When Tom Brady ended his 20-year stay at the New England Patriots and headed for new adventures in Florida with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the same questions were on the minds of every NFL follower.
Could Brady be a champion without Pats head coach Bill Belichick? And could Belichick still scale enormous heights without the quarterback who was such an integral part of the success he has enjoyed at Foxborough Stadium?
The sight of Brady celebrating an unprecedented seventh Vince Lombardi Trophy triumph at his new home on February 7 confirmed that he could do it without Belichick and the sight of former Patriots favourite Rob Gronkowski celebrating with him after a year away from the game will have grated for New England loyalists.
Their campaign was less glamorous. The only time they had surrendered the AFC East title under Belichick’s 20-year stewardship had been in 2008 when Brady suffered a serious knee injury in their first game and now they were left looking into the playoffs from the outside as the Buffalo Bills took the title.
There are plenty of NFL teams who would see a 7-9 season as a good building block, but that’s not the case when you have won six Super Bowls in the new century and have three other end-of-season extravaganza appearances that ended in desperate disappointment.
Dangerous to rule out Belichick
So what are the chances of Belichick rediscovering the old magic with the Pats
31/1 to win the next Super Bowl?
It is always dangerous to rule out a coach who could be considered among the best to have performed in any sport, but for a man who celebrated his 69th birthday in April, it is difficult to imagine he will have enough time to build another dynasty.
He has been coaching in the NFL for 46 years, which is an amazing career in such a competitive and hostile environment and for anything seismic to happen there has to be a foundation there.
That is what Belichick had with Brady. They were a team and, even though the quarterback was a late developer – he was famously drafted at 199th in 2000 – he proved a great talent.
Quarterback issues without Brady
Cam Newton was drafted at Carolina at number one in 2011 and perhaps at the opposite end of the spectrum when it came to dynamism, but it didn’t really work out for him last year with eight touchdown passes and ten interceptions in his 15 starts.
He’s back for more though and with a year left on a contract it could be his last chance, which suggests he may not be the long-term answer.
There is little excitement about his back-up Jarrett Stidham either but little indication that a new quarterback is high on Belichick’s shopping list in the draft at the end of April, in which the Patriots will be 15th out of the stalls if they don’t make a deal.
Then there are the Covid considerations. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower sat out the whole of last season, but maybe Josh Uche can build on some promising appearances. Perhaps other members of last year’s rookie corps will make a bigger impression after a regular off-season behind them.
And they can possibly look to boost their receivers especially now Julian Edelman has left. Punters may wonder if Belichick can initiate another sustained period of success, but the targets have to be more short-term and being competitive in the AFC East this year – they are
7/2 – must be the immediate target rather than aiming for more Super Bowl glory, for the time being, anyway.
*All odds correct at time of writing