- Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the NFL Draft and is now considered the greatest quarterback ever.
- The Pats wanted Brady and would have taken him earlier if not for the mess at many other positions.
- The Patriots did not need another quarterback at the time, but he was too good to keep skipping.
In 2000, the New England Patriots were a mess.
The Pats lost six of their final eight games during the 1999 season and fired head coach Pete Carroll. They hired Bill Belichick, and the team made the biggest steal in NFL Draft history: selecting Tom Brady in the sixth round.
Snagging Brady late in the draft was a move that would win the franchise nine AFC titles and six Super Bowls in the next 20 seasons.
Many people think the Patriots just got lucky in drafting a future Hall of Famer so late in the draft. In reality, luck had little to do with it.
The Patriots were high on Brady
Before the draft, Belichick hired veteran assistant Dick Rehbein to be his quarterbacks coach, even though he had not previously held the position at any level. In Michael Holley’s book, “Belichick and Brady,” he explained the decision to hire Rehbein and help the Pats find a backup for starter Drew Bledsoe.
“He had played some college ball himself, at center,” Holley wrote. “While he didn’t have the perspective of someone who had played quarterback, he was often the quarterback of the offensive line. Even better, he was an informed outsider. He had coached for fifteen years, but analyzing quarterbacks was new to him. He’d bring fresh eyes to the job.”
According to Belichick, during an interview with the NFL Network, when Rehbein returned, he told Belichick that Brady was “the best fit for the [Patriots’] system” and others in the front office and among the coaches agreed.
In particular, the team loved Brady’s mental makeup and leadership skills.
“It’s not that we said we wanted to draft a tall, lanky quarterback that ran a 5.3 [time in the] 40 [yard dash]. Those weren’t the traits we were looking for,” current Bucs general manager and then-member of the Patriots personnel staff Jason Licht said before the 2014 season. “But we were looking for the mental makeup … Belichick did a lot of homework on him, along with our staff, on his mental makeup. Watching the tape, he was the guy that would go in and lead [the University of Michigan] back to victory.”
Brady’s role at Michigan and his lack of athleticism turned off other teams
Many teams were scared away from Brady because Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr refused to name Brady the starting quarterback early on his senior year after serving as the starting quarterback his junior year. Before the season opener against Notre Dame, Carr was asked who would be starting:
“What time is the game?” Carr asked.
“Three-thirty,” he was told.
“Three-thirty. You’ll see then,” he responded.
Brady started the game, but he also shared duties with sophomore Drew Henson, losing his role as the Wolverines’ unrivaled quarterback. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from his coach.
Brady also showed up to the NFL Draft combine looking un-athletic.
“He did not have the prototypical NFL body,” said Don Banks of Sports Illustrated on the NFL Network. “He came out kinda skinny [and] they didn’t think he was strong enough.”
Vic Carucci of NFL.com added that Brady “looked slow.”
Brady ran his 40-yard dash in 5.28 seconds, well below where quarterbacks should be. Of the 308 quarterbacks to run at the NFL Combine since 2000, Only three ran as slow or slower than Brady.
The one thing the Patriots did not need was a quarterback
While the Patriots were high on Brady, former Patriots general manager Scott Pioli explained that the team was a mess and had more critical needs than adding another quarterback.
“When we took over the 2000 team, we had a roster of 42 players and were $10.5 million over the salary cap,” Pioli said on The Dan Patrick Show. “We had to get down to 39 players to get under the cap … We liked Brady a little bit. But the one thing we had with [just] 39 players on the roster was we had three quarterbacks.”
In other words, the Patriots needed to add at least 14 players to the 53-man roster but were set at quarterback. One of those quarterbacks, Drew Bledsoe, was only 28 years old and should have been entering the prime of what had been a good career up to that point.
In another twist of fate, the Patriots’ roster and salary-cap mess also forced them to let several veteran players go in free agency. The NFL awarded the Patriots multiple compensatory picks late in the 2000 draft due to the free agency defections, and one of those was pick No. 199 overall in the sixth round.
The draft started to shape up perfectly for the Patriots
“We started talking about Brady around the third round,” said Pioli. “When you are drafting based on need or best player, and you are waffling back and forth, you have to do things strategically.”
Other quarterbacks kept coming off the board, and nobody was taking Brady.
Six quarterbacks were drafted ahead of Brady in the 2000 draft. Those six quarterbacks combined to start 191 games and throw 258 touchdowns. Brady won 278 games in his career, including seven Super Bowls, and threw 710 touchdowns in the regular season and playoffs, combined.
At this point, doubt was starting to creep into Brady’s mind. His internship at Merril Lynch may have needed to become a career.
Luckily for Brady, Belichick hired a coach with no experience analyzing quarterbacks to do just that. It was a fresh set of eyes. From Holley’s book:
“All of Brady’s old [Michigan] teammates could talk about the NFL and Brady could ask them about their insurance. The thought had crossed his mind. He was a college graduate, and he was going to need a job. If not football, premiums. Luckily for Brady, the new quarterbacks coach in New England, Rehbein, had a few things going for him. He was wildly respected by his boss; he had been remarkably thorough in his first quarterbacks analysis; and he loved what he saw from Tom Brady. As a result, Brady’s name and draft grade practically shouted from the whiteboard in the Patriots’ war room.”
“Every round, we’re looking at Brady,” Pioli said. “When it got to the sixth round — we had the [draft] board stacked vertically [with columns moving left to right] — by the time we got to the sixth round, Brady is all the way over to the left by himself, and we said ‘what are we doing?’ … everyone liked Brady … so we took him.”
The value of a player they liked at that point of the draft outweighed other needs the team still had.
The Patriots had to sacrifice elsewhere to keep Brady on the team
While most teams carry two or three quarterbacks on the roster, the Patriots had four quarterbacks during Brady’s rookie season.
This may have been the most telling sign that the Patriots did see potential in the young Brady. The Patriots sacrificed a roster spot to keep Brady on the team even though they knew the rookie would not play much (he threw three passes his rookie season).
So while there was some luck involved with other teams passing on Brady, the Patriots saw something they liked and took a chance other teams did not, and they had to make sacrifices to do so.
The result was the biggest steal in NFL Draft history.