How Belichick helped the Patriots go from laughingstock to economic powerhouse

How Belichick helped the Patriots go from laughingstock to economic powerhouse

It’s hard to imagine now, after six Super Bowl titles and two decades at the top of the NFL, but the New England Patriots were terrible for most of their existence.

The team had no permanent home for its first decade, and then left Boston for Foxboro’s windswept Schaefer Stadium in 1971. The owners fought and got into debt. Brief moments of victory, including two Super Bowl appearances in the last century, were interrupted by years of defeat.

The franchise’s fortunes began to change in 1994 when a local businessman and longtime Patriots season ticket holder, Robert K. Kraft purchased the team. His first years after taking over were difficult, but in 2000, he hired a coach named Bill Belichick, who essentially doubled as general manager and selected quarterback Tom Brady in the sixth round of the draft.

This trio built one of the most successful dynasties and third most valuable franchise in sports Estimated $7 billion, They join the rare company of teams like the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys as internationally recognized brands synonymous with American success. Although it was rare to see the team’s Pat the Patriot logo south of Hartford, Brady jerseys became a common sight in countries around the world. Kraft, in turn, became one of the NFL’s most influential owners.

“They were a laughingstock,” said Upton Bell, general manager of the troubled Patriots teams in the 1970s and a longtime radio host in Boston. “As much as I like to think that I can see very far ahead, I never would have imagined such success.”

Between 2001 and 2019, the Patriots won an astonishing 76 percent of their regular season games and reached nine Super Bowls, winning six of them. There were three constants in the shocking race: a committed owner in Kraft, a generational quarterback in Brady and a master tactician in the cool Belichick.

In many ways, the era ended after the 2019 season, when Brady left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Patriots are 29–38 in the regular season in the four seasons since Brady’s departure, a .433 winning percentage.

But the dynasty actually ended Thursday when the team confirmed reports that it had parted ways with the 71-year-old Belichick, the second-winningest coach in NFL history. The Patriots now have to prove they can reach the same heights on and off the field without Brady and Belichick.

Although Belichick’s tenure in New England unceremoniously ended, he will be remembered more for the wins Brady and Kraft won and the way they took the Patriots brand to the highest level of play.

It was especially notable that he accomplished this in the NFL, where teams operate under a salary cap, which sets a limit for player payroll annually and carries harsh penalties for those who exceed it. This strictness forces teams to constantly rebuild their rosters to compete.

No leader of the dynasty acted alone. Kraft admitted that he has to step aside when it comes to managing the roster. Brady was a team leader on the field and was willing to restructure his contract so that enough money would be left to sign other players.

Yet Belichick mastered the economics of the salary cap like no other, shedding fan favorites and aging, expensive veterans in his never-ending search for what he calls “value.”

Personnel executive Scott Pioli, the Patriots’ top player during the team’s first three Super Bowl titles, said, “We made some decisions and did some things that we didn’t want to do, yet the decisions were made because we had an obligation to 52 other players” and Rest of the organization.

“We were going to make the decisions we felt were best for us to have the most success,” he said.

Every team has operated under the same constraints since NFL owners imposed free agency and team salary caps 30 years ago, ending years of labor struggles but also forcing teams to rethink how Had to be how they built their rosters. Al Davis, the maverick owner of the Los Angeles Raiders, predicted at the time that many of his brothers, accustomed to having the majority of leverage in contract negotiations, would find this new world disorienting.

“It will be like free market learning for the Russians,” Davis said of the owners and the new system.

The salary cap ended dynasties in big-market cities like Dallas, San Francisco and Washington. However, Belichick and his staff were adept at finding players who were undervalued by others and who walked away from proven stars in a sport with very high injury rates that plagued even the most strongly constructed teams. Can also be reversed.

Belichick put together the Patriots using a utilitarian approach to finding talented players while keeping the salary low. Learning from his experience with former Patriots coach Bill Parcells, who was Belichick’s mentor, Kraft gave him the freedom to do so. Parcells famously complained about Kraft’s interference during his ouster in 1996, saying, “If they want you to cook dinner, they should at least let you buy some groceries.”

Belichick’s values-driven approach began in his first year in Foxboro when he selected Brady undrafted in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, however. Kraft lost quarterback Drew Bledsoe And helped in 10 years of negotiations, $103 million contract extension With him in early 2001.

After Bledsoe was injured early that season, Belichick immediately turned to Brady, who led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl victory in 2002. Bledsoe and his massive contract expired the following year. In 2003, Belichick cut team defensive tackle Lawyer Milloy a few days before the start of the season after he refused to take a pay cut. The message was clear: anyone was replaceable.

The NFL salary cap was introduced during Belichick’s first head coaching stint with the Cleveland Browns, but it took time for him to master it. After Belichick arrived in New England, he asked Pioli and the team’s football research director Ernie Adams to create a new grading scale for player scouting that would incorporate the relative value of each position and take into account a player’s versatility. Should be kept. He began linking incentives in players’ contracts not only to individual statistics, but also to team success.

The Patriots’ first championship roster was built with the help of good drafting and the signings of several low-value free agents. In 2001, Pioli remembers paying a relatively modest sum, about $2.5 million, as a signing bonus to about two dozen experienced players.

“We were signing all these guys who we knew were good players but no one else really wanted,” he said. “If you go back to the articles, people were vocally laughing at us in the media, and they said we were on this bargain, discount shopping spree.”

After a brief lull in 2008, when Brady was injured and the Patriots missed the playoffs, Belichick’s teams renewed their dominance by winning three more Super Bowls. Belichick continued to pursue players before their skills began to decline or they were due big paydays. They shocked the league by trading defensive lineman Richard Seymour in 2009 and offensive guard Logan Mankins in 2013. He also recognized the potential of undersized and unheralded players such as Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, who became star receivers by playing primarily from low-value slots. Post.

Former Notre Dame and Kansas head coach Charlie Weis, who served as Belichick’s offensive coordinator, said, “I have never been around anyone in the football profession in my entire life who possessed both insight and foresight.” It was a unique, rare combination of things to do.” 2000-4.

Insight came from how he coached his team each week, devising specific game plans that exploited the opponent’s specific weaknesses. The foresight was building their team with not only the current season in mind, but also an eye to the future, understanding that this was what was needed for the salary-cap era.

“How many teams are amazing in one year?” Weiss said. “They’ll do everything for a year and then immediately after that they’ll fall off the cliff really fast. Well, he didn’t. “He built a team that could stand the test of time.”

As Belichick’s teams declined without Brady, critics have minimized the coach’s role in the team’s success. But wins don’t lie, and Belichick won, turning the once-moribund Patriots into a valuable franchise on and off the field.

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