John Tomase

Did Belichick whiff on the QB who might have let him catch Don Shula?

Bill Belichick's pursuit of NFL history is getting harder by the day, and he has only himself to blame.

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Besides a brief truce during training camp, the relationship between Bill Belichick and Mac Jones generally feels like something out of Judy Blume: "Tales of a First-String Nothing."

For months, Bill wouldn't say Mac's name. The highest praise he could muster was to note he could "play quarterback in this league." After yanking him during last weekend's abysmal performance in Dallas, Belichick tersely repeated there was "no point" in letting McCorkle take another snap. (There had to be nicer ways to say that.)

In any event, it sure looks like we're all learning what Belichick has long suspected (or is perhaps willing into reality), and it's that Mac ain't the answer, which leads to an obvious question: In what universe did Belichick ever think he'd catch Don Shula with this guy?

Belichick needs 30 regular-season victories to overtake Shula's record of 328, and at our current pace, the Kraft grandchildren will be unfurling a banner sometime in 2050. It's hard to see how waging middle-school warfare on his starting QB furthered that goal, especially after Belichick hosed Jones last year with the gone-but-not-forgiven Matt Patricia.

Bill O'Brien's arrival was supposed to inject a little Alabama magic into Alabama Mac's veins, but alas, there has been no Massachusetts miracle in Foxboro.

It certainly feels like Belichick knew this was coming, thanks to Mac's weak arm, entitled demeanor, and general lack of dynamism. So that leads to our second question: Why didn't he go all-in on a quarterback this winter, perhaps someone named Aaron Rodgers?

If you're trying to win 30 games before your boss decides one last-place finish is one too many, who gives you the best chance to get there: the future Hall of Famer you adore like a Swiftie, or the sulky millennial who's now sub-.500 as a starter?

This is obviously an exercise in hypotheticals, since Rodgers lasted only four snaps with the Jets before blowing out his Achilles and possibly ending his career. But let's consider an alternative timeline that brought him to Foxboro, where they don't play on the worst turf in the NFL.

If the last four years post-Tom Brady have taught us anything, it's that Belichick's vaunted culture works a lot better with an all-time great quarterback at the helm. Brady's presence made all the ancillary BS of playing for Belichick tolerable, from the restrictions on displaying personality, to the hardball contract negotiations, to the constant demands of selfless discipline in the service of collective success that tended to glorify Belichick a lot more than anyone else.

His genius works if you're winning 13-plus games a year. No one wants to get belittled on the Belistrator for 17 weeks just to go 5-12.

🔊 Patriots Talk: For Mac Jones, the path back to Belichick's favor? First, do no harm | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

The quarterback sells the program, and Jones is a C-lister even before we consider his hostility towards innocent reproductive organs. Meanwhile, despite the fact that he has turned into some kind of greasy hippie weirdo, Rodgers remains one of the biggest draws in the game, and the Jets landed him for surprisingly little.

Acquiring Rodgers meant assuming all of his baggage. It also meant paying him $55 million or so annually in real money at age 39 after his worst season, though perhaps he would've reworked his deal to the more manageable two years and $75 million he gave the Jets.

In any event, outside of one report saying the Patriots inquired on Rodgers and were rebuffed, it's mystifying that they didn't take a real run at him, especially given Belichick's fanboy praise over the years. It would've required Robert Kraft to give up on his personal draft pick and leave his comfort zone of underpaying the QB room, but it also would've made the Patriots a hell of a lot more relevant, accelerated Belichick's pursuit of Shula, and justified all of those remaining primetime games that the networks now can't wait to flex into oblivion.

Is the goal to build around a mediocre quarterback because he's cheap, or try to hang another banner?

If Rodgers were here, then maybe DeAndre Hopkins would be, too, since there's nothing Pro Bowl receivers love more than playing with Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Belichick may not want to admit it, but Brady was always the draw for the Randy Mosses and Rob Gronkowskis of the world. Rodgers would've made New England a destination for at least another couple of years, at which point maybe Belichick has his record and all sides can plan for a more orderly succession.

Instead, we're left with Mac's wobbly throws and Belichick's even wobblier roster construction, and we'll twist Judy Blume again to suggest where that has left the franchise: Superfudged.

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