Drew Bledsoe

Great Patriots Debate: Who was the toughest quarterback: Brady, Bledsoe or Grogan?

Great Patriots Debate: Who was the toughest quarterback: Brady, Bledsoe or Grogan?

It's not a position that usually lends itself to the goriest of war stories. The quarterback spot — especially nowadays when it's protected by the rulebook better than ever before — isn't the first that springs to mind when the topic is toughness.

But the Patriots have had their share of resilient passers over the years, commanding the respect of teammates and fans alike for their ability to play on. Three in particular have to be mentioned in today's Great Patriots Debate.

Who, in your opinion, was the toughest quarterback in franchise history: Tom Brady, Drew Bledsoe or Steve Grogan? 

Brady has played through all manner of bumps and bruises and things more severe during his two decades behind center. His shoulders have been battered. Back in 2002, he separated his shoulder, played through and exacerbated the issue in the season finale. He hurt his left shoulder in 2011 but played on, ultimately losing the Super Bowl. He hurt that shoulder again in 2017 — something that's helped keep him on the field because he does well to fall on his non-throwing arm when he can — but didn't miss a beat. 

Brady played through an ankle issue late in the 2015 season and suffered a significant ankle injury during his run to a Super Bowl in 2014. Brady's hand swelled up like a balloon in 2013, and perhaps his most publicized injury — a gruesome cut on his hand he suffered in practice late in 2017 — didn't keep him out. 

Brady's predecessor, meanwhile, certainly has a case as the tough man of the group. He played with pins in his throwing hand in 1998 and came back for a series after a hit from Mo Lewis rattled him so badly that his abdomen was filling with blood. 

“Drew could have died,” Dr. Thomas Gill told Sports Illustrated in 2016. “He ended up having about three liters of blood in his chest. He had torn one of the blood vessels behind his rib that was then pumping blood into his chest. They got a CAT scan of his belly, and you can see the bottom of the lung fields and they could see that was filled with fluid. 

"So then they extended the study up the chest and saw what the problem was. They were able to drain the blood out and immediately once that happened, he started feeling better, his breathing was under control, his blood pressure stabilized. But it was really dicey. I don't even think Drew knows how serious it was. But he really could have died.”

Then there's Grogan, who was so tough that he inspired something the Globe's Nick Cafardo called "GTM -- the Grogan Toughness Meter." 

"You won't find too many QBs past or present any tougher than old No. 14 Steve Grogan," Cafardo wrote in 2003, "who played 16 years for the Patriots with neck injuries, broken bones, and myriad pulls and strains. He was the ultimate spit-on-it-and-go-back-out-there football player. John Hannah calls him the toughest guy he ever played with."

Cafardo was writing at the time about Brady's toughness. The young quarterback's elbow "was swollen the size of a grapefruit" after a game against the Eagles, but there was no doubt Brady would continue to play.

"To explain GTM a little better," Cafardo continued, "here's a partial list of Grogan's ailments: five knee surgeries; screws in his leg after the tip of his fibula snapped; a cracked fibula that snapped when he tried to practice; two ruptured disks in his neck, which he played with for 1 1/2 seasons; a broken left hand (he simply handed off with his right hand); two separated shoulders on each side; the reattachment of a tendon to his throwing elbow; and three concussions ("I lost parts of my life," he said.)"

"I tried to play like I was a football player and not just a quarterback," Grogan said. "If I had to deliver a blow, I'd deliver a blow. If I had to run and take the hit, I'd take the hit."

Quarterbacks, sure. But one thing that Grogan, Brady and Bledsoe all had in common is that their peers would likely unanimously consider them more than that. They were (and are) football players. And in a game where toughness is a commodity valued as highly as any other, there aren't many compliments higher than that.

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Great Patriots Debates: Who's the best first-round pick in Patriots history?

Great Patriots Debates: Who's the best first-round pick in Patriots history?

The NFL Draft isn't like the NBA's, where in a good year you might be able to count the success stories on two hands. It's not like Major League Baseball's, where wins and losses are determined by how well you evaluated a teenager fresh off his high school graduation.

You're supposed to hit in the NFL Draft. At least in the first round, where sure things fly off the board quickly. That doesn't always happen. But that's the expectation. And it happens often enough, which is why if you scroll through any team's draft history, you'll be able to find some all-time talents taken early.

The Patriots are no different. Even well before Bill Belichick took over the football operation in 2000, for those of us who far too often leave that period of time out of big-picture conversations, there are franchise-altering first-rounders who made their way to New England. Pro Football Hall of Famers. Team Hall of Famers. Then once the page was turned on this millennium, Belichick and his staff added to the list of all-time first-rounders.

Today's Great Patriots Debate asks, simply, who's the best first-round pick in franchise history? There are loads of options so let's pare them down.

Back in the 1970s, the draft ran long. Real long. But it didn't matter how many rounds the thing lasted, the first round was still a gold mine. In 1977, Raymond Clayborn and Stanley Morgan — both Patriots Hall of Famers — were taken with the No. 16 and No. 25 picks, respectively. Russ Francis, in the conversation for the team's Hall of Fame, went in the first round in 1975. Yet there are so many home runs for us to choose from, those three don't make the final cut.

In 1987, the Patriots took another future team Hall of Famer, Bruce Armstrong. The guy made six Pro Bowls and started for 14 seasons. Fourteen! Yet he's not really in the running for best first-rounder in franchise history, either. Same can be said for Super Bowl champions with impressive résumés like Damien Woody, Ty Warren, Jerod Mayo, Nate Solder and Chandler Jones.

Now the list is a bit more manageable, but narrowing things down to No. 1 is no easy task . . .

JOHN HANNAH

That Hannah's bust would one day reside in Canton was really never in question. He started for 13 seasons, made nine Pro Bowls, and he was a first-team All-Pro a whopping seven times. He didn't win a title, as many of the other names on this list did. And he was the No. 4 overall selection out of Alabama in 1973 so it's not as though he was a relative unknown when he was chosen. But he has to be near the top of the list of best players in Patriots history as well as best first-round choices.

MIKE HAYNES

Three years after taking Hannah, the Patriots went with Haynes, who went on to a Hall of Fame career of his own. He made six Pro Bowls with the Patriots and continued his illustrious career with the Raiders, making first-team All-Pro twice while in Los Angeles. The No. 5 overall pick out of Arizona State was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1980s.

DREW BLEDSOE

The No. 1 overall choice in 1993, Bledsoe's selection — followed soon thereafter by Kraft's purchase of the team — helped turn things around for what was at the time a moribund franchise. In terms of individual and team accomplishments, Bledsoe doesn't stack up with some of the others listed here, but when the Patriots took him . . . things changed. And they continued to change for the better. Remember, they could've gone with Rick Mirer.

WILLIE McGINEST

The Kraft family's first first-round choice, McGinest helped the Patriots to their second Super Bowl in 1996 and he remained one of the team's stalwarts through their run of three titles in four years in the early oughts. He had just two Pro Bowls to his name, but what he brought to the team as a leader — and how he helped Belichick establish a winning culture — enters him into this conversation. The No. 4 overall pick out of USC was part of the foundation of players that established the longest-running dynasty in league history.

TY LAW

Recently voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Law has an argument as the most talented player in the Belichick era not named Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski. He was critical in New England's first two Super Bowl wins and would've only helped make things easier as the Patriots rode to Lombardi No. 3 had he not been injured. That he was the No. 23 pick in 1995 — by no means a surefire all-timer — helps establish this pick as one of the best in team history. Maybe the best.

RICHARD SEYMOUR

Belichick's first-ever first-round pick (he didn't have one in 2000) was one of his best. Seymour was the No. 6 selection out of Georgia, but he was by no means a slam-dunk selection in the eyes of some prognosticators who focused on his 1.5 sacks as a senior at Georgia. He turned out to be one of the most dominant defensive linemen of his era, earning five Pro Bowl berths with the Patriots and three first-team All-Pro selections. "I do not believe we would have won three championships without him," Belichick wrote in a letter supporting Seymour for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

VINCE WILFORK

In Belichick's letter supporting Seymour, he couldn't help but pay Wilfork — the No. 21 overall choice in 2004 — a significant compliment: "Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork are the two best defensive linemen I have coached," Belichick wrote. Wilfork won two titles with the Patriots 10 years apart, proof of his long-term effectiveness and his unique career in helping the Patriots bridge the gap from one version of their dynasty to the next. At his best, Wilfork was among the best in the league at his position, making five Pro Bowls and one first-team All-Pro nod. Like Law, the fact he was taken near the end of the first round might make his selection one of the best in franchise history.

LOGAN MANKINS

More than three decades after the Patriots took one of their toughest players of all-time in Hannah, they got another in this guard out of Fresno State. Mankins, who was taken at No. 32 overall in 2005, was the victim of some bad timing — and a helmet catch — in that he just missed being a Super Bowl champion. He was drafted after the Patriots won their third, and he was traded just before the start of the 2014 season when they won their fourth. That's no indication of his dominance, though. He made seven Pro Bowls and started every year he played in New England. 

DEVIN McCOURTY

McCourty was taken as a corner with big-time special-teams ability when he went to the Patriots with the No. 27 overall pick out of Rutgers. That began a steady stream of Scarlet Knights headed to Foxboro as Belichick continued to look for versatile, athletic defensive backs with leadership traits. McCourty was always the best of the bunch, though. He settled at safety early in his career and provided a stabilizing force in the secondary as a captain (2011-18) on defenses that won three titles. The Patriots passed on an opportunity to draft Dez Bryant by taking McCourty — a move that looks more and more prescient as time goes by.

DONT'A HIGHTOWER

Belichick is known for trading down in the draft to acquire capital and earn a few more rolls of the dice. But in 2012 he traded up in the first round . . . twice. He selected Chandler Jones at No. 21 when he dealt No. 27 and No. 93 to the Bengals. Belichick later dealt No. 31 and No. 126 overall to the Broncos move up six spots to No. 25. That's where he took Hightower, who ended up being a linchpin to his front-seven in the 2014, 2016 and 2018 Super Bowl-winning runs. Hightower doesn't have the Pro Football Hall of Fame resume others do on this list. But you'd be hard-pressed to come up with defensive players who have authored as many signature postseason moments as this Alabama product. Law is also definitely in that conversation.

If you're asking me, Hannah — who has an argument as perhaps the best to ever play his position — deserves serious consideration as the No. 1 first-round pick in team history. 

But if you're factoring in rings as well as where the player was taken in the first round, making it a more impressive pick if it came late, then the choice for you likely comes down to Law or Wilfork. I'd go with Law because of the value of the position he played, even in an age that wasn't as centered around the passing game as this one. You certainly couldn't be blamed if you went with Wilfork, though, since his longevity, leadership and level of play makes him one of the most valuable Patriots of the Belichick era.

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Patriots 3 & Out: Which player was most impressive at minicamp?

Patriots 3 & Out: Which player was most impressive at minicamp?

Between OTA's, minicamps, free agent signings, and potential contract extensions, there's no offseason for Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry. So every Friday, they're going to tackle three Patriots-related questions. It could be issues facing the 2019 team, it could be league-wide debates, or it could be something a little more off-the-wall. Here's this week's 3 & Out...

Tom Brady’s explanation of the “Tom Terrific” trademark kerfuffle makes perfect sense to me. Case closed. 

Curran: Pretty much. My initial reaction to the news was, “Why? Nobody calls him that, what’s the rush to market it?”

Now that he’s explained he caught wind someone was looking to use it and he was “trying to keep people from using it” and that “it wasn’t anything I was trying to do out of any disrespect or ill-manner or anything like that,” show’s over, as far as I’m concerned.

I understand fans of Tom Seaver taking offense but anything more than an eyeroll at the whole thing seemed an exercise in performative outrage.

But there’s a lot of that going around these days so I shouldn’t have been surprised that it grew legs, wings, a tail and flapped around like one of Dany’s dragons for most of the week.

Perry: I believe Brady believes this was a preventative measure on his part. But I also believe that the people who told him this was a preventative measure gave him some bad advice. 

I'm not an attorney -- I'm sure Sports Illustrated's legal analyst Michael McCann will be all over this soon -- but from what I understand, this isn't how trademarking works. To get a trademark approved and registered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, you have to provide evidence you've used whatever it is you're trademarking in commerce.

If Brady's circle was looking to trademark "Tom Terrific" just to squash it altogether, they can't show they've used it in commerce, and they won't get the trademark registered. If the intent all along was to bury the nickname, this probably wasn't the best way to go about it.

All it's resulted in is a headache for Brady and some pissed-off Mets fans.

In light of Zdeno Chara playing in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final with a messed-up face, what’s the most memorable tale of pain tolerance you can recall from the Patriots?

Curran: I got Logan Mankins playing the 2011 season on a torn ACL

Not just some games. Seventeen of them. Through Super Bowl 46. He missed just one game all season. He had surgery in February 2012.

Also, anybody playing with cracked or broken ribs at any time? Hat’s off to that guy.

Perry: If we did a pain-tolerance top-10, it wouldn't shock me if Mankins had five of the spots secured. We just aren't aware of much else outside of the season-long torn ACL. He was a different breed.

Let's not forget he was a Pro Bowler and a Second-Team All-Pro in 2011. Ridiculous.

First thing that came to my mind? Drew Bledsoe. Back in 1998 he played with a broken finger on his throwing hand, won three games, then had a pin inserted and kept going. And it wasn't just any finger. It was his right index finger.

Pretty important when it comes to throwing the football, from what I gather. A few years later, Bledsoe played a series with a sheared artery in his chest, you'll remember. No questioning that guy's toughness. 

You know who really impressed me in this minicamp?

Curran: Isaiah Wynn. He was held out of team periods as he returns from the torn Achilles suffered last preseason, but in individual drills Wynn moved really well.

I watched Wynn closely on Thursday as the 2018 first-rounder went through a series of drills overseen by offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Working against other offensive linemen who were just giving a “look” as defensive ends, Wynn was smooth popping from his stance, delivering a punch to the blocking bag being held and shuffling into position to pass protect.

You couldn’t tell he was coming back from injury. And that’s big because, with Trent Brown gone and Jared Veldheer saying, “On second thought…” Wynn is very much needed at left tackle.

Perry: Maurice Harris. I wasn't sure what to expect from Harris coming into minicamp. I'd been told he wasn't the fastest guy, but that in Washington he kept his head down, kept his mouth shut, and worked hard. Sounded like a Patriots type... even if he wasn't athletically gifted enough to eventually make the roster. 

Well, this week proved to me that he's more than just a high-effort guy. There's still a long way to go, but Harris looked smooth in running his routes and he appeared to have a good idea of where he was expected to be on a snap-to-snap basis. That's no small feat for a new guy.

He high-pointed the football on a couple of occasions, and we saw him play both outside and in the slot. I saw him run with Brady's group -- along with Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett -- when Josh McDaniels called for 11-personnel late in the week, and he didn't look out of place.

He'll be on my radar for training camp as one of the top choices to end up on the Week 1 receiver depth chart along with Edelman, N'Keal Harry and Dorsett.

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