Bucs hope Belichick acted too early again

by Gary Shelton on March 21, 2022

in general

Bucs happy with what Brady has left./TAMPA BAY BUCS

Friday, 4 a.m.

When a team goes to pick the fruit of the Belichick tree, it must proceed with caution.

He is the finest coach in the NFL, and arguably the best ever. He is a fine judge of talent, and a great developer of it. A team does not go to the trading table with him without the understanding that he could pick its pocket.

That said, Bill Belichick is not perfect.

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When a team has won as consistently as the New England Patriots, you must proceed carefully before discussing anything that borders on criticism. I understand that. It is the bloodless approach of Belichick that has allowed the Patriots to flourish for so long (of course, a laughable division doesn't hurt).

But here's the thing.

Sometimes, Belichick makes mistakes. Sometimes, he lets go of talent too quickly, and another team can reap the benefits.

This doesn't get mentioned in the middle of the winning (why should it?), but when a player reaches a certain age (and a certain salary), Bellichick will move on without him. He'll move the player -- sometimes for less return than you would think -- and move on. Sometimes, there is still shelf-life on the player, but in New England, the mantra is that it's better to let go of a player too soon than hold on for too long. In the grander scheme, it's worked; the Patriots remain a vital franchise. Individually, however, there are instances where you can argue the Pats might have been better off to hang onto their talent a little longer.

The Bucs, obviously, are hoping that Belichick pulled the plug too soon once again. They have traded for Shaq Mason, a highly respected guard. Thursday, they picked up former Patriot Logan Ryan to play safety. The Bucs don't expect either to play a decade, but if they can pitch in for a couple of seasons, it would be nice.

Still, it's easy to wonder what the Patriots' dynasty would have looked like if he had kept his assets a little longer.

For instance:

-- Since he left the Patriots in 2019, Tom Brady has won a Super Bowl and a division title, something that is rare in Tampa Bay. He's been a Super Bowl MVP and an NFL MVP runner-up and a Pro Bowler. He's still going at age 44 (soon to be 45).

-- Since he retired from the Patriots in 2018, tight end Rob Gronkowski has 100 receptions in two years and a Super Bowl ring.

-- Since being traded in 2016, defensive end Chandler Jones has 71 1/2 sacks over six seasons. He just signed a four-year contract with the Raiders for $17 million a year.

-- In a short season for Carolina, Stephon Gilmore still made the Pro Bowl. He's currently a free agent. He left New England in a contract impasse.

-- Former Buc cornerback Aqib Talib (Belichick picked the Bucs' pocket on that one) spent two years in New England. After he left for Denver, he made four straight Pro Bowls. In all, he played six seasons after leaving the Patriots.

-- Richard Seymour was traded by the Patriots in 2008. He played four more seasons for the Raiders, and made two Pro Bowls.

-- Logan Mankins played two seasons with the Bucs, reaching on Pro Bowl.

-- Lawyer Milloy played eight more years in the NFL after leaving the Patriots, where he had made the Pro Bowl in four seasons out of five.

-- Adam Vinatieri played 14 more seasons after leaving the Patriots (where he played 10). He made another Pro Bowl and was on another Super Bowl team.

-- Malcolm Butler was benched in the Patriots' Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia. He played three more seasons after leaving New England.

-- LeGarrette Blount left the Patriots after the 2016 season. The next season, he was the leading rusher for Philadelphia as the Eagles won the Super Bowl.

Of course, every team has ex-players getting rich elsewhere. But it isn’t as if Belichick only discards bad players. Some of them still have a lot of flavor left.

The Bucs are counting on it.

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