Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will forever be known as the greatest quarterback-coach combination in NFL history. One half of that equation is now gone, as Brady announced this morning he would be leaving the only franchise he's ever known. The ripple effects of a decision of this magnitude will be countless, and each will be covered in-depth over the coming days, weeks, and months.
Perhaps the most important of those (when it comes to the legacy discussion) is that we will finally be able to answer the question that has been a talking point for the better part of this decade: is Brady or Belichick more responsible for the unprecedented success of the last 20 years?
That discussion is a little bit more complicated in football than in basketball or baseball, and especially so when it comes to the Patriots. Basketball is more of a star-driven sport, and one player can drive a team to a championship if he has the will and means, which slightly lessens the importance of having a good coach. A good manager puts his players in positions to succeed, but not nearly to the level that an NFL head coach does.
And Belichick isn't just any head coach. He's also served as New England's head of personnel throughout his tenure. Not only is he devising both big and small-picture gameplans on a week-to-week basis, he's evaluating potential draft picks, monitoring the trade market, and constantly evaluating the state of his roster. He didn't do it all by himself, of course, but he's the creator, curator, and executor of New England's plan in every possible respect.
He is, though, still just a coach. He does a better job than any individual in NFL history of putting his players in a position to succeed, but the players play the game, as the old adage goes. Which brings us to Brady. Belichick's genius cannot be denied, but it can absolutely be questioned how effective all that genius would have been without the greatest quarterback to play the game executing the gameplan. There have been plenty of years, especially early in the 2010s, where the Patriots might not have even made the playoffs without heroic efforts from Brady, much less made the Super Bowl.
Now we'll finally find out. It won't be as simple as comparing the 2020 records of Brady's new team and the Patriots. Part of what makes this argument so complicated is all of the moving parts that make up a successful football team. Brady could have the best year of his career and still go 9-7 if he ends up on a team with a weak defense or poor injury luck. In a similar vein, Belichick could make mistake after mistake and the Patriots could go 12-4 again if a few plays break right.
But we'll get a better idea of who's more valuable than we ever have. Belichick will have to completely change how he approaches each game on the offensive front, and Brady will be learning a new system for the first time since he was just a sixth-round pick out of Michigan. The one thing we can be sure of is that both men are looking forward to the challenge of succeeding without the other.