The New England Patriots of the early part of the 2000s decade were the latest version of a dynasty in the NFL. They ran through the NFL starting in 2001, then again in 2003 and 2004. Even though that dynasty ended, there is still no question that the Patriots were one of the NFL's most dominant football teams.
Bill Belichick, the architect of that dynasty, did so by combining veteran leadership and promising youth. Patriots teams in the early part of the decade were built through the NFL draft, with some veterans brought in to fill key positions of need.
There was Rodney Harrison. A great player with the San Diego Chargers for years, but never able to become legendary. Until he joined the Patriots.
Mike Vrabel, buried on the depth chart of the Pittsburgh Steelers and considering retiring after only four years in the NFL, joined the Patriots in 2001 and immediately became a force on the Patriots defense.
And it was Bill Belichick that selected Tom Brady with the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft. Belichick was able to replace the face of the franchise, Drew Bledsoe, with a late-round rookie and still win the Super Bowl.
Only one decade later, Brady is considered by many fans, even those outside of New England, as one of the best players in the history of the NFL.
Because of the way the Patriots had been run, Belichick was able to take chances on players that other teams would not even consider bringing to their club.
Belichick was even able to take the disgruntled Randy Moss from the Oakland Raiders and show the world why Moss was once thought of as the best receiver in football. In his career, Moss has quit on the Vikings twice, as well as the Raiders and the Titans. Moss never quit on the Patriots.
But, things have not always been this way for Belichick. As the head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1991-1995, Belichick had a record of 36-44, taking the Browns to the playoffs only once, in 1994.
In 1995, Browns owner Art Modell decided that he was going to move the franchise to Baltimore to become the Ravens. Belichick resigned as the coach of the Browns, and joined Bill Parcells in New England as the defensive coordinator.
Belichick would get his next head coaching position with the New York Jets in 1999, only to resign the next day and join the Patriots as their head coach—a move that cost the Patriots a first-round pick in the 2000 NFL draft.
Since that time, Belichick has been the ultimate coach for the Patriots. He has managed the NFL draft with trades that people would only think possible if they were playing the EA Sports Madden franchise. It always seemed like Belichick was a step ahead of the rest of the NFL, trading or releasing players that were no longer at the top of their game.
Even when he was punished for the "Spygate" incident, losing a first-round pick, the Patriots still had a first-round pick they had acquired the previous season in a deal with the San Francisco 49ers. Belichick was always a step ahead of the game in New England. And the Patriots have been one of the most successful teams in the NFL because of it.
Which is what makes the decisions of Bill Belichick during this offseason so questionable.
Yes, Belichick has taken a chance on many players that were believed to be beyond their ability, and made them successful again in the NFL. If you look at the players that have had resurrected careers in New England, the list of Hall of Fame players (potentially) is unlike any other team in the NFL during that time frame.
Corey Dillon, Junior Seau, Randy Moss and Rodney Harrison are just some of the names of players that have found success with the Patriots. All of them had issues prior to joining the Patriots; none had issues with them.
But, the Patriots were quick to replace players once their value declined. Adam Vinatieri, Lawyer Milloy, Drew Bledsoe and even those players named above—once a player was no longer at the top of their game, they were no longer Patriots.
Who is more responsible for the success of the Patriots over the last decade?
Prior to the 2010 season, the Patriots were entering a contract year for Tom Brady. There was no doubt that the Patriots were going to pay Brady. For all he has done for the franchise, he has earned the four-year, $72 million contract extension. This guarantees that Brady will be a Patriot for the remainder of his career, as he will be 37 when this contract expires. Most would even say he is worth more than the $98 million contract Peyton Manning signed.
And this is where the question comes in. Is it Belichick that made Brady the player he is today, or is it Brady that has made Belichick one of the best coaches ever in the NFL?
Some people will point to Belichick's career prior to New England, and say that he was nothing like he is in New England. Today, he is considered the best coach in the NFL. That is a far cry from his days in Cleveland, or his day in New York.
The moves that Belichick has made during the 2011 offseason are curious to say the least. Trading for Albert Haynesworth (after signing one of the largest defensive contracts ever, then quitting on the Redskins) and Chad Ochocinco (made life miserable for the Bengals for years) are only part of the question.
Since training camp has opened, the Patriots have brought in a collection of older players for workouts—Clinton Portis, Darren Sharper, TJ Houshmandzadeh, Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter.
With the collection of players that Belichick is looking at, traded for and signed to contracts, it makes me wonder if Belichick has tied his career to that of Brady. It is rumored that Belichick is signed through 2013, even though no one knows for sure how long his contract is for, as neither Belichick nor the Patriots are willing to discuss it.
The method of Belichick during the 2011 offseason is not the same method he used in building the team of the decade for the 2000s. This looks more like a push for one last shot at glory before riding off into the sunset.
Belichick currently sits with three Super Bowl victories, only one short of Chuck Noll of the Steelers '70s dynasty. If Belichick can find a way to win another Super Bowl, he will be tied with Noll for most all time. If he can find a way to win two, it would give him more than any other head coach in the Super Bowl era.
It appears to me that Belichick is going all in for the remainder of Brady's career. If he can be successful with older players like he was with younger ones, then he could go down as one of the best ever.