BB addresses the Nation

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Mike Reiss from the Globe wrote a great piece on the state of the Patriots from Belichick. In it he speaks of the season past, the goals of a franchise, and what’s in store for next season. It’s a fantastic story and very much worth a read. I want to talk about some points Bill made and will touch upon them here.

On the subject of leaving

“I like the people I’m working with, I like the situation I’m in,” Belichick said. “First of all, it starts at the top. Mr. Kraft and his family have been tremendously supportive, giving us great support and facilities and everything that they can give to make a team competitive. I don’t sit here and say, ‘If we had this or had that, it would make a difference.’ We pretty much have everything we need, the ability to use resources. That’s No. 1 right there.

“I like our staff, and our organization. I think people work hard, they’re committed, they’re unselfish. The players have a real good work ethic, and I think they’re tough — physically and mentally. I think you have to be to stand up to the challenges we’ve had to face, both on and off the field. Not saying this negatively, because it’s something I’m happy about, but we’ve had a lot of long seasons and short offseasons, and their ability to compete and then kind of regroup and do offseason surgeries, re-train and come back and do it against stiff competition with people trying to knock you off, it’s tremendously challenging. I’m obviously very proud and very pleased with the way our players commit to that for the most part. They give us everything they have, in an unselfish but a very tough and determined manner.

“When you have those things, it’s hard not to feel good about what you’re doing, and it’s not hard to keep doing it. I love football and I love the area. The players, the organization, the support we get. I have a great relationship with the two [people] most important to me, Mr. Kraft and [vice president of player personnel] Scott Pioli. I think all the way around, all three of us have a good relationship with each other, very workable, respectfully and complementary. It starts there.”

This came up due to speculation on Belichick’s contract situation. I couldn’t tell from the article if he was asked or if he brought this up, but I think his comments are telling in which direction he’s leaning. From reading this, I think it’s apparent BB is a sensible guy, and he’s not someone looking for the highest bidder. He’s paid well, like all coaches, but he’s in a situation where the entire organization gives him what he needs. After three super bowls, he’s earned their trust and that’s what he has. If you’ve followed BB’s career, particularly the way the Jets thing was handled, you can tell that’s something he cherishes the most. He gets what he needs and wants, and to him that’s a comfort worth holding on to.

If we do hear about any sort of qualms regarding his contract, which is up this year I believe, there would be a real reason to worry. These negotiations should be smooth as butter, and if they aren’t, then a breakdown has transpired. If that’s the case, that would be awful news for the Patriots.

He did mention a bit about continuity with a team and “staying the course” with their plan and how it’s paid off for them so far. I agree with that assessment, but I always have mixed emotions when I hear something like that. First, the quote:

“I’m proud to a degree; it’s a good reflection of what we’ve been able to do in that eight-year period, to win consistently,” said Belichick, whose record with the Patriots is 87-39 and includes three Super Bowl championships. “There are situations where teams might win consistently, but you know it’s kind of coming to an end, or you’ll pay for that eventually. There are other teams that pull back, regain some resources, but it comes at the expense of winning games now.”

Maybe he just didn’t think to address it, or I’m missing it, but there’s also those teams that win consistently but rarely ever have a legitimate shot at winning (see: Broncos, Dolphins of 90’s, Colts, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, etc). There’s a long list of teams who stay pretty good, but of their winning seasons, they may have one or two years where they could win. I suppose in a league of parity, all teams have a shot, but let’s use the Pats for an example. In 98, the second year under Pete Carroll, the team went 9-7 and in the playoffs. Successful? Yes. Super Bowl team? No way. And THAT is the thing I fear most. I don’t want to root for a team that’s been to the playoffs for eight seasons but only had a real shot once. My most perfect example is the Bruins. They had a string of 20+ seasons in the playoffs, but they only went to the cup finals twice in my lifetime, being swept both times. Is that being a successful team or being a better than most team? What’s success?

Fortunately, I think BB and I are on the same page as far as measuring success. He’s a guy who believes you don’t win anything if you don’t win everything. As much as he says he’s proud of being consistently good, you know he wasn’t passing champagne around for having a “great” season only to lose in the end. He wants to win every game, and that attitude permeates throughout the team. It’s truly the right attitude to have, and I believe that is what makes Belichick such a great coach.

“Overall, we have a lot of decisions to make, like we always do,” he said. “I’m not saying this negatively or spitefully or anything else, but like we do every year, we just need to look back over what happened the previous years or years, and try to analyze what we did.”

This is in reference to the free agency period, which starts March 2nd. Over the course of the year we’ll talk more on this subject, but the two big ones that need addressing will be Asante Samuel and Daniel Graham. Both guys have been clutch for this team, and it’s going to take a long look from Pioli and BB to determine their value. Samuel has been blossoming the last two years, and it could be because of his contract, but it could also be because he’s now coming into his own.

Daniel Graham has been consistently good, even though things started roughly. His first year was a tough one, but with Ben Watson around they have both been a fantastic one-two punch that has helped this team in clutch situations. Over the last two seasons, we have seen a shift in focus for Brady that has gone from the outside in. With that shift, the importance of the Tight End position has grown. Is Graham worth holding on to? That’s the other big question facing Belichick this offseason.

There was another great point brought up, which I think is valid to talk about. Over the last five years, particularly since the first super bowl, the team has steadily gotten younger. With better drafts and difficult cap decisions, a youth movement has taken shape and has given the Patriots an opportunity for longevity. While some teams break themselves down to get young, here in New England we’ve seen a very efficient phasing process. Gone are the guys like Willie McGinest, Ted Washington, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Adam Vinatieri, etc. While big stars, they were aging, and at the times when their contracts ran up, the decision would have to be either accept their decline and overpay them or cut them and start over, even if their was still value with them. I’d say most of the guys mentioned above still had at least two good years left, but the problem was getting them to stay for only short contracts and even shorter money. Because they wouldn’t, they had to move on.

That formula has worked well so far, but now, the last year and next season, we will see the long term prognosis for this team. Their core players are fading away. Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, and Mike Vrabel to an extent, are not as potent as they once were. I hate putting Vrabel in that conversation because he’s still effective, but he’s older, and you have to wonder when that will catch up with him. Bruschi, we all know he’s not sure where he wants to be next year. He led the team in tackles, which is great, but we didn’t see those “big plays” we’re used to from him. Could it be the system? Or is he a step too slow? I love the guy, but maybe it’s time to go younger?

As for Rodney Harrison, he’s an interesting situation. The last two years he’s had really bad luck with injuries. Can he still play? Absolutely. I just don’t know if he can last another season without an injury. It seems to me his style of play is what gets him into trouble. He’s so effective because he’s flying around the field. I don’t think he’s a mess out there- don’t get me wrong. But because he’s covering more field than a normal SS, he’s more apt to get that one odd hit that tweaks his knee or leg or shoulder. If he can stay lucky and not get injured next year, I still think he’ll be potent. But clearly without him the defense is softer in the middle, and they can’t afford to rest their laurels on a guy who hasn’t held it together the last two years.

A lot of big decisions are going to be made this year, but that has been the consistency of the BB regime. Every year there’s a big decision, and so far, since 2000, he’s made more good than bad ones. One thing is certain, through all this. There will not be a lack of controversy, or a lack of interest, in what the Patriots are going to do to prepare for 2007. We will have that covered, so keep here at Go Pats!


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