Hackett: Does Bill Belichick need to change (just a little)?

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Happy Thanksgiving folks. Hopefully this little piece will go well with your morning coffee and here’s hoping a great turkey day feast awaits you. Cheers!

My Thanksgiving starts at 1 p.m. sharp as I’ll be on-air from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. right here on WEEI before the games kickoff. It’s good to give the JV a little run sometimes… Speaking of that, shout out to those varsity and junior varsity football players who are missing out on Thanksgiving Day High School Football today. Feeling for you. I know it’s a big deal and a big loss if you can’t play.

If you need a companion while you cook, prepare or hide from your first half of the day Thanksgiving duties, then please tune in. Lots of Pats talk, some Fantasy Football action for the Turkey Day slate with Pete Davidson and some lighthearted Thanksgiving and football discussion are all on the table. I’m sure this article will be on the menu as well.

Ok, the table is set, now to the meat.

If you’ve been reading my stuff for the last 2 1/2=plus years then you know very well of my admiration and appreciation of Bill Belichick and all he has accomplished with the Patriots the last 20 years. On this Thanksgiving Day, I’ll gladly say “Thank you” to Bill Belichick. My lifelong cup of Patriots fanmanship runeth over.  I mean it, from the heart and soul, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be questioned. If you have been listening to him speak this season either in his weekly appearances with OMF right here on WEEI or during any of his cringeworthy zoom press conferences, then you can rightfully deduce that he disagrees with that sentiment.

The Emperor does indeed have clothes and you better like them or at least say that you do. That’s a lovely cutoff hoodie you’re wearing today Mr. Belichick…

Challenge the Emperor and into a prolonged, awkward-pause type of exile you go. Though that doesn’t officially happen until being reminded of any one of the many accomplishments he’s achieved right here in New England first. Yada yada yada, there’s been a little too much resume review for my taste lately, particularly when those questions are purely regarding issues of the present that are being raised. I would think someone with Belichick’s list of truly stellar, Hall of Fame level accomplishments wouldn’t be as defensive as he has been lately, but based on what I’m hearing, I stand corrected.

I don’t know if the scars from Cleveland nearly 30 years ago cut so deeply that anytime he’s questioned he instantly goes into defensive mode, but it’s not a great look and certainly not an inspiring listen. That said, this is far from my biggest concern with this Patriots team. My concern is squarely on the roster construction and more so how this problem gets solved.

This team needs an influx of talent. Higher level, NFL talent.

On the whole, meaning over the course of Belichick’s full tenure in New England, I typically challenge the notion that Belichick the GM hurts Belichick the coach, as I wrote in this column last fall. However, the last 4-6 years have left a lot to be desired from Belichick in the personnel department, particularly as it relates to the NFL Draft.

You’ve heard the names of the NFL Draft reaches, misjudgments and failures too many times to count I’m sure; Sony Michel, N’Keal Harry, Dominque Easley, Duke Dawson, Jordan Richards to name a few. There have been some good ones mixed in, including the much maligned pick of Division II standout Kyle Dugger this past spring. This kid is showing signs that the Patriots may have found a diamond in the rough with that one. But the overall draft capital and team building over this period of time has been unquestionably the worst during Belichick’s tenure. So before we move forward into 2021 and beyond, I think it’s fair to question whether Belichick needs to modify his team building strategy some.

Looking back is a lot of fun and is certainly merited with six Patriots Super Bowl championships on his prestigious resume. But the paradigm here in New England has changed significantly in terms of the roster. It’s my stance that Belichick cannot rely on old team building habits alone as we move forward with the next phase of Patriots football.

Belichick’s strategy can be easily summarized in one word; value. Find the opportunity for upside in every draft pick, free agent acquisition or in trades or waiver wire claims for those that need a little touch up and a little paint as The Boss famously crooned. Finding value in something he can use in someone else’s trash is an instinct and tactic Belichick has mastered. He is Yoda in this department. Nobody is better, but spare parts and shots at upside are not going to solve this current teams’ issues.

The 2020 Patriots have an aging core, a likeable but middling bridge quarterback and limited skill position talent outside of the running back position. Seeking value and keeping a disciplined budget has served Bill well for many years, but the safety net of having Hall of Fame level talents like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Ty Law and Richard Seymour are long since gone. This team needs some blue chip level talent to get back on top. So whatever chips Belichick has or can acquire to fill those voids, need to be cashed in quickly or it’s going to be a long and tedious rebuild.

It’s time for a philosophy adjustment. Not a full change, or a new decision maker; there’s nothing to get defensive about here, just an adjustment. This is not an unprecedented theory during the Belichick era by the way. He’s made a similar adjustment before. I would cite 2007 and 2012 as the prime examples.

Following the near-miss 2006 season (one of Brady’s most underrated by the way), Belichick clearly realized he didn’t have enough talent at the wide receiver position. Enter trades for Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Not to mention the acquisition of Donte’ Stallworth.

Fast forward to the 2012 NFL Draft. After years of trading down to acquire (yes you guessed it) value, Belichick finally cashed in his chips, trading up for Chandler Jones and Donta Hightower. The Patriots infamous ‘bend don’t break’ defense became far more active (and talented) and won the Super Bowl two years later.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m thankful that Bill Belichick cashed in his chips in both 2007 and 2012. The results were nearly perfect. Literally.

So thank you Bill. Thank you. But before you dig into your 2020 Thanksgiving meal, one more favor please: Treat 2021 as you did 2007 and 2012, because it’s time to cash in the chips again. Talent is needed. This need flares up every five years or so.

Happy Thanksgiving.