Recently, I was wasting time on the internet -- as one will do -- when I stumbled over my list of the Top 50 Patriots of the Bill Belichick Era.
Assembled as a summer project in 2015, just a few months after the Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl, it was a lot more difficult and time-consuming than I imagined it would be. I was still filing write-ups from the courtyard of the Marriott Grande Vista in Orlando first thing in the morning during the first week of July.
And now? We gotta do it all over again. I mean, just look at the list. Dont’a Hightower at 46? Stephon Gilmore nowhere to be seen? Brian Waters at 50 with no Shaq Mason or David Andrews?
Since the list came out, the Patriots have gone to four more AFC Championships, three more Super Bowls and collected two more Lombardis.
There’s an interesting discussion to be had as to whether the 2.0 dynasty of the 2010s trumps the 1.0 version of the 2000s. The 2000s had three Super Bowl wins, a perfect regular season and a nut-crushing Super Bowl defeat in 2007. The 2010s had three Super Bowl wins, eight straight AFC Championship game appearances and two nut-crushing Super Bowl defeats.
Bottom line: We gotta get back under the hood and update this thing.
The criteria I used in my rankings was specific. This is how I described it in 2015:
- Level of play. How good was the player in his tenure with the team?
- Impact. How consequential to the team’s success was his presence? Did he improve the play of those around him? Was he a player whom opponents had to specifically concern themselves with?
- Team success. How much did the player contribute to outstanding teams? How many outstanding teams was he a part of?
- Patriotism. It’s a "know it when you see it" kind of thing. A combination of game intelligence, versatility, the ability to perform well in big games and not giving a crap who gets the credit. Hard to measure.
That final "attribute" is why a player like Matt Light -- a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro -- was ahead of a soon-to-be (hopefully) Hall of Famer like Richard Seymour. Light was here through the entire first run of championships, through the 2008-2009 "swoon," through the 2010 reboot and started for the 2011 Super Bowl team.
It’s why Vince Wilfork -- who was here from 2004 through 2014 and was an All-Pro once -- was my No. 2. Wilfork, as much as any Patriot, was responsible for carrying forward the culture that Belichick spawned in the early 2000s into the mid-2010s. And he was one of the best players in the league, regardless of position, for a stretch.
And it’s why Rob Gronkowski might not move much past No. 9 on this list even though he was as much a beast at the end of the decade as he was at the beginning. Regardless of who was right and who was wrong in the messy end to his time here, Gronk’s protracted retirement announcement in 2019 hurt the team and he forced his way out of New England last spring by threatening to blow up the team’s cap. That’ll hurt ya in the Patriotism category.
Last time around, I didn’t solicit much input from others. This time, I will. First, because I want to get some pushback so I can defend the rankings. Second, because there are sooooo many players who need to be included for consideration (Brandin Cooks? Joey Iosefa? Geneo Grissom?).
Third? Content, baby. If we’re going to have the barroom discussion for the ages, we want to share it. Show how the sausage gets made. Get people with different viewpoints than mine to nudge me into maybe looking at it differently.
We’ll share the discussions on the podcast and YouTube as the month goes on then unveil the latest version of the Top 50 Players of the Bill Belichick Era later this month.
For your perusal, here are the names as they were stacked back in 2015. Below those are the players who merit conversation this time around. Please note, there were 49 players on the Top 50 list in 2015. Operator error was discovered as the list was being unveiled. Check out the 2015 list to see what happened.