The Ten Biggest Misses of the Bill Belichick Era
The Bill Belichick era has been the most successful in the history of the New England Patriots, comprising three Super Bowl titles, four conference championships, five AFC title game appearances, eight division championships and four seasons of 12 or more wins.
It has allowed the Patriots to rise from the ranks of also-rans to premier franchise status in a little over a decade and through it all Bill Belichick has been at the helm, providing rock-solid leadership and the surly face of the franchise.
His record is sparkling, beyond reproach, but that's not to say it has been without it's bumps and bruises along the way. And so, as the NFL draft is upon us, we present Bill Belichick's greatest misses. Mind you, this is a mixture of draft picks and free-agent signings.
It's easy to lambast the signing of Thomas as the memory is so fresh in the minds of New England fans. Signed in 2007 to provide a solid presence on the outside, Thomas seemed like a perfect fit for Belichick's 3-4 and the long-shot replacement for the departed Willie McGinest.
The marriage between player and team seemed perfect and destined for greatness as Thomas displayed his versatility, playing middle linebacker for a spell in the early going, and appeared to be a natural locker room leader as he passed out "Humble Pie" T-shirts and espoused the greatness of Belichick's coaching style. He even had an above-average Super Bowl performance in the crushing Super Bowl XLII loss to the New York Giants, amassing two sacks and a forced fumble.
However, the marriage dissolved in the following two seasons as Thomas' production dropped off dramatically and he began to snipe at Belichick through the media and there were rumors of him inciting locker room dissension amongst the younger players. Gone after three seasons, he failed to latch on with another team in 2010 despite working out for division rivals New York and Miami.
Drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft, "Kool-Aid" quickly became a constant source for derision amongst Patriot fans. However, he only ranks No. 9 on the list because he showed flashes of his potential in the early going of the 2006 season and in the stretch run of the 2007 season, before completely falling off in 2008 and 2009.
Reportedly racked by maturity issues and notoriously hard to coach, to the point where he had weekly one-on-one meetings with Belichick in 2009, Maroney never justified his first-round status. His tap dancing, hesitant running style infuriated those in the stands of Gillette and he was traded shortly after the 2010 season began, a bust all around.
The original "81" of the Belichick era. Here was the burner who would provide Brady with a long-awaited deep threat. After hearing the constant refrain that Brady could not throw the deep ball, Bethel Johnson was here to prove them wrong. Brady to Johnson would become as common a refrain as Brady to Moss. The only problem was Bethel Johnson could only run in a straight line, slant routes and hitch-and-gos need not apply.
Johnson made his mark in kick returns during the 2003 and 2004 season, and despite highlight reel catches against the Titans in the 2003 AFC playoffs and a regular season game against Seattle in 2004, he never made an impact in the receiving game. Reportedly immature and constantly in Belichick's doghouse, he was cut loose after only a few seasons and was out of the league following a 2007 stint with the Texans.
With the looming holdout and subsequent departure of receiver Deion Branch underway, Patriots fans' fears of a weak receiving corps were allayed when the Patriots took the Florida standout in the second round of the 2006 draft.
Presumably tailor-made for the possession style of offense the Patriots employed, it seemed like only a matter of time before Jackson was hauling in passes from Brady and lighting up the scoreboard. However, Jackson hardly saw the field and reportedly lacked any real drive to hone his craft off the field. He lasted one season with the Patriots before being cut loose.
One of two first-round picks of the 2004 draft (the other being Vince Wilfork), Watson was supposedly a physical specimen. He was amazingly fast. He could bench over 500 pounds. He couldn't catch a damn thing. In a portent of things to come, Watson arrived late to camp after a lengthy holdout and Patriots fans salivated over the freak who would soon man the tight end position and replace Ben Coates' memory.
He then promptly took the field for the season opener against Indianapolis, injured his knee and was gone for the season. When he returned, the Patriots got a tight end who couldn't block all that well, struggled to break free from defenders and dropped some of Brady's most routine passes at the most inopportune of times. Not terrible, but not great either, Watson never endeared himself to the fans or Belichick and was allowed to walk after his rookie contract.
In 2001, the Patriots took a flyer on an under-appreciated role player from Pittsburgh, Mike Vrabel, and the rest, as they say, is history. Vrabel quickly evolved into a mainstay at the outside linebacker position and displayed amazing versatility by being able to play inside as well and some tight end. He quickly endeared himself to the New England fans.
History seemed to be repeating itself as the Patriots took a flyer on a scrappy young linebacker from the Chiefs by the name of Monty Beisel. Though undersized, he was supposedly amazingly intelligent and a solid addition to the team. His addition couldn't have come at a better time, as Tedy Bruschi went down with a stroke and Ted Johnson, Bruschi's presumptive replacement, abruptly retired.
It was all coming up Beisel. The reality however, was too painful for words. Beisel looked badly out of place and overmatched by Patriots' opponents to the point where the Patriots were forced to move Vrabel inside, exposing a weakness on the outside and making no one happy. It also led to one of the great locker room meltdowns of the Belichick era with Beisel excoriating pressman Stacey James for allowing reporters to question his poor performance and Beisel was gone by opening day 2006.
Ellis Hobbs III
One of the primary factors in letting Asante Samuel walk after the 2007 season, besides the outrageous sums of money he was demanding, was that the Patriots believed they already had his replacement in 2005 third-round pick Ellis Hobbs.
Throughout his Patriots career, Hobbs flashed potential, but was also badly outmatched by the league's elite receivers and it became painfully evident in 2008 that he was not left corner material.
Pompous and cocksure, Hobbs was humbled quickly by the likes of Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne and Santonio Holmes in 2008 and was gone shortly thereafter. Though not the "sorriest cornerback in the league" as the Chargers' Phillip Rivers labeled him, he also wasn't the greatest either.
Ostensibly the first pick of the Bill Belichick era at pick No. 46 overall in 2000, Klemm hardly ever saw the field for the Patriots. It's the prime reason why the picture included in this slideshow depicts Klemm in a Green Bay jersey rather than New England red, silver and blue, because it's impossible to find him in uniform.
A colossal disappointment, Klemm is but a footnote in the history of the Belichick era and was part of a putrid 2000 draft that was only salvaged by a certain quarterback selected in the later rounds.
They traded a third-round pick and a fifth-rounder to Arizona to acquire him. He was a former Super Bowl standout with the Ravens, a shutdown corner. He was the perfect replacement for Ty Law. He was...a revolving door.
It only took Starks one game into the 2005 season to reveal himself as one of the most woefully inept corners in the game, as he was repeatedly posterized by future Patriot Randy Moss in the season opener. While most fans simply chalked it up to the fact that Moss had done that to many a Hall of Famer, it quickly became apparent that the Patriots could get the same performance by placing the recently departed Charlie Weis at cornerback.
The death knell for the Duane Starks era came in an early October matchup against the San Diego Chargers where Starks was one of the prime reasons as to why the Chargers could ring up over 40 points against the Patriots. A repeat performance weeks later against Denver and Starks found himself on the bench and eventually a ticket out of Foxboro.
Waiting Until the 6th Round to Pick Tom Brady
Okay, so this one's a cop out. No one could have known what Brady would become, but it's scary to realize this guy dropped 199 picks before someone decided to take a flyer on him. I mean he did start at Michigan, not Appalachian State, some scout had to have been watching him.
Popular lore is that when it came time to select Brady, there was still a debate in the Patriots' "War Room" as to whether they should select the future Hall of Famer or Tim Rattay. Only the insistence of the late Dick Rehbein apparently saved the day.
Belichick and his staff do deserve credit as they saw something after Brady's first training camp, choosing to keep him on as the fourth quarterback rather than risk losing him to another organization, but the fact that they came so perilously close to letting he with the flowing locks, dimpled chin and golden arm go, must go down as the greatest miss of the Belichick era, even if the resulting future flat-out ruled.
Really, think about if Brady is not selected at 199 and Mo Lewis does not nearly end the Bledsoe era in horrific fashion—are we even talking about a "Belichick Era?"