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  • Make a move to get Tom Brady’s heir, or get more pieces to win another Super Bowl with him? A look at both sides of the debate. Plus, some interesting numbers on how Antonio Brown and Julio Jones are used, the extra value of a rookie QB, and fixing the NBA playoffs
By Andy Benoit
April 11, 2018

Warning to all bilious Twitter trolls: stay away from the “Should New England draft a quarterback?” debate. There’s too much grey area for a troll’s cognitive abilities—there really isn’t a “right” or “wrong” to discover. Now that the Patriots own two first-round picks to go along with two seconds, the arguments on both sides are robust.

The Argument AGAINST New England drafting a QB

There’s only one argument for taking a QB, and it goes like this: You don’t know how much longer Tom Brady will play.

And it’s true. You don’t know. What you do know is that Brady is the reigning league MVP and just threw for a record 505 yards in Super Bowl LII. He appears healthy. If his tank was running low last season, he would have started wearing down by February, with his team’s season having been extended that extra month—especially since New England’s season was extended a month the year before, when Brady orchestrated the most impressive comeback in playoff history to win Super Bowl LI. We’re not talking about a great player still going strong; we’re talking about the greatest player of all-time playing at, arguably, his highest level. Instead of diverting resources to gamble on maybe finding the next Tom Brady (which history says you won’t, anyway), focus on maximizing the actual Tom Brady.

If the Patriots go all-in on Brady and he one day retires, and the team is stuck with its pants down and staring at 5-11 in Year One Post-Brady, so be it. That’s a small price to pay for the Super Bowl pursuits you can still have.

Some will argue that the Patriots can have it both ways; after all, they just did with Jimmy Garoppolo. If they found what appeared to be Brady’s heir once already, they can do it again! Perhaps, but much of that sentiment is based on assumption. Garoppolo and whomever the Patriots find in 2018 are mutually exclusive. And we don’t even know for sure that Garoppolo would have been the next Brady. Garoppolo has started only seven NFL games. His case looks strong so far, but his trial has just begun. It’s O.K. to pump the brakes on anointing him the next football god.

Let’s also remember: Seth Wickersham’s story last year reported that Brady didn’t like having Garoppolo looking over his shoulder. If true, then would the Patriots drafting the next “Garoppolo” possibly provoke Brady to retire—or possibly force his way out—a year or two earlier than he otherwise would have? You could be leaving another Super Bowl run on the table. Remember, 2018 might not even be Brady’s last season. 2019 might not either. Or 2020.

• THE CRUCIAL QUESTIONS FACING THE QUARTERBACKS: Trying to put answers for the issues facing the top six quarterbacks of the 2018 draft.

The Argument FOR New England drafting a QB

Finding the next Brady is your only ticket to becoming a multigenerational powerhouse. (Or, continuing as a multigenerational powerhouse, since Brady’s career has covered two generations.) It’s happened twice before: the 49ers with Steve Young after Joe Montana, and the Packers with Aaron Rodgers after Brett Favre. Both teams groomed their young QBs behind a living legend, then replaced that living legend before he ran out of gas.

Part of why Young and Rodgers thrived is that their franchises had strong winning cultures. Which shifts us to the chicken-or-egg discussion that has always, and will always, follow the Patriots: How much of Brady’s success stems from playing for Bill Belichick and his organization, and how much of Belichick’s and the organization’s success stems from having Brady? Almost certainly, it’s some combination of both, leaving the Patriots (especially if Belichick is still around) with reason to believe whichever QB they draft has a greater chance to succeed because he’s joining their culture.

Understanding the Patriots’ culture requires a closer examination of Belichick. Perhaps the most fascinating part of Wickersham’s piece last year is that Belichick wanted to keep Garoppolo because having the next QB would leave the organization in position to succeed long after Belichick retires. In the eyes of many, any success Garoppolo had after Belichick would have little impact on the head coach’s legacy. But in Belichick’s eyes, and in the eyes of the smartest people within football who understand all that goes into team-building, it would mean everything. Belichick sees the Patriots less like the team he coaches and more like the company he runs. And, like a good CEO, he wants to position that company for success long after he’s gone. There might not be another coach in professional sports who thinks like that.

As a CEO, Belichick examines the Patriots through a big-picture lens. He preaches one game at a time, one season at a time, and he certainly coaches his players this way. But he runs the company with the future always in mind. That’s why he’s willing to part with marquee players before they wear down or become too expensive. Belichick The Coach is focused on 2018. Belichick The CEO is focused on 2018, 2019, 2020 and so on.

The “don’t draft a QB” argument essentially says that Brady is so great, he transcends these values. But for Belichick, putting nothing ahead of the company values has worked. You don’t change your approach for your best player and most valuable position; if anything, you especially apply your approach to your best player and most valuable position.

But what matters is how much that approach costs. Some are saying the Patriots now have the draft ammunition to trade up and select one of this year’s Big Four QBs. That’s a markedly different investment than taking a QB with the No. 23 pick they got from Los Angeles. It’s one thing to have four picks and spend one on Brady’s replacement, using the other three to, essentially, build around Brady. It’s another to trade the bulk of those four picks for Brady’s heir. That’s what makes this conversation so tricky.

The VERDICT

I think the Patriots should go all-in on Brady. Spend those two firsts and two seconds on building the roster around him. But this is only my personal philosophy talking. I’m a bird-in-the-hand type. I worry that there are too many variables in pro football for you to try to control too far into future.

Belichick might argue that if you don’t try to control your future, you’ll let the future (and all it’s unknown variables) control you. It’s just a different line of thinking. For him, it’s worked. But consider the Broncos at the end of Peyton Manning’s career. Perhaps they would have approached things differently if they didn’t mistakenly think they already had their heir (Brock Osweiler), but the fact that they spent early-round draft picks to build up around Manning (cornerback Bradley Roby with their first-rounder in 2014, edge rusher Shane Ray in 2015) allowed them to win a Super Bowl in his final season.

What we don’t know: If a QB had fallen to Elway late in those first rounds, would he have taken him? Remember, that’s how it went for the Packers in 2005. They didn’t set out to draft Brett Favre’s replacement, they just saw Aaron Rodgers was freefalling and they caught him.

If forced to take an official stance, I’d say the Patriots should draft a QB if one they like falls to them. Otherwise, spend your picks building around Brady. But I’m glad I only have to speculate on the decision, not actually make it.



TWEET ELABORATION

This is exactly what the Rams are taking advantage of with Jared Goff right now. His contract is low compared to other QBs, and the savings makes room for guys like Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Brandin Cooks. The Eagles have been fairly big spenders with Carson Wentz. The Seahawks kept their star-studded defense intact while Russell Wilson was on his rookie deal. Rookie quarterback contracts have become huge NFL landscape shapers.

• THE NFL’S WIDE RECEIVER CRISIS: The last three drafts have brought a number of first-round busts at wideout. The three biggest reasons why.


ANTONIO BROWN AND JULIO JONES

I had my film charter, Allan Uy, track all of Antonio Brown’s and Julio Jones’ targets in 2017. My film-charting analyst, Colin Bowers, found the trends. Here were the best nuggets:

Of Brown’s 181 targets:
140 came from formations that involved trips (3x1, 3x2)
97 targets came from a spread formation
145 targets were in “11” personnel (i.e. 3 WRs)
161 targets were in shotgun, and 90% of his yards came from shotgun.

Of Jones’ 177 targets:
97 came with from a 2x1 or 2x2 formation. Only 78 targets came from a formation with trips.
59 targets came from a condensed formation, with receivers aligned inside the painted field numbers (the opposite of spread.) Another 61 targets came in formations where receivers were aligned tight on one side.
Jones was targeted just 9 times against “2 man” coverage, averaging 8.6 yards a play.
He was targeted 46 times against 2-high zone, averaging 11.1 yards per play.


SAFETY WATCH

The baffling unemployment of Eric Reid continues. It looks like backlash for his politics are playing a role. We can’t say that for certain, though, because Kenny Vaccaro, another unique, quality young safety, is also unsigned. Why? And how much longer will this continue?


NON-FOOTBALL THING ON MY MIND

The NBA playoffs are just around the corner. One problem with them: Home court advantage is too tenuous. Say the Houston Rockets, for example, lose Game 1 to whoever gets the eighth seed. POOF! Just like that, the Rockets, who will have won at least 64 games, lose home court advantage to a team that will have won less than 50. Within the context of that 1 vs. 8 series, the entire 82-game season is rendered meaningless.

What the NBA should do is make home court advantage even more advantageous by giving the higher seed five games at home and the lower seed only two. Besides being fairer to the team that earned the higher seed (especially in the first round), it would also make regular season games much more meaningful, since teams would be competing for seeds that carried more significance.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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