Two weeks ago, Scott Pioli showed up to take in Rodney Harrison’s Patriots Hall of Fame induction
After the ceremony, Pioli – the Patriots lead personnel man from 2000 through 2008 – spoke for a while about the vision that he and Bill Belichick wanted to enact when they got to New England and found a roster that was a tangled mess.
Near the end of our conversation, Pioli shared this about Belichick’s dream for the team they were building.
"I remember Bill's admiration for Coach [Bill] Walsh (the legendary 49ers coach),” said Pioli. “(Belichick) said, 'At some point, I want to create something that is truly great, and the measure of true greatness is something that lasts. It's not just winning a championship. It's something that lasts and lives beyond you.' The level of greatness, and the way this organization has continued to evolve through some difficult times, through the change of the rest of the league, is really pretty amazing."
They didn’t just create something ‘great,’ they created something that exceeded what the Niners coached by Walsh, George Seifert and Steve Mariucci did from 1981 to 1998. They created a new standard of NFL success with a dynasty that’s in its 20th season despite the changes the league enacted since Walsh first started in San Francisco in 1978.
Bill Walsh didn’t need to worry about losing players to free agency and a salary cap. Belichick has. And that’s why – even as he preaches endlessly to his team about staying in the moment – his ability to evaluate, forecast and plan for evolution is what’s made the Patriots so successful.
Which is what makes the Tom Brady endgame so fascinating. For Belichick, the prospect of hanging on too long at the most important position on the field flies directly in the face of his football philosophy.
And pouring money into an asset that could rapidly decrease in value flies in the face of his economic philosophy. Belichick doesn’t want to be upside-down financially with Tom Brady.
Regardless of his brilliance, regardless of his contributions to the team’s success, regardless of how much appreciation Belichick has for Brady, the actuarial tables indicate tying up $50M in a 42-year-old is a risky investment.
You don’t build something that lasts and lives beyond you by being overly sentimental.
From Brady’s perspective, it’s not a risk. How many times does he need to prove that he is the outlier?
Brady has been a constant in a league of flux that – because of his preparation and performance – became the asset that allowed Belichick to restock and reboot all over the roster. Belichick could change coaches, schemes and players while withstanding all the plagues that visited the Patriots house in two decades because he was covered at quarterback.
And now, when he wanted one last deal so that things could end neatly on his terms, Belichick and Robert Kraft balked?
Nobody should be surprised Brady’s contract negotiation got sticky and that he’s now in position to be a free agent in March if the two sides don’t hammer something out before.
It’s been building to this. Belichick, married to his philosophy of getting out early and moving on from players before they cost more than they are worth. Brady, a priceless player whose greatness has outlasted all reasonable forecasts.
The Patriots visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame last Sunday. In a decade, the proof Belichick built something that lasted and will live beyond him, will be everywhere in that museum. So in one regard, mission accomplished.
But that’s a legacy. That’s history. The Patriots under Bill Belichick are still evolving and still adding to the history and legacy. Which means he can’t stop being loyal to the philosophies that got him here.
In researching Brady’s contracts earlier this week, I came across this quote from Robert Kraft after Brady signed an extension in 2013 that guaranteed some money and gave him a signing bonus of $30M.
“I was just trying to stay ahead of the curve,” said Kraft. “If we were going to have to pay him elite-quarterback money and have elite-quarterback cap numbers, I just didn't think we would be able to build a team. We don't want to have a team where we're paying 18 to 20 percent to a player on the cap.
“I wanted to do something elegant that would work for everybody,” Kraft continued. “I had been talking to him off and on for maybe 18 months, about how I wanted him to finish his career here, and about how we both have to be smart about it. I just really want him to end his career a Patriot.”
That was six years ago and it seems clear that Kraft was pretty sure he was close to ensuring Brady would end his career as a Patriot. There’s a lot to chew on here from citing the difficulty of building a team if Brady was paid “elite quarterback money” to the percentage of cap he felt was untenable. In 2019, the cap is $188.2M. Twenty percent of that would be about $36M. Brady will make $23M and his cap hit will be $21.5. He remains well under the going rate for elite quarterbacks. Elegant.
On the first night of preseason play, non-starting quarterbacks did damage during their preseason games. The cumulative stats for the group – 229 for 326 (70 percent completion rate) with 13 TDs and three picks. That, according to Dan Orlovsky’s Twitter. The Patriots’ two quarterbacks propped up those numbers with Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham combining to go 26 for 38 with three touchdown passes. The Lions did their part to level things out as David Fales and Tom Savage went 7 for 17 for 202 yards.
The Titans could give the Patriots a stiffer challenge this week both in Nashville during joint practices and in next Saturday night’s game. Tennessee beat the Eagles 27-10 Thursday night. Marcus Mariota played one series for the Titans and went 4 for 8. Ryan Tannehill came in next and went 12 for 16 for 130 and two TDs followed by rookie Logan Woodside who was 14 for 19 for 138 and two scores. The Patriots will practice in Foxboro Monday and Tuesday before heading out Tuesday night for joint workouts on Wednesday and Thursday in Nashville. Tuesday will be the final practice of training camp that’s open to the public.
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