Ranking Bill Belichick’s Worst Decisions With the Patriots, From N’Keal Harry Through Tom Brady

Bill Belichick is a football genius, and he’s among the greatest head coaches in NFL history. His leadership, strategies, and defensive prowess turned the New England Patriots into one of the finest dynasties in modern sports history.

However, Belichick has made some significant mistakes along the way that negatively impacted the Patriots’ long-term plans. Which are among the worst? Well, poor trades and moves in free agency are one thing, but a signing that backfires after two years isn’t that bad in the grand scheme of things when talking about a team with six Super Bowl titles in the last 20 years. We also did not include in-game decisions or outcomes, so allowing David Tyree to snag a ball with his helmet didn’t make this list.

When considering the overall impact on the New England Patriots organization, Belichick’s worst decisions rank as follows:

4. Letting Tom Brady leave in free agency

Hindsight is 20/20, and there are likely plenty of Patriots fans who thought the team made the right decision to part ways with Brady. He looked old and slow in 2019, and maybe it was time for him to retire. Obviously, the pictures of him holding the Lombardi Trophy in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform show otherwise. 

So why is this not atop the list? Well, the reasons why Brady’s last season with the Patriots went so poorly are all tied to mistakes Belichick made. Saying the effect is worse than the causes is inaccurate in this scenario. Letting Brady leave is a mistake on the Patriots’ end, but it’s not the worst thing the franchise did.

3. The continued faith in Josh McDaniels

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (R) and Josh McDaniels in 2020.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (R) has remained loyal to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels | Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

For someone who believes in the business of football, Belichick is extremely loyal to a fault. Look no further than the team’s decision to keep McDaniels after a disappointing 2020 season.

Sometimes, fresh blood and a new voice is the right option. McDaniels absolutely deserves credit for being the offensive coordinator tied to Brady and the Patriots’ historic offenses. But he also is partially responsible for things going wrong offensively the past two seasons. 

Would firing or re-assigning McDaniels after the 2020 season have reeked of desperation? For some, maybe. But for others, it would have shown Belichick will move on from coaches the way he does with the greatest players in franchise history. 

2. N’Keal Harry, Chad Jackson, and nearly every other receiver drafted

Every team gets draft picks wrong, but so many receiver the Patriots drafted never panned out. Don’t let Julian Edelman, a seventh-round pick in 2009, erase names like Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Taylor Price.

It’s easy to forget about trading up for Chad Jackson in 2006 because of how well the Randy Moss and Wes Welker acquisitions worked out a year later. The same goes for Edelman, whose breakout season in 2013 came months after the team drafted Boyce and Dobson, neither of whom made it past the 2015 season in a Patriots uniform.

It’s easy to beat up on N’Keal Harry and his drops, but one really has to ask what would have happened had the Patriots drafted A.J. Brown or DK Metcalf in 2019? That lethargic Patriots offense suddenly sounds so much better. How did the Patriots expect an aging Brady to consistently win games with mediocre receivers and an injury-plagued Rob Gronkowski?

1. Wasting so many draft picks on quarterbacks

Yes, there is value in adding a young quarterback every year or two to groom behind the scenes. Using a seventh-round pick on a three-year starter from the ACC isn’t the worst move in the world, even if Brady is your quarterback.

Here’s the issue. From 2002-19, the Patriots drafted six quarterbacks between the second and fourth rounds. Did the Patriots need to add Jacoby Brissett in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft? What about selecting Kevin O’Connell in the same round eight years earlier?

With respect to Brissett, who impressed as the Colts’ starting quarterback in 2017 and 2019, which makes more sense? Investing a pick on him when Jimmy Garoppolo is the heir apparent at the time, or going for an offensive weapon? 

No one will confuse Saints tight end Nick Vannett (who went three picks after Brissett) with Gronkowski, even if his nickname is “Baby Gronk.” but maybe adding a second, younger tight end would’ve helped given how well a two-tight end set worked with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez

Belichick is among the greatest coaches in NFL history, but let’s not pretend like his resume with the Patriots doesn’t include some major red flags. Those who have already applied the best of football from Belichick’s tutelage should work to learn from his mistakes as well.

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