To understand what the New England Patriots have accomplished over the past twelve years, you have to take into account a sense of their history forty years prior. The “Patties”, as my former college roommate was so fond of calling his team, had only reached the playoffs a total of ten times in the previous four decades. Their primary claim to fame? Losing to Ditka’s “Super Bowl Shuffle” crew in 1985.
By 2000 a former Cleveland Browns head coach with four out of five losing seasons got his proverbial second chance. Bill Belichick’s first season in New England was identical to his final in Cleveland, 5-11 and a last place finish in the division.
The consummate marriage
Belichick brought to Boston Bill Parcell’s son-in-law and a former colleague from Cleveland, Scott Pioli. Pioli had been a Pro Personnel Assistant and later gone on to develop through the ranks under Parcells with the New York Jets. He joined Belichick as Assistant Player Personnel Director and was elevated to Director of Player Personnel, then later Vice President. There’s no General Manager title in the “Patriot Way” of doing business. But those that understand how Personnel works in the NFL know that Pioli was de facto GM. (Nick Caserio now holds this title).
With the 199th selection, the Patriots take…
Belichick & Pioli’s initial draft was without a first rounder, but they were able to parlay 10 picks, three of which came in the 6th round and one with the 199th overall selection. They took afterthought QB Tom Brady from the University of Michigan. Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger and Spergon Wynn were all selected ahead of the seventh QB taken. “Luck” was a Patriot. The 2000 New England draft produced only one significant starter from those ten selections, but it changed the franchise for the next decade.
Brady backed up longtime starter Drew Bledsoe, then an injury forced him into the lineup in 2001. The rest is history; 5 Super Bowls, 3 Championships, 7 Pro Bowls, 2 First Team All-Pro selections, 124-35 career record.
What Brady brought to New England was an identity and consistency to build around. The Belechick-Pioli General Manager tandem began to carve out an organization they felt best supported the skills of their new found franchise QB. They used both their backgrounds to construct the “inner circle, outer circle” management style that fed information to the decision makers and all but shut out the rest.
A base to build upon
A mix of draft choices and free agent acquisitions maintained a consistent talent base around Brady. Though often looked upon as “Masters of the Draft”, the Belichick/Pioli-Cesario General Manager tandem has had their equal share of “busts”. Forgotten in the lore of the Patriots’ success is that players like Tedy Bruschi, Lawyer Malloy, Ty Law, Willie McGinnist, Terry Glenn, Troy Brown and Damien Woody were already on the roster by the 2000 season. Free Agent signings and trades for the likes of Cory Dillon, Junior Seau, Randy Moss, Mike Vrabel and Wes Welker supplemented the club nicely. New England’s Draft Record, take an independent eye and compare/contrast with others.
To the General Manager tandem’s credit is a fairly solid record in the 1st & 2nd rounds; Seymour, Light, Branch, Warren, Wilfork, Mankins to name a few.
But the one constant has been Tom Brady and a team whose identity has never faltered or been questioned from within, despite the many pressures exerted from the outside.
All the best have one
The most relevant statistic correlating to NFL team success is Offensive Pass Efficiency (Net Yards Per Attempt). Five of the top eight active leaders in this category have Super Bowl Rings; Rodgers, P. Manning, Brady, Brees & Roethlisberger. Nine of the top thirteen in the history of the game have one or multiple rings.
Some might say there’s a tad bit of “the chicken or the egg” going on here. But don’t underestimate the relevance of a franchise QB to the performance of any General Manager or Head Coach, even in New England.