Rex Ryan's animosity toward Bill Belichick is long founded and based primarily on Ryan's inability to best the Patriots' head coach in the AFC East for the better part of a decade. But was the former Jets and Bills coach and current ESPN analyst correct in his assertion that players didn't go to New England because of Belichick but rather because they wanted to play with Tom Brady? Ryan certainly added some ammunition to that arsenal today.
Hours after Matt Stafford was traded to the Rams for Jared Goff and a slew of picks, word leaked that the New England Patriots were the only team Stafford wouldn't accept a trade to. There are many reasons why that may have been the case, from the Patriots' lackluster talent on offense to the fact that former Lions coach Matt Patricia has rejoined the Pats coaching staff. But the fact that Stafford singled out the Patriots certainly helps the argument Ryan presented about Belichick last week.
For many years, it seemed Belichick was a magnet talented players were attracted to. He got the most out of Randy Moss and Wes Welker and Corey Dillon following trades. Aqib Talib jumpstarted his outstanding career in New England, Kyle Van Noy proved to be a diamond in the rough for them and Stephon Gilmore became a star there. Plenty of other under-appreciated talent got their start or restart thanks to Belichick and it seemed he was the man who could turn any career around.
However, over the last two years, Belichick's reputation as a hard-nosed, my-way-or-the-highway coach has seemingly scared players off. Between poor draft decisions, misplaced trades and an inability to sign anyone of note in free agency, the Patriots' offensive skill positions have suddenly become bereft of top-tier talent. That was evident this past season as Cam Newton struggled to consistently accomplish anything through the air and likely played a role in Stafford not wanting to play for the Patriots in 2021 and beyond as he tries to win a Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, Tom Brady did attract star talent to Tampa Bay, where Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette, Rob Gronkowski and others signed on cheap contracts for the chance to play alongside Brady. It's worked out for them as they're in the Super Bowl with a chance to add a large ring to their jewelry collections.
For Ryan, this is added fodder for a grudge he's held against Belichick since the latter was kicking Ryan's butt up and down broadway as coach of the Jets and then across Lake Erie with the Bills. Now Ryan can say with even more confidence, it wasn't me losing to Belichick, it was me losing to Brady. That should help him sleep even more soundly at night.