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Closing Arguments: The Case AGAINST Keeping Bill Belichick (Part 1 of 2)

Maddie Meyer. Getty Images.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I want to thank you for doing your civic duty and for the way you've faithfully paid attention over this difficult year. Particularly these last 18 weeks, which have been trying on all of us. 

In my 20 years in this job, this is the hardest case I've ever been confronted with. The man on trial, William Stephen "Bill" Belichick is more than the greatest ever to spin a whistle around his finger. More someone who built the longest lasting, most successful Dynasty out of the rubble of the Pete Carroll era.  Even more than the man who brought unimaginable success to one of the least successful franchises in all of pro sports in their first 40 years of existence. He turned the Patriots irrelevance into hyper-relevance. And made them the center of the national discourse for over two decades. 

But to me personally, it's much more than even that. I have an emotional and professional attachment to the defendant. It's not often one gets to say someone helped change his life for the better. Belichick has mine. Which is why this is such a troubling moment. But one I have to face head on, as part of my responsibilities to the people I serve.

And whatever the outcome, the decision before you now will have far reaching implications. Whether for good or ill, no one can say. All we can do is lay out the case in favor of moving on from Belichick now. And then let my handsome, talented, silver fox colleague make the case in favor of keeping him in the next blog. 

The arguments against keeping Bill Belichick are these:

College Talent Evaluation

By now, we are all familiar with the Rogue's Gallery of Patriots draft busts under Belichick's 24-year watch. It should be pointed out that every team has them. But his in the two days of the draft have been especially troubling. I can stand before you and rattle off the names. Or mention that the highest pick he's had in the last 15 years (15th overall in 2021) will be on the sidelines holding a tablet on Sunday. I could point out the times he defied consensus opinion to reach on a player way earlier than he appeared on any other draft board, such as Cole Strange in 2022 or Tavon Wilson in 2012. But that's not necessary. Instead, I'll direct you to this one fact that sums up the futility. He hasn't signed a pick from the first three rounds of any of his drafts to a second contract since Duron Harmon. He was taken in 2013. That's a full decade of scouting, interviewing, evaluating, selecting, often trading up for, and developing top young talent and finding none of them worthy of keeping .around. And how many picks has he had in those Rounds 1-3 in that time? The answer is 36. 

Pro Talent Evaluation

Here I will mention names. Though I don't want to get too lost in the weeds on them. So I'll cherry pick a few recent examples. Belichick traded a 2nd round pick for Mohamed Sanu, who was of no use whatsoever. He allowed Jakobi Meyers to leave for Las Vegas, where he has 760 receiving yards and seven touchdowns with one game to go. For marginally less money, he replaced Meyers with Juju Smith-Schuster, who is already done for the season with 264 yards, one touchdown, and one pass through his hands for an interception that cost the Pats a chance at a win. His Executive of the Year season of 2021 netted the exceptional Matt Judon and the acceptable Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne and Jalen Mills. But it also squandered millions on Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith. And don't get me started on the decision to let Joe Thuney go to Kansas City and make the last two Pro Bowls. I'll conclude by pointing out that there are zero Pro Bowlers on this year's roster. And last year the only selections were Judon and Marcus Jones, who went as a kick returner. Which brings me to:

Player Development

All too often we're seeing players leave the Patriots and be more productive elsewhere. For the better part of 20 years, New England was the place that took in the wretched refuse of other markets yearing to be free, and turned them into stars. And players who emigrated away from Foxboro often found themselves benched by coaches who didn't know how to get the best out of them. Or out of work entirely. Not any more. Meyers is having a career year in Las Vegas, and was just joined by Jack Jones who has two interceptions and 19 tackles in six games as a Raider. In his one season in Atlanta, Smith has more receiving yards and touchdowns than he did in two years in New England. Which then brings me to:

The Offense

The Patriots are last in the league in points. That alone should be damning enough. But coming on the heels of the major offseason investment of 2021-22, it's unforgivable. The decision to draft Tyquan Thornton in the 2nd round of 2022 had yielded nothing. The decision last year to go all-defense until the 107th pick, not draft an offensive weapon until Kayshon Boutte at No. 187, and ignore the offensive tackle spot altogether was absymal. The decision to name Matt Patricia as the on-the-offensive-coordinator's-job-trainee was catastrophic. And it's only gotten worse under Bill O'Brien. From the article in The Boston Herald

O’Brien’s frustration with the wide receivers and offensive line coaches began bubbling as soon as the late spring. Both position groups feature underdeveloped high draft picks and rank among the league’s worst units. …

Members of the front office shared O’Brien’s frustration with the lack of development as the season wore on.

“It’s just a lot of bad s—,” another team source said. “Bad coaching.”

The offensive line was an obvious accident waiting to happen all offseason, and only recently has shown any signs of resembling a cohesive unit. Both young quarterbacks have suffered behind it. And only on rare occasions could it be mistaken for a professional offense in a league designed to make it as easy as possible to move the ball and put up video game numbers. Bad decisions have consequences. 14.6 points per game is a consequence. 

Continuing on:

Roster Building

The Patriots spent the season with essentially two running backs, who have arguably redundant skill sets. And Ezekiel Elliot was a late summer addition, or else they'd have only Rhamondre Stevenson. There has no 3rd down specialist, despite the fact that has been an essential ingredient of the secret sauce around here since the days of Kevin Faulk. There was never a clear WR1. That duty went to Bourne by default, and then fell to 6th round rookie Demario Douglas when Bourne got hurt. And Belichick's fixation on what I can only call Special Teams Specialists (there are seven roster spots taken up by players who never see the field on offense or defense) is endearing when that unit is giving them an edge and winning games. But when only the historically bad Rams are keeping them from being the league's worst:

… it loses its charm somehow. 

Xs & Os:

I will not stand before you and argue that Belichick has lost his fastball or that the game has passed him by. On the defensive side of the ball, anyway. Offensively is another story. Watch these games every Sunday at 1. Then put on the 4 o'clock games. And tell me you don't see the Patriots operating out of a playbook that is archaic by today's standards. The NFL is a fast-evolving league, where systems become obsolete faster than phones or laptops do. What worked in 2018 -  precision passing attacks based on pre-snap reads and quick, heady receivers who are good at making cuts and getting open in confined spaces - isn't moving chains the way it used to. In 2023 and beyond, it's all about making plays out of structure. Mobile quarterbacks with big arms escaping the pocket, scramble drills, and defeating elite athletes in coverage with superior athletes once the orginal play breaks down. Belichick's offense needs to be perfect in order to work. Perfection is no longer possible the way it once was. Because the perfect person to run it no longer does. Which brings me to my final argument:

Losing Tom Brady and the Lack of a Plan Once He Left:

Believe me, it kills a part of my soul to still be rehashing this in 2024. But like Michael Corleone said, "You have to answer for Sonny, Carlo." And it's a complicated issue I won't take too deep a dive into. But as I quoted the Atlantic the other day:

[In 2019] Belichick refused to change. He told Kraft that Brady’s play was declining. As painful as it was to say goodbye to Brady … Kraft trusted his longtime coach that the separation would eventually help the Patriots. … [H]e wasn’t going to for one player, even Brady.

It's stating the painfully obvious to point out that we're way past "eventually," and it hasn't helped the Patriots in any single way. Brady was offered a contract that allowed him to bounce after that season. And bounce he did. Before that, spent all of 2019 visibly frustrated by everyone he was supposed to throw to other than Julian Edelman and one game's worth of Antonio Brown. He recognized the bust status of Belichick's worst personnel decision ever, N'Keal Harry, before anyone else did. Once he arrived in Tampa at the age of 43, he not only took over the entire organization and made it his own, he was the only human in North America unaffected by Covid on his way to his his seventh ring. At 44, he led the league in attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. And in his final season, the one that made him retire, he put up better numbers than Patrick Mahomes has this year:

And that was with his marriage falling apart after 15 years. 

Since then, Belichick has had five different starting quarterbacks, three OCs, one trip to the playoffs and no postseason wins. And right now stand at a dismal, unacceptable 4-12.

That, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is the bottom line in all of this. Not past glories or all time wins records. But the future. And the future alone. Which hangs on this decision. You have to decide something Bill Belichick himself has said he does with every judgement call he's ever made. And that is to do  what is in the best interest of the football team. 

Thank you for listening. The prosecution rests. 

P.S. I hate myself for even thinking these thoughts. I'm getting to work on the defense's closing statements immediately.