Now that the 2011 NFL Draft is complete, I will be writing a number of articles, based on thoughts I had following the Patriots draft class of 2011.
DISCLAIMER: I am and always will respect what Tom Brady has done in his career. He is my 2nd favourite Patriot (behind Belichick) and will perpetually have my admiration. So, anyone who wants to bash me after reading this article, please remember that!
March 2014 and the following months could be the most exciting, nauseating and vital period in the history of the New England Patriots. At that point in time, Tom Brady will have been a quarterback for the New England Patriots for 14 years and will be entering his 15th year and final year of the contract extension he signed in September 2010. At the same time, Ryan Mallet could be three years into his career with the New England Patriots, having honed his skills under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. In this writer's opinion, the Patriots and Bill Belichick could be in an outstanding position to cash in on Tom Brady and really secure the long term success of the team.
Following the selection of Ryan Mallet in the 3rd Round of the 2011 NFL Draft, NFL Network analyst and former quarterback Kurt Warner text Tom Brady to find out his thoughts, to which Brady responded that he intends to play for another ten years. My initial thoughts were - great! Not only does Tom predict a long career for himself but it certainly seems the selection of Mallet will bring out the famous competitor in Brady, which can only be good for the New England Patriots. However, I came to the realisiation that while I want Brady to play for a long time at a high level with the Patriots, I certainly do not want him to retire a Patriot, and you can be sure that neither does Bill Belichick.
It all boils down to Belichick's central principle - value. At some stage or another, Bill Belichick is going to cash in on Tom Brady. Do not doubt it. While it may not be in 2014, when it does happen, I'm sure thousands of Patriot fans will be enraged, Jet fans will rejoice when he goes and Bill will say in his presser that it was for the good of the team, long term, much to the anger of some Patriot followers, who wanted to see their most revered idol ride away into a retirement sunset with one final Super Bowl ring on his finger. While the Super Bowl would be nice, in some ways that would be a missed opportunity for the game's most dynamic mind.
Imagine that prior to the economic crisis, you purchased a quantity of unbelievable stock in a Dow Jones listed company. You held that stock for years, and annually it rose tremendously in value. You come close to retirement and think about selling up, but you just want one or two more years, just to squeeze that little bit extra out of your nest egg. Then...the recession hits and all value is lost. Now if Brady does retire a Patriot, it will in no way be crippling to the organisation, since preparations will be made. However, if indeed Tom does retire a Patriot, all the value he has accumulated as a player in 15+ years of playing the game will be lost.
That is why March 2014 could be the most important period of transition in Patriot history. With one year remaining on his contract at that time and Ryan Mallet having been under Brady's tutelage for three years, the Patriots could make a decision similar to the one they made with Richard Seymour, where a trade was made to recoup some value for a start player. Before you say that Seymour is not Brady, and the two situations are worlds apart, consider the comments made by Bill Belichick following the trade which sent star defensive lineman Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders:
"From nearly the day he arrived in 2001, Richard Seymour established himself as one of our premier players for nearly a decade. His presence has been felt as a force on the field, a respected man off it and a multi-year champion.
"Any transaction we make is with the goal of what is best for our team and, as difficult as it is to part ways with a player of Richard's stature, many factors were taken into account when we considered this trade. As an organization, we feel the trade with Oakland brings sufficient value and is in the long-term interest of the club.
"We are extremely grateful for the huge impact Richard's elite level of performance had on our success and we wish him the very best during the rest of his career."
Premier player, force on the field, respected off the field and a multi-year champion. Those are just a few expressions one could apply to Tom Brady, aren't they? And while Belichick acknowledges that it is difficult to part ways with someone with these characteristics, decisions are always made "in the long term interests of the club."
Should Mallet be ready to step into the void and be a successful starting quarterback in this league, then there is no doubt in my mind that Bill will think seriously about a trade come March 2014. Should he decide to do so, he will thank Tom for all that he has done, both for the Patriots and for Belichick himself, shake his hand and Brady will be on his way for a plethora of draft picks to a team only a quarterback away from a title contender, for the simple reason that it is "what is best for our team."
There aren't many reasons to believe Mallet won't be able to assume control of this team and offense in three years' time. He was a two year captain at Arkansas, where he excelled in a pro-style offense. He is actually much taller that Tom Brady with a stronger arm, vital for driving throws through the winter weather in Foxborough. Importantly, Mallet has very good accuracy on short, intermediate and long throws, although he needs to develop his footwork and accuracy when put under heavy pressure. This is a player who Belichick admits he could not tire out in the class room and has a distinct love of the game - not the lifestyle. More and more, Mallet's personification in the media seems like a witch hunt, simply because a Mallet was fairly robotic and didn't give too much to the media when questioned. And that is not familiar at all, is it!?
Tom Brady will be almost 37 in March 2014. For a quarterback that does not take too many hits, he will still be one of the best quarterbacks in the league, planning to play into his forties. The Chicago Bears gave up two 1st round draft picks for Jay Cutler! Imagine what the Patriots could get for Tom Brady, despite his age. Imagine what that could do with such a war chest for the long term interests of the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick will be doing exactly the same.