Yesterday, I did a post on how the Patriots’ Bill Belichick as a coach turned ordinary players into stars. Today I’ll recount some examples of how New England’s de facto general manager has skillfully acquired talented players via trade and free agency acquisition.
He’s not only the Pats’ head coach. Bill Belichick is the effective general manager of the Patriots. It might just be that his ability to draft and acquire players that fit into his system is the biggest reason for his stupendous success. He has not only turned athletes with modest skills into stars, he has also acquired a bunch of the league’s best veteran players – sometimes only for a year or two – to keep the Patriots’ machine humming. Belichick is the NFL’s savviest dealer when it comes to filling roster gaps and keeping his team well supplied with playmakers.
Darrelle Revis (2004)
When cornerback Aqib Talib unexpectedly left the Pats and signed with the Broncos just prior to the opening of the 2014 season, the Pats went out and signed Darrelle Revis to a one-year $12 million deal. He proceeded to be the team’s best defensive player, leading New England into the Super Bowl 49. In the AFC Championship and Super Bowl combined, Revis allowed one completion on passes thrown to receivers he was covering. After that one great year, Revis moved onto the Jets, and then the Chiefs – where he never again approached All-Pro status.
Rodney Harrison (2003)
When New England signed up the 9-year Chargers veteran, he instantly transformed into one of the league’s best safeties. In his first year there he made 1st team All Pro, and he made 2nd team in 2004. He played four more years with New England, but injuries and age took their toll over that span. By then it didn’t matter a lot, as the Pats won back-to-back Super Bowls in Harrison’s first two years there.
Randy Moss (2007)
The Pats acquired the aging superstar for a fourth-round pick in 2007. Under Belichick, he set the single-season record for touchdowns and was a terrorizing deep threat for the next three years. This trade goes down as one of the best moves in New England’s history. His numbers over a marvelous three-year stretch: 98 catches for 1,493 yards and 23 scores in 2007, 69, 1,008, and 11 in 2008, and 83, 1,264, and 13 in 2008. Twenty-three touchdowns? Yes, that’s the NFL seasonal record. The Pats kept Moss for one more year, and he finished his career in 2012 with the 49ers.
Aqib Talib (2012)
A first-round draft pick, Talib failed to be a dominant player (excepting his 18 interceptions) in four-plus years with Tampa Bay. Midway through the 2012 season, New England acquired him for a pittance (essentially a fourth-round pick). Talib was plagued by a hip injury throughout the remainder of that season, and again in 2013 he entirely missed three games due to aggravating that injury.
Despite the injury, he finished the 2013 campaign with 41 tackles, 14 passes defended, and four interceptions. He allowed only 29 receptions out of 65 targets – a fine rate of 44%. Aqib was selected to the 2013 Pro Bowl, and named to the All-Pro team – for the first time in each case.
In the playoff game against Denver, Talib took a hit to the knee from former teammate Wes Welker in the second quarter, and did not return. Bill Belichick later stated, “As it turned out, it was a key play in the game.” The Pats defense wound up yielding 505 yards for the game, and the Broncos prevailed 26-16.
In the subsequent offseason, Denver signed Talib to a six-year, $57 million contract, and he spent the final four years of his 10-year career there. In each of those years he was a Pro Bowl selection.
Corey Dillon (2004)
After-seven productive but often unhappy years with Cincinnati, Belichick got the bruising back in exchange for a second-round draft choice. In 2014, Dillon proceeded to carry the ball 345 times, for 1,635 yards, 12 TDs and a 4.7 yard average. It was his best season ever, and he was named to the Pro Bowl. In the three postseason contests, Dillon rushed for 292 yards, caught 9 passes for 53 yards, and scored 2 touchdowns – and New England took home the Lombardi trophy. Dillon stayed with New England for two more decent seasons.
Mike Vrabel (2001)
After four average seasons in Pittsburgh, the career of the third-round linebacker out of Ohio State took off. Belichick signed him up as a lightly-regarded free agent in 2001, his first season as the Patriots’ head coach. From 2001 through 2008, Vrable became the “prototypical Patriot.” He played outside linebacker, inside linebacker, defensive end, and he was even a great red-zone threat as a tight end. He missed only three games in eight years.
He was in the center of many big Super Bowl moments, and he owns three Super Bowl rings. Wikipedia sums him up this way: “Mike Vrabel epitomizes everything a coach could seek in a professional football player: toughness, intelligence, play-making, leadership, versatility and consistency at the highest level.”
Though only with Belichick for one season (2014), it was the best year in the brilliant career of Darrelle Revis.
In joining up with Belichick in 2003, Rodney Harrison instantly became a 1st Team All-Pro.
In his initial three years with the Pats, Randy Moss gained 3,765 yards through the air and caught an astounding 47 regular-season TDs.
After connecting with Belichick, Aqib Talib was selected to the Pro Bowl and named to the All-Pro team – both were first-time selections for him.
Corey Dillon had by far his best year as a pro, and was selected for the Pro Bowl, when he paired up with Belichick in 2004.
Under Belichick, Mike Vrable went from an average player to the leader and face of the Patriots for almost a decade.
In their often-brief time with New England, these six players have collected a total of seven Super Bowl rings. Coach Belichick has six of his own.
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