Nineteen years ago today, the Patriots made the greatest trade in NFL history. In a rare trade for a head coach, New England sent a first-, a fourth- and a fifth-round pick to the Jets for Bill Belichick. Five Super Bowl wins later, we can safely say the Patriots won the trade.
But that wasn’t so obvious at the time. Belichick had failed as a head coach in Cleveland and did not have the best relationship with the media. Before he took over as head coach in New England, Belichick’s name came up in several coaching searches. He was linked with Oakland, which inspired legendary NFL writer John McClain to write this in the Houston Chronicle (via Grantland):
“Because of Belichick’s terrible relationship with the media, perhaps the worst in NFL history, the Raiders are the only team that could give him another chance to be a head coach.”
When Belichick was rumored to be in the running for the Colts job, Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer had this to say…
“[Jim] Irsay needs to pump up excitement in his market to sell higher-priced luxury suites and club seats. Belichick’s record in Cleveland as a fan-base killer is legendary.”
After a successful stint as Jets defensive coordinator, Belichick was able to repair his reputation. Patriots owner Robert Kraft thought enough of his former defensive coordinator to trade a first-round pick to the Jets after the team blocked New England from hiring Belichick, who resigned as Jets head coach after only one day.
Belichick was so happy to be in New England, he evened cracked a joke to open his first press conference as head coach.
While some commended the Patriots for making the move to bring in Belichick, there were some experts who thought they had made a mistake. A big mistake…
Ian O’Connor was not alone.
Ron Jaworski was particularly skeptical…
“Giving up a No. 1, I think, is a lot. Belichick is one the game’s outstanding defensive coaches, but as a head coach he didn’t prove much. I think there were other qualified coaches out there so you don’t have to give up a No. 1, who should be a Pro Bowl player. And they don’t have the talent to give that up.”
Jaworski was right about one thing: That pick the Patriots sent to the Jets did turn into a Pro Bowl player. New York used New England’s pick to trade up for Shaun Ellis, who made two Pro Bowls during his 11-year career. Ellis was a fine player, but he wasn’t the greatest coach of all-time.
Belichick will look to bring the Patriots their sixth Lombardi Trophy next Sunday in Atlanta. Meanwhile, the Jets are now on their sixth head coach since trading Belichick away to their division rivals.