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Drew's days may be doomed
The NFL/by Kevin Mannix

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

FOXBORO - We may very well be witnessing the final days of the Drew Bledsoe era around here.

Bill Belichick's emphatic declaration that Tom Brady will be the Patriots starting quarterback for the ``foreseeable future'' likely could have the same effect on Bledsoe's tenure as Bob Kraft's decision to go along with the selection of Terry Glenn in the 1996 draft had on Bill Parcells.

Back then, Parcells wanted to trade the seventh pick of the draft for a spot later in the first round and use that subsequent pick on a defensive lineman. Personnel director Bobby Grier and the scouts thought Glenn was just what Bledsoe needed - a fast wide receiver with game-breaking capabilities - to be all he could be. They insisted that the Pats should stay right where they were and take the Ohio State receiver.

Parcells was confident that he could persuade Kraft to go along with him. When the owner sided with the scouts on draft day, it was the de facto end of Parcells' time with the Patriots. He did hang around that season, leading the Pats to the Super Bowl (thanks in no small part to Glenn's record 90 receptions). As soon as the loss to the Green Bay Packers was over, so was Parcells' time in New England.

Belichick's decision to keep Brady as the starter and reduce Bledsoe's workload with the first offense is probably going to have the same effect on The Franchise's desire to remain here.

If Brady continues to play well this year and relegates Bledsoe to backup status on the preseason 2002 depth chart, there's no way Bledsoe will remain here in the hopes of winning back his job during training camp.

For one thing, there is Belichick's obvious preference for Brady. Bledsoe couldn't feel confident that he'd get a fair shot to reclaim the spot. For another, there's Bledsoe's hefty salary. The second-highest paid player in the NFL isn't about to play second string. For still another, there's his natural belief and pride in his own ability.

Bledsoe is a former first overall draft pick. He's a three-time Pro Bowl selection. He quarterbacked the Pats in the Super Bowl following the 1996 season. He's the second-highest paid player behind Brett Favre, after signing a series of contracts last winter that could total $103 million over 10 years.

He may be a friend of Brady's and a team guy but, at 29, Bledsoe is still in the prime of his career. He's not going to sit back passively and accept the possibility that he'll be a backup for the next three seasons, waiting for a chance to get back in the starting lineup.

A more likely scenario is for him to use his considerable influence with Kraft to ensure that the Patriots trade him in the offseason. And if Brady continues to play well, there's no reason Belichick would balk at a Bledsoe trade.

Forget letting Bledsoe go in the Houston expansion draft. For one thing, the Pats wouldn't get anything in return. For another, an executive with the Texans said that the team wouldn't be interested in Bledsoe. Having an immobile 30-year-old quarterback operating on an expansion team doesn't make for sound or prudent long-term planning. By the time the team was built around him, Bledsoe's career could be over.

A trade would be the likely resolution because there is no ``no trade'' provision in Bledsoe's new contract.

Do you think Washington's Marty Schottenheimer wouldn't want an experienced QB of Bledsoe's status? Or how about George Seifert or whoever is the Carolina coach next year? Or Mike Holmgren in Seattle? Or Detroit? Or Dallas?

Just don't look for the Pats to duplicate the Jim Plunkett trade. After the 1975 season, the Pats decided Plunkett, the first pick in the 1971 draft, had taken too many hits and was too slow getting rid of the ball. They liked rookie quarterback Steve Grogan enough to send Plunkett to San Francisco for three first-round draft picks (Pete Brock, Tim Fox, Ray Clayborn), a second-rounder (Horace Ivory) and quarterback Tom Owen.

``That kind of deal can't be done any more because of the salary cap implications,'' one AFC general manager said yesterday. ``But Bledsoe is still considered a very good quarterback. As long as teams are convinced that his medical condition is OK, there will be no shortage of teams interested in him.

``The need for good quarterbacks is obvious. Look around the league.''

An NFC general manager agreed.

``Look at the Trent Green trade,'' he said. ``Kansas City gave the Rams the 12th pick in the draft for him. I'm sure Bledsoe would bring more than that.''

One general manager was curious about the rationale behind Belichick's announcement.

``If they're giving Brady the job because Bledsoe isn't medically ready to play, it makes sense,'' he said. ``If they think that Brady gives them a better chance of winning than a healthy Bledsoe, that's another story.

``If that's the case, they're in trouble. It will be a while before they'll see the playoffs.''

 

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