The New England Patriots and New York Jets have been rivals for quite some time. The Patriots have gotten the better part of the battle with five Super Bowl rings compared to just one for the Jets, and they also came out on the winning end of a historic trade in 2000.
After firing Pete Carroll as their head coach, the Patriots were in need of a replacement. Robert Kraft had his eyes set on one Bill Belichick, then-coach of the Jets. Belichick was in line to take over the head coaching job after Parcells retired in February 2000, but he had other plans.
By forcing his way out of New York, he essentially got himself traded to the Patriots. It was the best move New England has ever made, while it had very different results for the Jets.
Continuing our 10-day series examining the biggest trades in NFL history, let’s take a look back at some facts you may not have known about the deal that led to Belichick era in New England.
Belichick’s contract ensured that he’d take over for Bill Parcells when he retired
Belichick signed a six-year deal in 1997 to be the Jets’ assistant head coach to Parcells. It kept the duo together after a brief stint in New England, hoping to turn around the Jets’ fortunes. When Belichick signed the contract, there was a clause that ensured he’d take over head coaching duties when Parcells ultimately stepped down or retired.
Parcells did just that in 2000, paving the way for Belichick to take over head coaching duties as the two sides had planned three years prior. This prevented the Patriots from hiring Belichick, and was a legitimately smart move by the Jets. Parcells knew it, too, saying this after retiring:
"Bill's not coming back. You can write that on your chalkboard."
Unfortunately, Parcells was wrong. Belichick did go back to the Patriots after shockingly resigning, causing the Jets to lose two head coaches in a matter of two days. It was a disastrous situation for New York, which seemed to be set for years to come thanks to Belichick’s contract clause.
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The Patriots nearly hired Dom Capers before landing Belichick
Initially, the Jets and commissioner Paul Tagliabue agreed that Belichick would be unavailable for other teams without New York’s consent. This prevented Belichick from interviewing with the other 31 teams in the NFL, effectively keeping him in New York unless the Jets agreed to compensation that satisfied their needs.
With this obstacle in place, the Patriots continued their head coaching search after firing Pete Carroll. One prime candidate was Dom Capers, whom the Patriots interviewed for four hours. This meeting came after Robert Kraft offered the Jets a second- and third-round pick for Belichick, which was declined by Parcells.
Parcells expected the Patriots to go through with hiring Capers, but Kraft had other plans.
“I’m going to make a decision here that I don’t want to make, because I want this guy as my head coach,” Kraft said after calling Parcells at 11 p.m. that night.
Kraft reluctantly agreed to send a first-round pick to the Jets – which was Parcells’ desired compensation all along – ending the possibility of hiring Capers. Strangely enough, though, the Patriots wound up hiring him eight years later to coach the secondary.
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The Jets selected Shaun Ellis with the pick from Belichick trade – one of their four first-rounders
At the time of the trade, the Jets were in a good position. They were just two years removed from a 12-4 season and an appearance in the conference title game, which they followed up with a somewhat disappointing 8-8 campaign in 1999. Trading away Belichick obviously hurt, but they received a first-rounder in 2000, as well as a fourth- and seventh-rounder in 2001.
The pick in 2000 wound up being the 16th overall selection, and gave the Jets a whopping four first-rounders that year. New York traded the 16th pick, as well as the 48th overall selection, to the 49ers for the 12th pick, where they drafted Shaun Ellis.
He was the first of four first-rounders in 2000 for the Jets, followed by John Abraham at 13, Chad Pennington at 18 and Anthony Becht at 27. So while losing Belichick to the Patriots was a notable loss, the Jets were in position to rebound and build a strong roster with a core of young players.
Ellis actually wound up finishing his career with the Patriots in 2011, his final season in the NFL. That season, the Patriots lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl.
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Belichick has led the Patriots to more Super Bowls than the Jets have playoff appearances
Some are led to believe that the Jets completely tanked after trading away Belichick – that they were dysfunctional and couldn’t win without him or Parcells. That simply wasn’t the case. They won at least nine games in each of the three seasons after Belichick’s departure, making the playoffs twice. They consistently hovered around .500 for the next decade-plus, but that didn’t make them a great team.
Since Belichick left, the Jets have made the playoffs just six times, reaching the conference title game twice. Belichick, on the other hand, has led the Patriots to 14 playoff appearances and seven Super Bowls – winning five of them.
It’s shocking to think that the Patriots have reached more Super Bowls than the Jets have made postseason appearances since 2000, but it’s true.
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Belichick resigned after one day of being the Jets’ head coach, writing the news on a napkin
When Bill Parcells retired as head coach of the Jets, it opened the door for Belichick to take the reins. There was a clause in his contract that permitted him to do so, essentially handing him the keys to the team whenever Parcells stepped down. It seemed like a good deal for both the coach and the Jets, but Belichick wasn’t sold on leading a team with so much dysfunction when it came to ownership.
As a result of the Jets’ impending sale, Belichick didn’t feel comfortable leading a team with an uncertain future.
"I just don't feel I can lead the Jets in the year 2000," Belichick said at the time. "I just know what I need to do. I just don't feel I can do it right now."
On Jan. 3, 2000, he was named head coach of the Jets. On Jan. 4, he resigned, turning the tables on what was meant to be an introductory press conference. Instead of talking about how excited he was to be the team’s head coach, he explained why he wouldn’t be taking the job.
“Due to the various uncertainties surrounding my position as it relates to the team’s new ownership, I have decided to resign as the head coach of the New York Jets.”
He reportedly wrote on a napkin, “I resign as HC of the NYJ,” to tell the team of his decision before holding a 30-minute press conference detailing his reasoning.
“The agreement that I made was with Mr. Hess, Bill Parcells and Mr. Gutman, and that situation has changed dramatically. And it’s going to change even further,” Belichick said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions here,” he told reporters. “I have been concerned about it since Leon Hess died.”
Belichick was named head coach of the Patriots three weeks later, and the rest is history.
This was the second time in three years that the Patriots and Jets made a trade for a head coach
The Patriots’ deal for Belichick wasn’t the first time a team traded for a coach. In fact, it wasn’t even the first time the Patriots and Jets agreed to exchange draft picks for a head coach. They did so three years prior when Parcells joined the Jets against the Patriots’ wishes. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, in order to avoid legal action from New England, orchestrated a deal between the two teams.
The Patriots netted a handful of picks in return: a first-rounder in 1999, a second-rounder in 1998, and a third- and fourth-round pick in 1997. The Patriots didn’t turn the haul of selections into anything valuable, but it was a significant deal for a head coach.
Belichick was named Parcells’ assistant in New York after the deal was completed, giving the Jets two great coaching minds on the staff. Little did the Jets know that three years later, they’d be without both coaches with Parcells retiring and Belichick heading to the Patriots.