On January 27th, 2000, the New England Patriots sent a first-round pick to the New York Jets for the right to hire Bill Belichick as their head coach. While I can't personally contextualize the trade (seeing as I was 4 years-old), the press reaction was skeptical. After all, Belichick had an impressive resume as a coordinator, but his only stint as head coach in Cleveland was a bit of a mess; he led the team to the playoffs but left with a 36-44 record over four years and aggravated everybody from media to fans with his demeanor and cold decision-making. And the Patriots used a first-round pick to hire him!
Here we are 20 years later, and in retrospect, it's the greatest trade in sports history. No other trade across all the other leagues resulted in the lasting impact that Belichick has had on the Patriots and football as a whole. The only two that I think come close are the infamous Babe Ruth trade back 1919 and the Kobe Bryant draft-day trade in 1996.
Ruth gave the Yankees four championships over 15 years and to this day is considered one of the greatest players to grace the field. Bryant eventually turned into a legend of his own making and led the Lakers to five NBA championships, including a dynastic run in the early 2000s of three straight titles and four Finals appearances in five years. His accomplishments have been rehashed over the last 24 hours in the wake of his tragic passing, and the trade that landed him in Los Angeles may go down as the best in basketball history.
But neither had the same impact as the Patriots landing Belichick. He's controlled every aspect of the greatest dynasty modern sports has seen, and perhaps the greatest dynasty of all time. No NFL team is supposed to be this dominant for this long. It should be impossible for a team to win so consistently with the short careers of the players and a salary cap that grew more complicated as the years went on. The game itself has changed so stylistically and schematically that the Patriots' first Super Bowl victory is barely recognizable compared to games played this season.
Yet here we are. Two decades of winning and looming over every championship hopeful around the league. Belichick occupies his own pantheon, ahead of any individual who's stepped on an NFL field in terms of lore. Sure, you can't mention Belichick's impact without Tom Brady, and how fortunate the franchise was that a sixth-round pick turned out to be the greatest quarterback of all time. As much of a football genius he is, even Belichick didn't expect this. He did wait until pick 199 to take Brady, after all.
But while Brady was the handsome face of all that winning, Belichick was always lurking, always working behind the scenes to make sure every tiny little detail throughout his team was perfect, both personnel man and head coach. He alone is the constant beside Brady, the curator of the Patriots organization that everyone has come to recognize as synonymous with football excellence.
Robert Kraft sending a first-round pick to the Jets changed everything in ways we will never be able to grasp. No trade has been better. No trade has been bigger. And it's hard to imagine any transaction topping it.