He doesn’t let what the media says affect his decisions!” Yeah, I’m calling BS on that line of thinking. The man is still human so I would strongly doubt that he’d relish having his reputation dragged through the mud after nearly two decades of unwavering praise.
“But then what are the Patriots going to do at quarterback then?” Well, they are inundated with more options this year than any other. This incoming draft class is filled to the brim with talented QBs, with five of them expected to go in the first two rounds — one of which the Patriots could pick up to be their next franchise signal caller. There are two former first overall picks still on the free agent market in Cam Newton and Jameis Winston that the Patriots could pick up and succeed with like their former teams could not.
The Raiders and Jon Gruden seem intent on shipping off Derek Carr following reports that they are planning on spending a high draft pick on a quarterback, leaving the Patriots as a possible trade destination for the former MVP candidate. Even if all these options should fall through, the Patriots seem to like who they have in house, with reports emerging that they plan on handing the reins to second-year quarterback and former fourth round pick out of Auburn Jarrett Stidham.
Will the New England Patriots have the same level of success next year that they have enjoyed for the past 19 seasons? The truth is most likely not, as it will probably take a few seasons for the team to rebound in the post-Brady era. However, the notion that the team will tank next season on the off chance that they can out-bad the perennial basement dwellers of the league is laughable at best. In their hit YouTube show “Gridiron Heights” Bleacher Report put it best: the Patriots do not rebuild, they reload.