Do the Patriots have your permission to suck in 2020? And if not, why not?
I’m not talking about tanking to get a franchise quarterback, which is what the Colts did in 2011 for Andrew Luck. Or being losers because you can’t help yourselves, which is what the Browns have done for a generation.
No, this is a question about the inevitability of market correction, what you believe you’re owed as a fan and, ultimately, what you’d be willing to accept.
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For 19 years, the Patriots did something that no modern pro football team will repeat. They won the division in 17 of those seasons, and lost on tiebreakers in the two “down” times.
Now that they’re clearly in transition, I hear lots of things about their upcoming season that sound… nice.
Jarrett Stidham is a fourth-round pick with first-round talent and first-class moxie.
The oddsmakers like Bill Belichick to be Coach of the Year.
The locker room, still anchored by strong captains and proud veterans, won’t let this team’s standards slip.
All of those statements seem plausible to you because of where you live and what you’ve seen. But what happens if, for a season, you experience a string of frustrating Mondays like your in-laws in Chicago and your cousins in Miami? What if Stidham doesn’t meet the projection and plays like a quarterback who was drafted after Ryan Finley and Will Grier? What if the Patriots get a top 10 draft pick simply because they earned it?
I’ve thought about all of these questions since Tom Brady left in March, and I’ve got a confession: I’m all right with them, for several reasons.
First, there’s the obvious.
Belichick has aggressively spun the team-building wheel the last 19 years and delivered every kind of team you can imagine. He’s traded up, down, and out of the draft. He’s been first to the market for free agents (Stephon Gilmore, Adalius Thomas) and stayed patient for promo codes and discounts. He’s brought in big names (Randy Moss, Darrelle Revis) and developed no-names (Malcolm Butler, Stephen Neal).
There have been 41 playoff games, or two and a half extra seasons of football. There’s been drama, good travel, and a half dozen trophies. Rooting for the Patriots makes you a fan with benefits. In short, the return on your emotional and financial investment has been tremendous. Contrast that with Detroit and Cincinnati, teams that haven’t won a measly playoff game in nearly 30 years.
But you’re not surprised to hear about dysfunction from the Lions and Bengals; combined, they’ve had more coaches since 1990 than the Patriots have had in their entire history. Take a look at the good organizations, too. Baltimore, New Orleans, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Seattle. Look anywhere and everywhere. You’re not going to find a team that’s avoided a drought like the Patriots have.
Which leads me here: Picking from the front of the line is easier, and when it’s your time to do it, don’t apologize. Especially if you’re a Patriots fan. Do you remember where you were the last time the Patriots picked in the top 10? Were you even alive? (Joking. Well, kind of.)
Lamar Jackson has an All Pro left tackle because the Ravens — 5-11 in 2015 — took Ronnie Stanley sixth overall. Patrick Mahomes has a Pro Bowl tackle, Eric Fisher, taken first overall, and Mahomes is there because Andy Reid traded into the top 10 three years ago to get him.
It’s funny. We often have debates about the Patriots’ roster holes and how they match up — or don't — with the best teams in the league. But if you consider the back roads they’ve taken to get their players, particularly in the draft, it’s a wonder that they’re in the conversation at all.
I remember doing interviews for a draft book I was working on 10 years ago. Belichick made a simple observation, yet one that sent me on a fact-finding mission afterward. “There are more first-rounders in the Hall of Fame than second- and third-rounders…”
He was correct. And his point was that in a league that draws from the same talent pool and utilizes some of the same scouting methods and even systems, it’s challenging to find talent that you recognize and no one else does. We know it happens, and we watched it happen here.
Most of the time, though, the draft is like those tests that your ophthalmologist gives. “Can you read this? How about this?” It’s stunningly clear in the beginning, but the longer you go on, the fuzziness and guessing kicks in.
Hey, Doc. Is that an R? Or an X? Maybe both?
Put me firmly in the camp that believes that Brady did cover up a lot of Patriots deficiencies, and those deficits will be exposed in 2020. If it happens, good. I promise you I won’t be mad about it. The team is past due for top-of-the-draft seats in multiple rounds. My only request is that they don’t trade back.
Other than that? Fine. After the past 19 years, the Patriots don’t owe me a thing.