Brady or NOT, Belichick and the Pats Won’t Tank

by Jordy McElroy

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s impending free agency has created a maelstrom of speculative drama that has dominated sports headlines. Every tweet, comment, family trip and personal decision is treated like some long lost bread crumb to solving the Da Vinci Code.

Meanwhile, coach Bill Belichick is more preoccupied with solving the problems from last season. 

That’s why he reportedly made the trip to Middle Tennessee in the pouring rain last Monday for a closer look at a late-round draft prospect. What 67-year-old head coach goes through that much trouble when he could easily send a scout in his place?

One that doesn’t plan on tanking. That’s for sure. 

The well-oiled machine will continue on with or without Brady as long as Belichick is the de facto general manager. Some have wondered whether it would be in the team’s best interest to tear it all down in 2020 to have a better shot at drafting presumed top 2021 quarterback prospect Trevor Lawrence. The phrase “tanking for Trevor” has taken flight after the uncertainty generated by Brady’s contract situation, but those wings are sure to be clipped if a new era emerges in New England. 

Belichick is the same coach that led the Patriots to a 10-6 season with Matt Cassel as the starting quarterback in 2008. He’s the same guy that went 3-1 with a mixture of a young Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett as the starters for the first four games of the 2016 season. That ultra-competitive football guru didn’t coach his way into the history books by pretending to be a doormat to game the system. 

Would the Patriots love to have an elite prospect like Lawrence slide in as the successor to Brady? Of course they would. 

Would the team be better off in the future by drafting Lawrence over settling on recycled goods in free agency? Most likely. 

But the mere act of tanking for one man’s talent would ultimately destroy the notion that Belichick’s system was ever the key component in the Patriots’ success.  It would only signal a need for a star quarterback to carry the load like every other team in the NFL. 

Belichick believes in his plug-and-play system. More importantly, he’s confident in his ability to find the right parts and coach them to success. There would obviously be a steep drop-off at the quarterback position if Brady signed with another team, but Belichick isn’t going to suddenly stop his operation for one player, even if that player just so happens to be the greatest of all time. 

The Patriot Way is truly Belichick’s Way, and that model has worked over the course of two decades. 

It would also be a bit dramatic to assume the Patriots wouldn’t have other options. Stidham made a strong impression as a rookie, although most would rather linger on his two turnovers in the preseason finale. Not everyone sets the world on fire right out of the gates like Patrick Mahomes. There’s a possibility Belichick liked enough of what he saw to give Stidham a legitimate shot as a starter.

Perhaps Tua Tagovailoa falls in the 2020 NFL draft, or the Patriots make a run at another former Alabama quarterback in Jalen Hurts. There are also the endless possibilities on the open market—a marquee signing or a potential blockbuster trade. Imagine a full-circle scenario of Brady going to the San Francisco 49ers and Garoppolo returning to New England. 

It could happen

Of course, the best option would be joining wideout Julian Edelman’s “Tomocracy” campaign and keeping the legendary quarterback for another year or two. 

Tanking is a real-life phenomenon in the NFL, and past teams have often used those tactics in an effort to land a franchise quarterback. However, most teams aren’t the Patriots, and most coaches aren’t Bill Belichick. That unique approach to coaching and managing a roster has led to sustained success the likes of which has never been seen.

The unflappable pride of a Belichick-coached team will keep them standing on their feet—all while turning the page on an all-time great marriage that was never meant to last.   

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