The New England Patriots should have signed Tom Brady to a contract extension after he staged the largest comeback in Super Bowl history. They should have selected Nick Chubb instead of Sony Michel in the 2018 NFL Draft. And they definitely should have gone with A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel, or DK Metcalf over N’Keal Harry a year later.
Oh, and they should have done just about anything else with Stephon Gilmore other than trade him for a 2023 sixth-round pick.
Instead, Bill Belichick showed the greatest quarterback of all time the door, chose the wrong Georgia running back, burned a first-rounder on a receiver who struggles to get open, catch passes, and stay healthy with any semblance of consistency, and sent a four-time Pro Bowl cornerback to the Carolina Panthers for a laughably low return that shows how little leverage the Patriots possessed.
While Brady often masked the mistakes his head coach made as a general manager, that simply isn’t the case anymore. Once the GOAT took his talents to Tampa, it quickly became apparent that the Patriots did not have a championship-caliber roster. As a result, Belichick tried to make up for his personnel misfires by spending more of Robert Kraft’s money in free agency than ever before.
Unfortunately for one of the NFL’s most recognizable owners, the early returns on those investments have not paid off. In fact, Kraft’s beloved franchise has quickly gone from being at the top of the NFL food chain to being in a position to land a top-10 pick in the 2022 draft. At 1-3, the Patriots look poised to miss the playoffs for the second straight season, and it’s hard to have faith in the process given who’s in charge of making football-related decisions.
Nobody deserves more blame for the current state of affairs in New England than the man Kraft pays at least $20 million a year. And Belichick’s gross mismanagement of the Gilmore situation may force his boss to finally take back control of the team he so dearly loves.
After all, how can Kraft look at what happened Wednesday and not come away thinking it’s time to make a change?
No matter what narrative the Patriots want to spin about a lack of cap space and the need to make room to sign Jamie Collins, it’s undeniable that Belichick mishandled a valuable asset on multiple levels. After passing on the opportunity to deal Gilmore for a premium pick before the 2020 NFL Draft, he uncharacteristically caved at the negotiating table and gave his star corner a $5 million advance just to convince him to come back to work. Yet when it became obvious that the Patriots had almost zero shot to make the playoffs, Belichick refused to trade the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Talk about a decision that backfired badly.
Gilmore got hurt in Week 15, underwent surgery on his quad, and made it known he would not play for the Patriots again without a raise. Meanwhile, Belichick spent $24 million on Jalen Mills and didn’t use a single draft pick on a corner.
After months of speculation about Gilmore’s future in Foxborough, the situation ended with New England receiving a future sixth-rounder for a player who earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2018 and 2019. That’s an embarrassing deal for the Patriots, and one that should convince Kraft to call Belichick into his office for a difficult but necessary conversation.
This latest example of managerial incompetence needs to result in serious consequences. Although Belichick won six Super Bowl titles thanks in large part to homegrown stars like Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Dont’a Hightower, and Devin McCourty, he’s made far too many blunders and botched franchise-altering decisions at such a startling rate in recent years that it’s fair to question why he still holds the GM title.
Besides wasting first-round picks on Michel and Harry, Belichick bizarrely franchise-tagged Joe Thuney, which ate up roughly $15 million in cap space that could have been rolled over. He strangely hitched his wagon to Cam Newton — a decision that likely cost the Patriots a playoff berth. This offseason, he took a massive risk by betting big on Trent Brown rediscovering his 2018 form, but the towering tackle has played seven snaps and remains a major question mark due to a nagging calf injury.
Let’s not forget Belichick traded up twice in the third round of the 2020 draft to take tight ends. Yet Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene impressed so little as rookies that Belichick signed Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith to deals averaging $12.5 million per season. The two highly-paid veterans have combined to catch 27 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns in four games. To rub salt in the wound, a 32-year-old, past-his-prime version of Gronk racked up 16/184/4 before he got hurt in Week 3.
Should Kraft fire Belichick?
He’s still one of the best coaches in the game, as evidenced by the defensive game plan he put together that kept Brady in check during his return to Gillette Stadium. But Belichick’s time as a GM?
That needs to come to an end.
How many more draft picks can he afford to get wrong? Sure, he seems to have hit on Mac Jones, but with Harry looking like a flat-out bust, Michel already gone, and Isaiah Wynn struggling, the Patriots haven’t gotten a good return on their recent first-round selections. Plus, Malcom Brown, the team’s top pick in 2015, didn’t even receive a second contract. Neither Joejuan Williams (2019 second-rounder) nor Chase Winovich (2019 third-rounder) have earned full-time roles, and Duke Dawson got shipped out of town one year after he arrived as the 56th overall pick.
New England needs to get younger, but given Belichick’s shaky track record, why should Kraft trust him to build a championship core via the draft? Plus, after watching his head coach trade key contributors like Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, and Gilmore because of contract-related issues, shouldn’t he be concerned that, according to Over the Cap, the Patriots have nearly $29 million in dead money on their books?
Kraft must take back control of his beloved franchise and put someone else in charge of the personnel department. (No, Matt Patricia doesn’t count.)
Why not let Dave Ziegler take over? The Patriots promoted him to director of player personnel this offseason, so they clearly value his evaluation skills. He’s widely respected around the league and could put his own stamp on a roster that needs re-tooling.
Whether it’s age, the ever-changing nature of the game, or some combination of factors, the 69-year-old Belichick has clearly lost some of his magic touch as a GM. And it may be possible that he’s taken a step back as a coach, too. That doesn’t take away anything from what he’s accomplished, but the fact remains that the Patriots aren’t a Super Bowl contender at the moment because of his awful run of personnel decisions.
And if Robert Kraft needed further evidence that it’s time for a shakeup, Bill Belichick’s incompetent handling of the Stephon Gilmore situation should have sealed the deal.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.