Blame pie: Who was most responsible for 2019 Patriots?

Jim Hackett
January 09, 2020 - 11:41 am

The 2019 Patriots season is officially behind us. Closing the regular season at 12-4, with another AFC East division championship in tow and an earlier than normal first-round exit from the postseason. If an objective observer reviewed this season’s outcome they likely wouldn’t sound an alarm. However, given the wild success in these parts the last 20 years, objectivity isn’t a convenience we New Englanders can be afforded.

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Truth be told, whether you are local to the market or an observer from a far, 2019 was nothing but a letdown for the 2019 Patriots and the slices of blame pie must be dished out.

Most of the blame lay right at the top.

Bill Belichick – 60 percent

If you have been reading my columns since the spring of 2018, you know full well of the pedestal that I place Bill Belichick on. He’s the greatest coach that’s ever lived, period. Though too often maligned in terms of player personnel decisions over the course of the last 20 years, his record of acquiring talent and putting championship level teams together is proven, as outlined is this column from earlier this year.

However, today’s analysis is purely about the 2019 Patriots and this season’s failure can largely be directed at the man in charge of the player personnel decisions. The offensive roster composition was incomplete, depleted and never corrected from the first day of free agency last March.

Tight End – Since the 2010 NFL draft that saw New England grab the greatest TE of all time in Rob Gronkowski and the once productive, tragedy of madness that was Aaron Hernandez, this position has arguably been the most prolific and important on the entire team for nearly a decade. With the retirement of Rob Gronkowski first looming last winter, then becoming a reality by spring (more on this later), Belichick and the player personnel team were shockingly ill-prepared and ill-equipped to deal with it.

Use of the tight end position was the most productive for the Patriots for several years and certainly Tom Brady’s most reliable downfield option. In the course of a few months a complete and inadvisable 180 transpired and a position of massive strength turned into an invisible vacancy. No succession plan. No focus on the position in either the 2018 or 2019 draft. No urgency. No impactful free agency acquisitions and an apparent cavalier approach to solving the problem. The lack of production or even the presence of warm bodies at the TE position was pathetic and a topic of discussion for nine months around this team. It was never effectively addressed and loomed significantly over this teams failures.

Wide Receiver – Eerily similar to tight end, this position was never effectively addressed during the critical team building offseason.

Belichick is famous for his ability to preach about and influence those who play for him that each season is its own. Preaching that… what may have happened the year prior is now irrelevant and that all focus should now be on the task ahead. He’s right and that focus and approach has served him very well for decades. At the same time however, his lack of recognition of the problems facing his offense in terms of skill position talent was glaring. There was little public recognition and even less action to solve these very visible issues. He did invest a first round draft pick on N’Keal Harry which obviously shows that he saw the need, but his reliance on that rookie and on two others, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski underscores his failure in acquiring the top-end or even second-tier veteran talent that was so desperately needed.

Abject roster building failure.

Bill Belichick & Robert Kraft together: 10 percent

This is mostly about Tom Brady’s contract and the failure to get an extension done last summer. The contract situation falls on the laps of both Kraft and Belichick. They are intertwined.

Brady showed little signs of decline coming out of 2018. The 2017 NFL MVP led his team to its sixth Super Bowl championship one year later and looked his decisive and efficient self in doing so. His triumph in Kansas City during the Patriots AFC championship road victory last year showed everyone that his eventual decline was still a ways off. The reward? A one-year contract for the first time in his career.

Though I understand the trepidation to invest long-term in their 42 year old quarterback, their shortsightedness or stubbornness from the summer is still hurting them now. It caused unnecessary drama off the field all season, with endless stories and conversation surrounding both Brady’s and the Patriots future. Self-inflicted noise? This is very un-Patriot-like. A failure not only for 2019, but one with serious consequences moving forward.

The second part is about the abject disaster that was Antonio Brown. There is equal blame to be shared here. For Belichick, it’s all about putting himself in the position to have to sign him in the first place after a failed offensive roster construction. For Kraft, pulling the plug so quickly on Brady’s most important weapon at the time. Understandable, but again, filled with consequences.

Robert Kraft: 10 percent

Kraft is everything that you want in an owner. He’s local, successful and emotionally invested in his team, his fan base and the region. As a long-time season ticket holder for many years during his tenure I have no complaints. However, he is not blameless in this season’s failure. As noted above, I link him to Belichick for 50 percent of the failure regarding the Brady contract situation.  Ultimately though, the decision to approve a one-year deal with significant cap implications moving forward falls on the owner. Given the nature of the Jimmy Garoppolo situation years prior, I fully understand the dynamic and the potential hesitation Kraft may have had to intervene once again in his coach’s affairs. It makes perfect sense, but that moment of hesitation to do so has led to where we are now. It’s a situation that could have been avoided with a two-year deal one would think. Job not done and the impact was big.

Tom Brady – 10 percent

Rapid decline? I’m not buying it. Some decline? Sure. Making chicken salad out of discarded chicken parts? Absolutely. I give Tom Brady very little blame for the failure of 2019. Very little, but there is some. I don’t think he handled his contract situation or the sudden dismissal of Antonio Brown very well. Reading between the lines it all felt a little pouty. Understandable, but still a little pouty. His surroundings completely imploded. Injuries to the offensive line, receivers unable to get open and a lack of talent to throw to. All of those factors were real, but the fact is that Brady had a tough year on the field and off. Injuries to his elbow and foot didn’t help either. I think 10 percent of the blame pie is fair. That said, if the Patriots sign him and surround him with the necessary talent, I’d invest in him all day, even at 43 years old.

Rob Gronkowski – 5 percent

My favorite all-time player and my number one draft choice in an all-galactic pick-up football game gets some blame. As noted earlier, preparations for his succession plan fall mostly on Belichick and the player personnel team, but Gronk didn’t help matters. His indecision and both Kraft’s and Belichick’s enabling of it put the offensive in a gaping hole. Nuff said.

Antonio Brown – 5 percent

Though I gave Mr. Kraft some blame for how it ended, Brown was an absolute jack wagon during his brief Patriots stay. What an illogical tornado of noise and nonsense the Antonio Brown era was. One game, one touchdown and great potential for wonderful things in 2019 all collapsed in a heaping dumpster fire. I don’t blame Kraft for pulling the plug, but it had an impact. If this guy could’ve just acted like a moderately civil twelve year old things could have been different. What a fool. What an abject disaster.

That’s my 2019 blame pie. May we never eat it again.

Related: Tedy Bruschi on OMF: I can see Tom Brady playing for another team in 2020