Is Bill Belichick a good general manager? That's a stupid question. His track record acquiring talent, through any means necessary, is extraordinary.
This week, the Patriots football CEO talked about the dire straits that the organization is currently in. Belichick stated the salary cap implications and “going for it” from 2014-19 put the franchise in a tough spot. Then COVID-19 hit and some good players opted out, and the result is what they now have: the worst Patriots team in two decades.
But that answer apparently wasn't good enough. It led to questions. Why did he allow Tom Brady to leave? Can Belichick pick players?
As great of a coach he is, and let’s be honest, he's second to no one, he has also made his mark accumulating talent through the draft, undrafted free agents, free agency and trades.
Here are some of his biggest hits through the draft: Tom Brady, Richard Seymour, Matt Light, Deion Branch, David Givens, Dan Koppen, Asante Samuel, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Stephen Gostkowski, Matt Slater, Jerod Mayo, Julian Edelman, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Nate Solder, Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, James White, Jimmy Garoppolo, Joe Cardona, Trey Flowers, Joe Thuney and Ted Karras.
In terms of free agents (some undrafted) and trades, the list might be as long, including Mike Vrabel, Roman Phifer, Otis Smith, Antowain Smith, Rodney Harrison, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Aqib Talib, LeGarrette Blount, Malcolm Butler, Trent Brown, J.C. Jackson and Stephon Gilmore.
But back to the draft, Belichick hasn’t hit as much as he's missed lately. That topic was brought up during a virtual meeting with the media Friday.
Belichick was asked the Patriots recent draft misses. After more than 10 seconds of awkward silence, he said:
"I'd say the most important thing for me is winning games. I'm not going to apologize for our record over the last 20 years. I've seen a lot worse."
He’s right. But the question was a legitimate one. The Patriots are in a state of flux for a few reasons, but one of them could be considered due to drafting from 2015-18, particularly in the first and second round. We'll need to wait a bit on 2019 and 2020.
But I'll argue that if the Patriots made a different decision for one pick, just one, maybe it would’ve changed the course of this 2020 season. It might’ve changed the course of the 2019 season, when Tom Brady was still here.
That one pick? Wide receiver D.K. Metcalf.
What if the Patriots drafted Metcalf instead of N’Keal Harry? Would the Patriots be 5-3 heading into Sunday night’s home tilt with the Baltimore Ravens? Or could they be 6-2, maybe having defeated the Seahawks, Broncos and Bills, all games they ultimately blew in the final seconds?
Ironically, Metcalf was chosen 64th overall with the Patriots' original pick. They dealt it to the Seattle Seahawks after drafting Harry with the 32nd overall pick for a third and fourth round selection.
There is no comparison between Metcalf and Harry. Metcalf is another league in every statistical category and, really, every aspect of the sport when including durability, speed and decision-making.
As perplexing as it is, the Patriots don’t have a deep threat. They just don’t. Harry was never a deep threat in college, more noted for his ball skills.
Metcalf would have given the Patriots options on offense that they haven’t had since Brandin Cooks was around in 2017. He's a physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 227 pounds. And he is among the fastest players in the league.
Why didn’t he get chosen early in the first round, which is where he’d be chosen if that draft was a do-over? Apparently, he didn’t do well in the cone drill at the NFL Combine. There were questions about his ability to get open in shorter routes, and he had a neck injury from his senior year that apparently scared teams.
These are the kinds of guys Belichick steals. In fact, he could’ve stolen Metcalf with that 64th overall pick.
Imagine Brady throwing to Metcalf last year, when his only deep option being the unreliable Phillip Dorsett. Imagine Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels having this weapon at his disposal, having Edelman as the underneath option.
A year ago, Metcalf had 58 receptions for 900 yards and seven touchdowns. At the halfway point of 2020, he already has 43 receptions for 733 yards and eight touchdowns.
The highlight of this early NFL season may be Metcalf’s end-to-end run and tackle after Russell Wilson threw an interception to Cardinals defensive back Budda Baker on the goal line. Baker had at least 10 yards on Metcalf, but was caught by him at the 6-yard-line. The Cardinals ended settling for a field goal because of Metcalf’s hustle.
That’s a Belchick guy, right there.
There aren't many receivers in the NFL that have made Stephon Gilmore look pedestrian, but Metcalf made one of his greatest catches in his early career, a 54-yarder with the Patriots cornerback all over him. Not only did Metcalf snatch the ball over his shoulder, but he easily broke away from Gilmore for the score.
Does one wide receiver change the course of a Patriots season? As crazy as this sounds, with the holes they have on defense, maybe.
What we're learning about dynasties is that it's not the amount of good players you have, but really the number of game-changers. I’d love to see this current Patriots team, with Cam Newton having an elite target. I believe we’d be talking about another AFC East title.
And, maybe even a quick reboot of the, well, you know, dynasty.