(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the Scott Pioli interview click on the following attachment: Ep 42: Classic Rock, Richard Seymour, Tom Brady, The Patriots, and More With Scott Pioli | Spreaker)
This year’s NFL draft is all about quarterbacks, as you’re about to discover. Three will go off the board with the first three selections, and five could be gone by the first 10.
That’s remarkable, and it’s supposed to be an indication of how deep this draft is at quarterback. But color me skeptical. I remember what happened in 1999 when the first three picks and five of the first 12 were quarterbacks.
Let’s just say the results were underwhelming. Only Donovan McNabb (2) and Daunte Culpepper (11) made an impact.
But I also remember what happened one year later when, in the 2000 draft, Tom Brady was the 199th pick, chosen by New England at the bottom of the sixth round after six quarterbacks were selected. The move was met with indifference, mostly because Brady wasn’t supposed to be exceptional and because the Patriots already had a quality starter in Drew Bledsoe.
Except we know what happened.
What we don’t know is how it happened. How did the Patriots, who had no quarterback needs, decide on Brady after passing him six times? That’s a question we asked Scott Pioli on a recent “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com, and he should know. He was the team’s assistant director of player personnel at the time and was in the draft room when New England chose Brady.
“I had actually, oddly enough, seen him the year before in a very unremarkable, unspectacular game against Syracuse up in the Carrier Dome,” he said. “So I had seen him play. That was back in the ’99 season. But we had a list of quarterbacks that we wanted to start looking at, a certain type of quarterback.
“We weren’t going to draft a quarterback at the top. We knew that. But Dick Rehbein (then the Patriots’ quarterbacks coach), who unfortunately passed away, had gone out to work him out. Dick liked him. (Offensive coordinator) Charlie (Weis) liked him. Bill (Belichick) liked him. And Bobby Grier liked him.
“Bobby Grier was the general manager at the time. People forget that when Bill and I got there I was the assistant director of player personnel, but Bobby was the general manager. There was this dynamic we were all trying to deal with and work through, working as a collective to make sure we were working on the greater good. And (the team's football research director) Ernie Adams liked him. So there was a group of us that liked him.”
OK, fine. But it’s one thing to like a prospect. It’s another to choose him, especially when you have three quarterbacks on your roster. And New England did. Nevertheless, the Patriots went ahead and made a decision that turned the NFL upside down.
“One thing I remember distinctly,” said Pioli, “was where we had Brady rated or ranked. We set two different draft boards, one where it’s vertically a line by position and horizontally it’s by grade. We also had a separate board where we would rank players – it was so detailed – every player against one another. It was one through 50 in one column. The next column was 51 through 100. Anyway, Brady was in that mix. And every time a player was picked, you pulled the name tag off.
“Well, I think Brady’s name came up with this group of players in the third round because of where we had him ranked, and what we didn’t need at that time was to push toward a draft need. You always want to find the right balance between best player available and need.
“At that time we had (quarterbacks) Drew Bledsoe, John Friesz and Michael Bishop on the roster, and I think we had 41 or 42 players under contract. You had to have 80 to get ready for camp, so there was going to be a lot of work done, and we had no cap space. Anyway, the point is we talked about him initially in a group in the third round, the fourth round and in the fifth round.
“He was far and away our highest rated player (there), but we had these other positions of need. And then, finally, we get to the sixth round, and we’re all kinda looking at each other, and there’s a group of us in the draft room. And kiddingly, I don’t remember who it was, maybe it was (former Patriots’ executive) Bucko Kilroy who said, ‘Is that kid even still alive right now? Did he get arrested last night? Is he dead? What’s going on?’
“We just saw the value there. We didn’t think he was going to be this guy who won seven Super Bowls or that he’d come in and be what he was to the franchise. We just said, ‘OK, we’re going to take him because there’s just too much value at this point and time to keep passing up.’ “
A gamble? Maybe. But the Patriots found their next starting quarterback where they weren’t supposed to ... and, in the process, changed the history of the franchise and the NFL.