Tom Brady fell to the Patriots late in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft. And since then, nearly every quarterback who Bill Belichick has tried to develop has failed.
Belichick may insist the Patriots targeted Brady, but the pick was at least partially based on luck. If Belichick believed Brady was going to be even an average starting quarterback, he almost certainly would've drafted him higher than No. 199 overall.
That's not to take anything away from what Belichick and Brady have accomplished together. Even if the decision to take a flier on Brady was relatively easy, opting to stick with him after Drew Bledsoe returned from injury in 2001 wasn't. It's fair to say Belichick's faith has been rewarded. Over the last 15 years, the Patriots have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy four times, played in six Super Bowls, made 10 AFC Championship appearances and won the division on 13 occasions.
Even though Brady has been remarkably durable -- only missing starts when he blew out his ACL in 2008 -- Belichick drafted seven quarterbacks over the last 15 years before third-rounder Jacoby Brissett became his eighth in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Discounting Matt Cassel, who's been an NFL-caliber quarterback at various points during his career, they've only started eight games combined, with Ryan Mallett getting the credit for all of them.
Brady's bumbling backups
The numbers aren't kind to the Patriots quarterbacks drafted since Brady became the starter:
In 2002, the Patriots selected Rohan Davey in the fourth round. The LSU Hall of Famer was coming off a record-setting season when the Pats brought him aboard, but he never materialized in New England. Davey lost his backup job to the then-40-year-old Doug Flutie in 2004 and was released the following year when Cassel beat him out for the third-string slot.
Like all Brady backups, Cassel rarely played during his first three years in the league. But then Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard took out Brady's knees in Week 1 of the 2008 season, and Cassel was summoned under center. The 2005 seventh-round pick led the Patriots to an 11-5 record and completed a career-high 63.4 percent of his passes. Then again, having Randy Moss and Wes Welker at your disposal would be a boon for anybody.
Belichick capitalized on Cassel's career season and shipped him to the Chiefs along with linebacker Mike Vrabel for the No. 34 overall pick in the 2009 draft. Cassel made 47 starts in four seasons in Kansas City, even qualifying for the Pro Bowl in 2010. But his farewell campaign with the Chiefs was so ugly, fans resorted to cheering when he suffered a concussion.
Cassel, 33, has stuck around since his stint in Kansas City, playing for four teams in three years. He earned a spot in football infamy last season when he threw an interception and was called for intentional grounding in the same play.
But at least Cassel once had a viable NFL career. The same can't be said for Kevin O'Connell, who the Patriots selected in third round in 2008 and released after just two seasons. Kliff Kingsbury and Zac Robinson, who were drafted in sixth round in 2003 and seventh round in 2010, respectively, never made the active roster.
Perhaps the most controversial quarterback Belichick has drafted in the Brady era is Mallett, who came out of Arkansas with a big arm and lots of questions about his alleged drug use. According to Belichick confidante and former Browns general manager Michael Lombardi, Mallett was the top-rated QB on the Patriots' board in 2011. But he flamed out shortly after New England took him in the third round, only staying in Foxborough for three seasons. The Houston Texans have acquired Mallett twice since then, but released him last October due to chronic tardiness. The Baltimore Ravens picked up Mallett at the end of last season, and he went 1-1 starting in place of the injured Joe Flacco.
Nobody thought any of these quarterbacks were going to be Brady's successor -- it was much too early for that. But the mindset changed when Belichick took Jimmy Garoppolo out of Eastern Illinois with the No. 62 overall pick in 2014.
"We know what Tom’s age and contract situation is. I don’t think you want to have one quarterback on your team," Belichick said at the time. "I don’t think that’s responsible to the entire team or the organization."
Brady could outlast them all
Fast forward two years, and the plans might have changed. Brady was re-upped through 2019 this offseason and could outlast Garoppolo in New England. With his contract set to expire in 2017, Garoppolo will probably be trade bait over the next 12 months -- regardless of how he plays if Brady serves his four-game DeflateGate suspension this time.
Brady's latest extension is largely a testament to his continued excellence. Over the last two seasons, he's thrown for 8,879 yards, 69 touchdowns and posted a 99.9 QB rating. But the Patriots' decision to select Brissett is also a commentary on Garoppolo. If Belichick viewed Garoppolo as an heir apparent to Brady, he would probably try to convince him to stay rather than draft his potential replacement.
It's easy to see Belichick's attraction to Brissett. Bill Parcells gushes over him, which likely carries a lot of weight over at Patriot Place. Belichick worked under Parcells as a defensive assistant with the New York Giants throughout much of the 1980s and the two have been linked ever since. Belichick was originally slated to succeed Parcells as coach of the New York Jets in 2000 before abruptly resigning to head to New England -- where Parcells coached from 1993-1996.
Coming out of high school, Brissett was originally recruited by former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis at Florida. He languished in Gainesville for two years before transferring to North Carolina State.
Though Brissett is highly revered by members of Belichick's inner circle, most mock drafts had him slated for the later rounds. Drafting Brissett in the third round appeared to be a reach.
With Brady set to turn 39 this August, it's wise for Belichick to think about choosing his successor. But unlike in almost every other area of team building, Patriots fans shouldn't put their blind faith in the hoodie.
Belichick has yet to show he can draft a quarterback without the gift of good fortune.