23 Feb 19
In 2014, Bill Belichick thought it was time to make a move. Having factored in the usual decline of an aging NFL quarterback, and wanting to stay ahead of the curve, he thought drafting Tom Brady’s successor was the prudent thing to do.
Snagging Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round of that draft made sense. It was a good pick at the time. Ultimately, Brady outlived his replacement. In October 2017, at the trade deadline, the Patriots sent Garoppolo to the 49ers, putting the team back to square one.
So the issue of finding the player who will ultimately take over for the GOAT remains.
Belichick didn’t exactly address the matter last season. Picking Danny Etling in the seventh round doesn’t constitute taking a legitimate shot at picking the heir apparent. But they should definitely get back in the ring starting with the 2019 draft.
The Patriots should make that part of the plan this year, and every year until Brady leaves. Keep taking shots until hitting paydirt.
That’s how we’d address the challenge of planning for Brady’s departure and finding his eventual replacement.
Belichick should jump in, take a chance on somebody in the first few rounds of the draft. Maybe he hits the homerun like he did with Garoppolo on the first try. Maybe he doesn’t.
He just has to keep taking his shots. He can’t wait and hope he gets lucky when Brady calls it quits. Belichick has to be aggressive in his approach. Take a prospect this year, and if he’s not the guy, jump back in next year. The Hoodie will land the right guy. He just needs to step up to the plate, and take a legitimate swing. He’ll hit the jackpot before long.
“I think every year they wait, it’s a bigger gamble,” Sirius XM NFL Radio analyst Solomon Wilcots said when reached last week. “I don’t think you go reaching for a quarterback in the draft. But I think you identify one you think you can groom and hope that Brady plays at least two more years to get that player ready.”
The odds of Belichick hitting a home run right out of the gate, like he did with Garoppolo, aren’t in his favor. But who wants to bet against Belichick at this point? It’s not out completely of the realm he and Josh McDaniels pick the next legend out of the hat right away. Maybe it does take just one try. All the better. It’s the most important position that has to be filled for the future of the organization. And if it doesn’t go down that way, who cares how many quarterbacks he takes in this quest if he eventually hits a Bingo, as Troy Brown would say?
This is the ultimate mission for the Patriots.
(10/29/2017- Foxboro, MA) New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady takes the field for warmups with backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, October 29, 2017. Staff Photo by Matt West
Brady is going to be 42 this season. His stated desire is to play until 45. Even though he won a Super Bowl this year, there were some signs of a dip in his play. He isn’t falling off any cliff by any stretch, he’s still perfectly capable of winning more titles, but the Patriots should be moving to get someone in-house, even if he has to sit a few years while Brady shoots for championship No. 7.
Sure, the Patriots also need to concentrate on replenishing the assets around Brady. That’s also a top priority. They have a dozen picks in this draft. Six in the first three rounds. It won’t be a waste if they nail the prize with one of those picks.
This week in Indianapolis (Feb. 26-March 4) at the NFL’s Scouting Combine, Belichick, McDaniels and the Patriots staff will get to watch and or interview many of the top quarterback prospects available in the upcoming draft. They’ll zero in on the guy they’ll want to take a chance on this year, if they adhere to that plan.
This isn’t supposed to be the best year for quarterbacks, but that doesn’t mean the Patriots might not find the right guy for them.
They have some ammo to move up, or they can just sit back and use any of those early picks. All it takes is one swing.
Plus, as Wilcots pointed out, they’re in the “perfect sweet spot” this year in terms of a rookie contract, if they hit on the quarterback. If they grab a quarterback in the first round, that’s 5 years (a fifth-year option) they’ll have him under control. Brady would be 47 at the end of that contract. Any quarterback that’s chosen beyond the first, it’s a four-year deal, putting Brady at 46.
“In those other drafts, you kind of knew Brady was going to play more than five years,” said Wilcots. “Now, you kind of know, if you had to hedge, he’s not going to play any more than five, so whoever we have next in that lineage of supposed successors, this one will probably be ‘the guy.’ You can time it up better than you ever could before.”
So we’ll see what the Patriots have in mind, or which quarterback they target with the first shot.
Maybe it’s Duke’s Daniel Jones, West Virginia’s Will Grier, or N.C. State’s Ryan Finley. Maybe it’s Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, who is opting to play football over baseball. He’s the hot name. He could go anywhere on the board in the first round. Or, it’s someone else entirely.
If the Patriots take someone this year, and in the course of developing him, find he’s not going to hack it, fine, take another swing next year. They got a return (Phillip Dorsett) for Jacoby Brissett, trading the third round pick away after just one full season.
“The thing about the Patriots, no matter who they take, it could be a sterling first round pick, they believe you have to develop players,” said Wilcots. “There’s so much to learn, so much work to be done, the development part has to be a part of it. Even Brady needed a year to sit and watch. There was some development that took place before you knew that was the guy. That’s why you’d rather do this sooner than later.”
Moreover, the more time learning under Brady, the better whether it’s one year or three.
Now, if they don’t take a shot in the draft, there’s also the possibility of trading for one of the younger quarterbacks who might become available. That could be one of the 49ers quarterbacks, be it Nick Mullens or C.J. Beathard. It might also be Josh Rosen, if the Cardinals draft Murray first overall. If the Pats land a quarterback who’s been in the league with a rookie contract, such as Mullens, or any of the above, it would be like drafting one.
In theory, the Patriots have a one-to-four year window to develop the Next One, so there’s some margin for error if they don’t hit the right guy immediately. The point is, they just have to get back on the horse and start taking their shots.
McCourty not ready to retire
The Patriots got some good news with safety Devin McCourty announcing he was coming back for the 2019 season. He’s an important presence in the locker room and defensive backfield. The Patriots have a strong core of leaders, and he’s certainly high on that list.
He’s been a model citizen during his nine seasons. Matthew Slater calls him, “Mr. Patriot” because he has exemplified everything the team stands for.
On the field, during the recent run of championships, McCourty, with Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon, have been one of the best safety trios in the league.
Now, we’ll see if the Patriots ask him for a contract restructure. The 31-year-old is due to count $13.435 million against the team’s 2019 cap. The Pats currently project to have roughly $18 million in cap space. If they want to pay Trey Flowers, give Brady an extension, add free agents, they’re going to need to clear some space. McCourty is one place to look.
AFC East rivals could poach Flowers and Brown
The Jets have the need for an offensive tackle, and an edge rusher. They also have a ton of cash to spend. The Bills also have similar needs. The Dolphins always need offensive line help.
The point? Don’t be surprised if one of the Patriots AFC East rivals jumps in during free agency and tries to land either Flowers or Trent Brown.
“I think it’s always viable,” said ESPN analyst Damien Woody. “Both of those guys are good players, and you get to potentially hurt a division rival . . . and when it comes to the Jets, they have the second-most cap space in the NFL. I would think they would have to make a play. Both of those guys do fit a need for the Jets.”