Hannable: Bill Belichick hasn’t maximized Patriots’ assets in recent years

Ryan Hannable
February 12, 2018 - 10:39 pm

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

Let’s make this perfectly clear: Bill Belichick is the greatest coach in the history of the game and has made far more right decisions than wrong ones in his run with the Patriots.

But, looking at what the Patriots have for the future, it is worth questioning Belichick’s moves when it comes to the roster over the last couple of years.

New England has some work to do to make sure it’s set up nicely for the next few seasons, especially on defense.

Remember when the Patriots had four of the best young defensive players in the game in Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and Malcolm Butler, and after the 2015 season many said how the defense was set up so well for the future?

Not so much anymore, and that’s because Belichick didn’t maximize these assets.

There was no chance the Patriots would be able to keep all four of these players, but let’s look at what the Patriots did with them.

Jones was traded to the Cardinals before the 2016 season, which would have been the final year of his contract and he was due over $7 million. The return wasn’t as great as many thought at the time.

The Patriots received guard Jonathan Cooper and a 2016 second-round pick (61st overall), which they turned into a third-rounder — guard Joe Thuney — and a fourth-rounder -- wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell.

Cooper was a bust, while Thuney has been a solid two-year starter for the team on the interior offensive line and Mitchell was tremendous in his rookie season, developing great chemistry with Tom Brady, but missed the entire season last year due to a knee injury.

Out in Arizona, Jones signed a monster five-year, $82.5 million deal last March and has 28 sacks in two seasons, including a NFL-leading 17 this past year. Considering how poor the Patriots’ pass-rush was, it’s painful to see the success he’s having coupled with the lack of return.

Next to go was Collins. The linebacker was traded to the Browns at the 2016 trade deadline in a shocking trade that yielded a third-round compensation pick. If the Patriots would have held on to him and allowed him to play the year out and then walk as a free agent, they would have received a fourth-round compensation pick in this year's draft.

The comp pick the Patriots received for Collins was used in the trade for Brandin Cooks, as New England sent its first-round pick and the third-round compensation pick to New Orleans in exchange for the speedy receiver.

Collins has been decent with the Browns, totaling three sacks and 69 tackles in 14 games between 2016 and 2017 before missing the final 10 games this past season with a MCL injury. 

It’s hard to really criticize this move, as the organization likely wasn’t going to re-sign him following the 2016 season and despite trading him, it still won Super Bowl LI. Additionally, the move helped get Cooks, the Patriots’ best receiver in 2017.

Then came the Patriots’ decision to believe in Hightower over Butler for the future when they inked Hightower to a four-year deal worth $35.5 million last offseason. As it related to Butler, the Patriots went out and signed free agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore to the largest deal ever given to a Patriots defensive player. The writing was on the wall that 2017 would be Butler’s last in New England and there were rumors of a potential trade up until April’s draft, but in the end he stayed with the team.

This past season didn’t go as planned for either player. 

Hightower had season-ending surgery on a torn pectoral muscle at the end of October, and then Butler had a disappointing year, which ended with him being benched in Super Bowl LII.

When it comes to Jones, Collins, Hightower and Butler, it can be said Belichick didn’t maximize these assets. Hightower, who is highly injury prone, will be the only one left in 2018, and the return for the other three wasn’t as good as it could have been.

It’s also worth looking at recent draft classes.

We won’t count the 2017 draft class, as it is unfair to judge players on one season, but the 2014-16 drafts haven’t been the greatest for Belichick, especially at the top.

In these three drafts, Belichick made 10 picks in the first three rounds with not much coming out of them.

2016 second-round pick Cyrus Jones has essentially been a bust and then third-round pick that year Jacoby Brissett was dealt for Phillip Dorsett at the beginning of this season, but Dorsett didn’t do much at all (he’s signed through the end of next year). Also in the third-round that year was Thuney and Vincent Valentine, who have been decent, although Valentine missed all of last year with a knee injury.

In 2015, Malcom Brown was selected in the first-round and for the most part has been worth the pick, but then Jordan Richards in the second-round and Geneo Grissom in the third-round haven’t exactly turned out as the organization would have liked.

Then in 2014, Dominique Easley was a wasted first-round pick and Jimmy Garoppolo was obviously a terrific pick in the second-round, but once again is an example of Belichick not maximizing the asset, only getting a second-round pick in return when Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers last October.

Led by Belichick, the Patriots have been very successful of late — three Super Bowl appearances in four years — but now the focus with the franchise is starting to shift towards life down the road without Brady and Belichick.

Just a few years ago the team appeared to be in a good position, but failing to cash in on valuable assets leaves Belichick needing to work his magic once again to rebuild the defense for the future.

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