Nothing lasts forever -- and that includes NFL dynasties.
The Patriots learned that the hard way this season, when their streaks of 11 straight AFC East titles, 17 straight seasons with double-digit wins, and 19 consecutive seasons above .500 all came to an end.
So what happened? Was New England's fall from grace because Tom Brady left? Because the Pats had a league-high eight opt-outs? Because their AFC East rivals finally built strong rosters after years of mediocrity?
How about a much simpler reason: a lack of talent.
Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer talked to a group of NFL executives about the Patriots' struggles recently -- and many of them had very harsh criticism for the team's roster construction and Bill Belichick's NFL Draft missteps.
“They’re just devoid of talent,” one NFC personnel director said. “It’s a bunch of specialty guys that fit certain scenarios, and those guys are fine, but they don’t have line-up-and-kick-your-ass football players."
“To me, Brady masked their misses over the years,” said an AFC executive. “Just look at their draft history. You see picks missed on, but Brady, [Rob Gronkowski], [Julian] Edelman, they’d mask those issues... But now they don’t have the quarterback, and it’s tough to mask everything else. I mean, look at the skill positions. They don’t have anybody you’re scared of.”
Not having that fear factor on the roster is partly due to a number of draft selections that didn't pan out, especially in recent years when players taken in the first two rounds include Dominique Easley, Jordan Richards, Cyrus Jones, Duke Dawson, and N'Keal Harry.
Talent evaluators took Belichick and the Patriots to task for those errors, partly brought on by a brain drain in the scouting department.
Take the selection of Harry, for instance. Scouts reportedly brought up warning signs about the Arizona State product, but Belichick still went for the wideout in the first round (over other options like Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown) because Harry aced his visit to Foxboro and because of Belichick's close relationship with Harry's college coach.
As Breer reports, situations like this have led to scouts leaving New England for other organizations where they feel they have a greater say in personnel decisions.
“Bill is such a great coach that he’ll always be able to devise plans around your strengths and weaknesses,” an NFC personnel director told Breer when discussing the Patriots' draft strategy. “But you can take that too far, and it seems like too many times he’s settled for lesser players because they can do this one thing really well.”
With the Bills and Dolphins both on the rise and the Patriots' corps of championship players aging, it might not be a quick fix without a bunch of cornerstone players to build around. One AFC executive who spoke to Breer thinks the pain will extend into 2021 based on the lack of talent in Foxboro heading into next season.
“Yeah, that’s just not a good roster.”