The last time Bill Belichick had a very bad team, at least in the standings, was 2000.
The Patriots finished 5-11.
Why is that important to know? Because the next two decades after that season were electric in terms of division titles (17), conference championship appearances (13), Super Bowl appearances (9) and Super Bowl wins (6).
So if the Patriots go, say 5-11 or 6-10, well ... been there and done that, right?
Not so fast.
The 2000 Patriots team, come to find out, had some serious, playoff and Super Bowl experience.
Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, Adam Vinatieri, Willie McGinest, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Ted Johnson and Drew Bledsoe were on that team. And those aforementioned individuals were on the 1996 Patriots team that went to the Super Bowl, losing to the Green Bay Packers.
Five of those ex-Pats are in the Patriots Hall of Fame.
In other words, Belichick inherited an impressive group, which we could argue underachieved greatly in the three years led by Pete Carroll.
The 2020 Patriots don’t appear to have those “Hall of Fame” prospects.
The best two possibilities, outside of special team sensation Matthew Slater, are cornerback Stephon Gilmore and guard Joe Thuney. The guess here is both will be gone in 2021 due to high salaries.
So how does Belichick do it, rebuild this in a timely manner?
The Patriots will have cap space, which is expected to be at least $30 million after adjustments are made due to the reduction in salary cap after adjustments based on lost revenue this year.
They will have room to bring in a superstar, as in one guy, probably on defense, making about $15 million. But Belichick doesn’t usually work that way.
Here are three musts if this is a fix, quick or not:
1. The next Mike Vrabel
Nobody did cartwheels in New England after Belichick signed Vrabel to a free agent deal. He was an underutilized linebacker/specialist with the Steelers, which were loaded at that position.
Vrabel ended up becoming a star as an edge linebacker, playing his best in the biggest of games.
It wasn’t just Vrabel either. There were other key contributors for a few years, including guard Mike Compton, fullback Marc Edwards, special teamer Larry Izzo, wide receiver David Patten, linebacker Roman Phifer and running back Antowain Smith.
2. The Next Rodney Harrison
The Patriots need a “personality,” badly. With Tom Brady gone, being a smart, disciplined football team isn’t enough.
Belichick found Harrison, angry at the San Diego Chargers and, really, the world, and he became a Hall of Fame-caliber player as the franchise’s top safety.
As important as the quality of his play, was his mentality. He guided the best two Patriots teams – 2003 and 2004 – during this dynasty.
The Patriots need a Rodney Harrison, badly.
3. The next Seymour, Light
Among Belichick’s greatest moves in turning this around, really headlining the Part I of the Patriots Dynasty, was drafting Richard Seymour seventh overall in 2001.
Then, following that up in the second round, drafting Matt Light.
Seymour was among the game’s top disruptors on the defensive line in the NFL for a decade. And Light was on Brady’s blind side through 2011.
That’s two very important positions in back to back rounds of one draft.
If things continue on their current pace in 2020, the Patriots will be drafting somewhere around No. 6, when Seymour was taken.
The summary: This 2020 rebuild, on paper, will not take one year. If it were to happen, it would take, at least, two years.
And guess what position we didn’t really mention? Quarterback.
Finding the next Brady is impossible. But Brady from the first four years was not the same Brady from the last 15 years.
Belchick doesn’t need an MVP quarterback at the start. In fact, if he’s going to pull this off, he’s going to need a quarterback, like Brady, in development-mode with a small contract.
Belichick has his work cut out for him when it comes to assembling the next contender.
Some would argue, compared to the last 20 years around here, impossible.
You can email Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.