How Bill Belichick Failed Tom Brady

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    Updated: October 3, 2014
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    Tom Brady is playing miserably this year. There are whispers of age and decline. While Brady has certainly played poorly, much of the blame for his performance lies not with Tom himself, but with the Bill Belichick, the Patriots de facto general manager, and whom he has put around Brady.

    The Patriots interior offensive line is in shambles. The only receiver on the team worth a damn is Julian Edelman. Anyone with two eyes could see these units were problem areas for the Patriots last year. After a whole off-season to address these issues, somehow they’ve gotten worse, to the point where the Patriots season is now in jeopardy. How did Bill Belichick let it get this out of hand?

    Let’s start with the offensive line. This begins with the Logan Mankins trade. Mankins has not been very good this season, and according to Pro Football Focus, Mankins currently grades out at a -3.0, and grades negatively in both the run and the pass. This puts him in the bottom half of guards who have played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps this year. Essentially he’s been slightly below average. 

    That’s still worlds better than who the Patriots have trotted out at guard so far. Marcus Cannon, who replaced Mankins at left guard, is currently sporting a spiffy      -4.6, which only eighteen guards in football can claim to be worse than. But that number is positively Hannah-esque compared to the ungodly -9.3 Jordan Devey put up before he was de-activated last week. His replacement, rookie Cameron Fleming, put up a -5.2 grade in the debacle against the Chiefs on Monday night. Center Dan Connelly, merely below average instead of terrible so far this season, is, sadly, the closest thing to a bright spot on the unit. 

    I get Belichick’s logic here; he’d rather pay minimal salary for a theoretically comparable performance than pay Mankins’ exorbitant salary. When Mankins refused to take a pay cut Belichick traded him. But the replacements haven’t been comparable; they’ve been downright awful. That’s on Belichick as a talent evaluator.

    This wouldn’t be a problem if Belichick had spent more of his time as a GM stocking the interior offensive line with talent. It’s not like this is a new issue. It’s been going on for years. It cost them two Super Bowls. It cost them an AFC championship game last year. Yet in the last nine years the only time Belichick has drafted an interior offensive lineman higher than the fourth round was Logan Mankins in the first round in 2005. 

    Alternatively, one would think if your team had a consistent problem area and you chose not to address it via the draft then you would address it via free agency. On the contrary, during Bill Belichick’s entire fifteen-year tenure with the Patriots they have signed exactly one starting caliber interior lineman who was a known quantity at the time, veteran Brian Waters, who spent one year with the team. 

    Belichick chose to instead develop the interior offensive line from within via undrafted free agents and players picked off other teams waivers. Considering the talent level he was given to work with, retired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia worked wonders. Year in and year out Scarnecchia consistently got a respectable performance out of the interior offensive line. But repeatedly, whether in the Super Bowl losses or last year’s AFC Championship game, the true talent level of the interior offensive line would reveal itself at the most critical of moments. And yet Belichick has never changed his philosophy in terms of interior offensive lineman development, despite these most crucial of failures.

    This is the Patriots first time in 15 years without Scarnecchia coaching the offensive line. For the past several years he has held the interior offensive line together with duct tape, bubble gum and some damn good coaching. But he’s gone now and Belichick’s inability to put quality players on the interior of the offensive line has finally come home to roost without Scarnecchia there to hold it together. 

    While the offensive line is the main culprit, the fact that Tom Brady has no one to throw to other than Julian Edelman doesn’t help. Again, this falls squarely on the shoulders of Bill Belichick. How does the GM of a supposed top contender go into a season with only one reliable receiver, including tight ends, for the second straight year? You can trace the issues back to the wide receiver makeover of 2013.

    During the 2013 off-season Belichick decided to let Wes Welker walk when Welker’s agents convinced him he was worth more than he really was. Granted, Belichick was right in his assessment of Welker’s market value. Welker ended up begging the Broncos for a contract after he realized his miscalculation. But Belichick never replaced him with any real talent (although Edelman emerged as an in-house replacement). Just like he never replaced Randy Moss. Just like he hasn’t replaced Aaron Hernandez.

    Belichick’s response to Welker’s demands was to sign Danny Amendola. Danny Amendola was a very good wide receiver for the St. Louis Rams who had a long and troubling history of injuries. Guess what happened next? Amendola missed most of 2013 with injuries. This left Tom Brady with approximately one reliable receiving weapon, Edelman, after Gronk went down. Amendola has barely been on the field this year and has looked pedestrian when he has.

    Belichick also decided during the 2013 off-season that it was time to develop some young wide receivers. This was either a good or bad idea depending on who you asked. Why? Because in the last ten years the Patriots have developed exactly zero young wide receivers. 

    So in the 2013 off-season the Patriots drafted Aaron Dobson in the second round and Josh Boyce in the fourth round. Undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins surprised in training camp and played a significant role on the team last year. How’s that development going this year? Boyce was cut and signed to the practice squad in training camp. Thompkins and Dobson were healthy scratches last week against the Chiefs. 

    To be fair, the original plan for 2013 was for Gronk and Hernandez to be the top receivers with Amendola in the slot and the young receivers to be eased in behind the top trio. Obviously between Hernandez’s murder charges and subsequent release, the Amendola injury, and losing Gronk again to injury, it wasn’t totally Belichick’s fault that the team ended the season with Edelman as the only reliable target.

    What is Belichick’s fault was his unwillingness to address the issue in the off-season, whether it be through the draft or by signing a quality veteran wide receiver. In fact there was a veritable bumper crop of quality veteran wide receivers available in the 2014 off-season. Emmanuel Sanders (who the Broncos signed), DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith, and Eric Decker were all available. Instead Belichick signed Brandon LaFell, a veteran who, according to Pro Football Focus, has graded negatively in his ability to catch the football in all five of his pro seasons. Belichick also spent zero draft picks on receivers or tight ends.

    Naysayers will claim it’s not that easy to surround your quarterback with weapons in the salary cap era. I see Peyton Manning with weapons around him. I see Jay Cutler with weapons around him. I see Phillip Rivers with weapons around him. I even see Eli Manning with weapons around him. So why can’t Belichick do the same?

    The problems the Patriots have now at receiver and on the offensive line were known a year ago. They should have been addressed this off-season. They weren’t. They’re not fixable now. You can’t magically improve the talent level on the interior line mid-season. You can’t make Danny Amendola good again.

    Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. For the second straight year he’s throwing to the one wide receiver he can trust while the pocket crumbles around him. Why didn’t Bill Belichick address these glaring holes in the off-season? Brady would never say it out loud but he has to be asking himself the same question.

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