20 years ago today, Bill Belichick did not just celebrate his 48th birthday, he also was busy conducting his first ever draft as head coach and de facto general manager of the New England Patriots. The team’s haul after having traded its first-round pick to the New York Jets for the rights to acquire Belichick himself was rather unremarkable, but the seventh of the team’s 10 total selections stands out and went on to change pro football forever: Tom Brady.
The Patriots bringing Michigan’s quarterback on board with the 199th overall pick is the stuff of legends these days, and Brady himself not just the most successful player of all time but also the NFL’s greatest ever draft day steal. On April 16, 2000, however, nobody even in their wildest dreams could imagine what he would eventually turn into: a future first-ballot Hall of Famer who would play a pivotal role in bringing six Super Bowls to New England.
But while Brady entered the league with a sizable chip on his shoulder and as a player who would have to fight for every practice and preseason rep — one that eventually went on to make the Patriots’ roster as their fourth quarterback — he did bring a lot of positive traits to the table. Belichick pointed that out during his press conference shortly after he and his organization picked up Brady in the sixth-round of the draft.
“The value board at that point really clearly put him as the top value,” Belichick said (via Andy Hart/Christopher Price). “Brady is a guy that has obviously played at a high level of competition in front of a lot of people and he’s been in a lot of pressure situations. We felt that this year his decision making was improved from his junior year after he took over for Brian Griese. He cut his interceptions down. He’s a good, tough, competitive, smart quarterback that is a good value. How he does and what he’ll be able to do, we’ll just put him out there with everybody else and let him compete and see what happens.”
“I think in that particular case that the value was his performance: what he has done the last two years, how much he’s improved his senior year, the level of competition he was at, what he was able to do with that team — to move the team and handle the two-minute drill. Those were all positives that just outweighed some of the things that other guys had done,” added Belichick when speaking about why Brady was New England’s pick late on Day Two relative to other players or positions that were also available.
As Ben Volin of the Boston Globe put it, Belichick in that moment was “a man who just bought a lottery ticket and does not yet know it’s worth a billion dollars.” That said, New England’s then-first-year head coach did see something in Brady and the traits mentioned eventually served as the foundation for what he went on to accomplish over the two decades that followed: from making the roster in 2000, to becoming the number two QB by 2001, to holding onto the starting role after Drew Bledsoe’s return from injury and leading the Patriots to their first title.
Belichick was also asked about Brady, a drop-back passer, potentially challenging the standing of the more athletic Michael Bishop as New England’s backup quarterback. His answer did not provide any clear insight into that, but rather pointed out that the offense as a whole would not change and that the circumstances would be the determining factor when it came to building an offense suitable for either Brady or Bishop.
“We’re going to run the offense we’re going to run,” said Belichick about the two young quarterbacks at the time. “We’re not going to change it for a seventh-round choice last year and a sixth-round choice this year, neither of whom have ever taken a snap in a regular season game. If at some point they became the quarterback, we’d adjust it then. I’m not trying to send a message to anybody. We’re just trying to win football games.”
Of course, the Patriots did have to adjust to Brady lining up under center when he replaced Bledsoe early during the 2001 season — a point at which Bishop had already been released by the team — but on April 16, 2000 the focus was more on what he would bring to the team rather than any potential long-term outlook. That said, Belichick did leave the door open for something that would eventually unfold later during the year: New England carrying four quarterbacks on its active roster heading into the regular season.
“I wouldn’t rule anything out or close the door to any situation. If those four guys are the four best of 53, we’re certainly not in the business of getting rid of football players if we’ve got them. We’ll do everything we can to keep them,” he said when speaking about a quarterback group that consisted of veteran starter Drew Bledsoe as well as Bishop and second-year Patriot John Friesz before Brady was added to the mix.
“Too many quarterbacks is a lot better of a situation than not enough,” Belichick added when speaking about the position. “Who the better players are and what they’ll be able to do, I don’t really know. We’ll put them out there and let them play. We’ve got five preseason games this year and they’ll get an opportunity to play and we’ll see how they perform. Who’s better and who’s going to do what, that’s out of my hands. That will be decided on the field.”
On the field, Brady did look comfortable right away. During the 2000 preseason, he led the team in completion percentage and yards per attempt, and was the only quarterback on the roster to not throw an interception — despite joining the NFL just a few months earlier and the tragic passing of position coach Dick Rehbein in early August:
On April 16, however, that was all still a long way off. Belichick was talking simply about his value relative to other players that the Patriots had on their board — “At that particular time Tom was rated by all the people who had seen him above any rating that anybody else had.” — and trying not to set any expectations for him and the rest of New England’s 2000 rookie class. Little did he nor anybody else know that his team had just drafted the greatest quarterback of all time.