The End is Near

There’s nothing interesting to write about the 2017 Patriots.  The team lost one major player, LeGarette Blount, and added top CB Stephon Gillmore, WR Brandin Cooks, DE Kony Ealy, RB Mike Gillislee, LB David Harris, and TE Dwayne Allen.  Bill Belichick made significant upgrades to a team that just won the Super Bowl, and besides the scary start that preluded the greatest comeback of all time, they pretty much dominated the rest of the 2016 season.  If the Patriots lose in the Super Bowl, it will be a great disappointment.  Hell, if they lose 2 games, it would be a pretty disastrous season, all things considered.
Belichick is the smartest head coach in NFL history.  He knows exactly what he was doing by trading their 1st and 2nd-round picks for veteran talent.  The Patriots are maximizing on their franchise centerpiece’s window, a window which could be anywhere from 2 months to 5 years.  No one is worried about the last go-rounds of the Brady-era, but has anyone considered life thereafter?


The Patriots are trying to become the 2nd team in NFL history to win 6 rings, and not only would they be able to accomplish this in the next few years, but they would have won all six with one coach, one owner, and one leader under center.  I am completely in support of Belichick and Kraft going all in while the greatest QB of all-time is still (inexplicably) in his prime, but Patriots fans are neglecting the future.  What will the greatest franchise in sports look like in 3 years?


Truth be told, probably bad.  Let’s deal with question numero uno, which is clearly the quarterback.  The Patriots took a calculated gamble with Jimmy Garappolo by not trading him for a treasure chest of picks.  The team decided that one year of an elite insurance policy was worth more to them than anything concerning the future.  Again, I don’t refute this point—Jimmy G is better than Peyton Manning when he was fading in his final Super Bowl, and this Patriots’ supporting cast is at least as good as theirs was—but understand the decision Coach Bill has made.  Unless Brady suffers a seriously debilitating injury that forces him into an early retirement, Garappolo will leave New England in free agency at the end of the season.


This isn’t a risk—Jimmy will leave.  The Patriots won’t pay a backup quarterback top market price when teams like the Browns, 49ers, and Jets will break the bank to acquire a competent starter.   Even if Kraft considered paying Jimmy to play backup for one more year, 1) Jimmy isn’t going to waste anymore of his career not starting, and 2) There’s no chance Brady will allow himself to be paid $20MM less than his backup.  The shoe has already dropped—Jimmy is here for 1 more run, and that’s it.


So, considering the difficulty of acquiring a talented QB, Jacoby Brissett is your QB of the future.  The jury is out on whether he will be a competent NFL starter considering he’s only had 2 games with a W-L record of 1-1, but that’s who you’re stuck with either way.


It goes farther than QB, though—many key Patriots players are also in the primes of their careers now, and will be significantly less able when Brady decides to hang them up in 2 or 3 years.  Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are over the 31 mark.  Rob Gronkowski, the 2nd best player on your roster, is 28, and extremely injury prone.  Is a 31-year old Gronk going to have the same impact on a game?  Will he be healthy enough to?  Certainly, Patriots’ fans pray he is, but the sober fan realizes the gray area associated with their star TE.


The young players that will still be under 29 in a few years are two talented WR, Brandin Cooks and Malcolm Mitchell.  These players, at 23 and 24 respectively, are going to be excellent wide receivers, and with a semi-competent QB in Brissett, they should be good offensively, right?  Well… maybe not.  Have you heard of the Jaguars?  Allen Hurns and A-Rob catching passes from strong armed Blake Bortles sounded great… in theory.  But then the Jaguars were terrible.  Having a Belichickian influence will certainly bolster Jacoby Brissett’s development, but there’s one thing no one’s asking:


Will Belichick be here in 3 years?


The knee-jerk reaction answer is “Of course”.  Why would he leave the greatest football team of all-time?  He’s a phenomenal head coach, and football appears to be his life.  But what if Bill wants to go out on top?  If he wins two more with Brady, one this year and one next, he would be the all-time greatest HC in football history, and it won’t be close.  They’ll have the most Super Bowls in NFL history.  Would Belichick chance his reputation and take the risk of a couple bad seasons?  What taste would be left in the mouths of the NFL if Belichick capped off his incredible run with a bunch of 8-8 seasons?  I’m certainly not saying I expect this to happen—I believe “The Hooded One” will coach for a long time after Brady is gone—but there’s always a possibility, and losing the mind behind the operation would be incalculably detrimental to the allure of New England.


The coaching staff faces a similar issue that dwells over the QB situation—there are two perfect heirs to the throne, Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia.  However, both names have been mentioned over and over again in connection to vacant head coaching jobs.  There’s only so long you can expect a guy to turn down a $3MM pay raise, and once those two are out the door and moving on to other things, the replacement options could be troublesome.   Patriots’ fans have been spoiled so long by having unmatched consistency and excellence in the two most difficult positions to find that: Head Coach and QB.


I’m not spelling out death for the 2020 Patriots by any means.  Like I said, my guess is that Belichick hangs around longer than Brady does, but I don’t see a world where Belichick allows his hall-of-fame reputation to be tarnished.  The Quarterback is the central nervous system of a team, on the field and off it, and once you lose that guy, you start to get… well, nervous.  There are a few young pieces in place, but not enough to make you feel nearly as confident as you’ve felt about the past 16 seasons or so.  Life comes at you fast, and fans in New England should be wary of this.


Make the most of this time—there’s no dominant force in the NFL that appears to be a worry for the Patriots.  It’s far from inconceivable to imagine Tom Brady having 7 rings when all is said and done.  Being a Patriots fan is one of the greatest blessings one can receive.  However, the bigger you are, the harder you fall—and fans in New England will be falling hard once Belichick and Brady become memories.  And that day might become faster than you realize.


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