Friday, January 10, 2014

Let's Give Credit to Bill Belichick the GM

Bill Belichick has been praised for what he's done as a Head Coach in 2013. His team won 12 games, won a division title, and secured a first-round bye despite relentless injuries to key players.

I've even heard this interesting "hot take" (which sounds like a porn term) from sports pundits: Belichick's coaching is even more remarkable and praiseworthy, because Belichick the GM puts Belichick the Coach in tough spots with questionable personnel decisions. Suddenly Belichick is two people. One is a genius coach, the other is a GM that doesn't really know what he's doing.

I disagree. I think Belichick does a great job as the GM.

There was a time when this belief was common in New England. If anything his prowess as GM was arguably overrated and certainly overhyped. Everything he did seemed correct, even if it was counterintuitive. He drafted Brady and won a Super Bowl. He signed Rodney Harrison and won a Super Bowl. He signed Corey Dillon and won a Super Bowl. He traded for Wes Welker and Randy Moss and nearly won a Super Bowl.

However, when the Super Bowl parades stopped and the parade of fan favorites leaving the team began (Seymour, Vinatieri, Samuel, Law, Vrabel, Moss, Welker, Woodhead), fans started to grumble, and question Belichick the GM.

Draft picks were scrutinized. When Belichick traded picks, Pats fans groaned and screamed in agony, like they were passing a jagged kidney stone.

The Patriots continued to make the playoffs, but failed to go all the way. And Belichick the GM was to blame. He was the one who failed to build a defensive backfield, the one who failed to draft an outside receiver, the one who failed to acquire a pass rusher.

Patriots fans let their emotions revise their favorite team's recent history.

After Belichick let Welker go to Denver, people forgot that it was a Welker drop and a Brady safety against the Giants that cost the Pats Super Bowl XLVI. In the new version of history it was the GM's fault, and the cheapness of the team he ran.

And Super Bowl XLII wasn't won by a ruthless Giants pass rush or a freakish catch by David Tyree. The GM simply didn't put together a roster with enough talent to win the Super Bowl. Or at least that's what people criticizing Belichick the GM would be forced to conclude if they took their logic a few steps further.

If Belichick is a bad GM for letting Welker go, isn't he also a good GM for acquiring him in the first place?

And have the Patriots lacked the talent to win Super Bowls since 2004? Has that been the reason? Didn't a Reche Caldwell drop in 2006 potentially cost them a trip to the Super Bowl? Were they not talented in 2007? How about 2011?

Let's return to 2013 and look at the decisions made by Belichick the GM that have put the Pats in position for playoff success:

He drafted Julian Edelman. Belichick the GM is frequently (and quite fairly) criticized for failing with his WR draft picks. Edelman is finally a success story in that department. In 2013, the 7th round pick in 2009 caught 105 passes for 1,056 yards. He also has the highest punt-return average of all time. The Pats also re-signed him this past off-season. How good is that re-signing looking?

He drafted Logan Mankins. Belichick the GM has struggled to draft receivers, DBs, and other positions. But he's been more than solid at drafting offensive linemen. Who, by the way, protect the most important player on the team. Mankins is a 6-time Pro-Bowler at left guard. And now he's playing left tackle due to injuries.

He built the RB corps. The Patriots were 9th in the NFL in rushing yards (2,065) and yards per carry (4.4). They were 2nd in rushing TDs (19). Stevan Ridley (773 yards, 7 TDs) was drafted in the 3rd round in 2011. LeGarrette Blount (772 yards, 7 TDs) was acquired from the Buccaneers for Jeff Demps and a 7th round pick. Solid deal. Brandon Bolden (271 yards, 3 TDs) was an undrafted free agent. Shane Vereen (208 rush yards, 427 receiving yards, 4 total TDs in only 8 games) was drafted in the 2nd round of 2011.

When evaluating the job done by Belichick the GM, I think people get caught up with mistakes, bad moves, and moves that made them angry. I'll get you started: Ochocinco, Adalius Thomas, Ras-I Dowling, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Tate. But trying to weigh the good moves against the bad moves is an inexact science. Do you judge an architect by the individual decisions he makes when designing a building? Or do you judge him by the quality and strength of the building as a whole?

The only fair way to judge a GM is to look at the teams he puts together. Are they strong, talented, cohesive, flexible, balanced? Do the pieces make each other better? And when I look at Belichick's tenure as GM, I see some great teams (2001, 2003, 2004, 2007), I see some very good teams (2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), I see some above average teams (2002, 2005, 2008). So 4 great teams, 5 very good teams, and 3 above average teams. What does that say about the GM?

I see 5 teams that undoubtedly had the players to win a Super Bowl (the GM's job), and 3 of them that did it, 2 of them were a few plays short. I see more teams that had the players to do more damage, but didn't make the big plays in the big games.

The jury is still out on 2013, but I think talent-wise they have enough to win it all. Despite the injuries. And if healthier just imagine how fearsome they'd be to face.

They're a flawed team in a League of flawed teams. However, the team's strengths are stronger than most teams. And that's because it was built by a good GM.

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