Apple employees — in a move that in no way suggests an unhealthy passion for science fiction — supposedly coined a term to describe Steve Jobs’s ability to persuade others to commit to his unreasonable objectives: Jobs’s “reality distortion field.”
Sportswriters, apparently, fall victim to the same influence from Belichick.
The Patriots badly mismanaged their contract negotiations with Wes Welker, and I’ve pilloried the media’s weak-kneed critique of the team — in particular Bill Barnwell’s analysis. Barnwell usually displays a talent for dispassionate NFL analysis (even if I don’t always agree with that analysis), so you wonder how badly Belichick has distorted reality for the mainstream press in Boston.
But it must be clear to everyone at this point that, whatever the Patriots’ intentions for their 2013 wide receiving corps, this offseason has not gone according to plan. Amendola is the lone, recognizable name on the Pats’ receiver depth chart as we sit here today. To argue that the past few weeks have been anything less than a humongous, fireball of a train crash would be like standing over the wreckage and yelling to the first responders, “It’s cool! Bill Belichick was the conductor.”
The team’s signing of Amendola in the immediate wake of Welker’s departure was not the first step in a shrewd youth movement, as Barnwell claims. It was Belichick stamping his foot, metaphorically, over negotiations gone awry.
The best evidence of this is the haul the Patriots collected in return for sending the most prolific receiver of his generation to a fellow contender: nothing. The Patriots have, almost unfailingly, succeeded in trading away stars a season too early rather than too late. The Pats collected first round picks for Deion Branch in 2006 and Richard Seymour in 2009, and a third-rounder for an aging and pouty Randy Moss in 2010. Belichick coldly sent these superstars packing early in those respective seasons, despite any impact on the team’s lofty expectations. Why did Belichick act any differently with Welker last year?
Barnwell’s analysis presumes that Belichick determined last year that the 2012 Patriots so desperately needed the Welker’s talents that it was worth taking the chance that the team would get nothing in return for him in 2013. We know that Belichick plans in advance much better than that.
The cold tactician in which Barnwell professes his undying faith would have traded Welker at the start of 2012, if he really thought the receiver would walk. No, Belichick just miscalculated. He assumed that Welker would succumb to the team’s hardball negotiation position. When Welker proved him wrong, Belichick leapt at the best proxy for Welker he could find.
It’s no tragedy. The Patriots have, to Belichick’s credit, thrived with mediocre receivers in the past. They will do so again in 2013. (Gronkowski and Hernandez cushion the fall, too.)
The lesson is simply that Belichick is not immune to critique.
Steve Jobs was wrong sometimes, too. That didn’t make Apple a bad investment. It just meant that consumers were within their rights to look elsewhere when the company’s products flopped.