Looking Back: The 2000 Draft, Brady 6, Pennington and the Steelers

I didn’t catch “The Brady 6″ on ESPN on Tuesday night but I think I have the gist of it: Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL despite being passed over in the 2000 NFL Draft, tearfully watching as six quarterbacks (Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger and Spurgeon Wynn) were selected ahead of him. Half of them were out of the NFL a decade later, all while Brady polishes his three Super Bowl rings and goes home to his supermodel wife. It’s the American dream, and that guy is living it every single day.

Of The Brady 6 that remained in the league in 2010 (Pennington, Redman and Bulger) only one — Pennington — started a game, and he was injured after throwing just two passes, which is a microcosm of his career.

By now, you already know that story, and you also probably already know that the Steelers were a player in it.

The 2000 draft was Kevin Colbert’s first in Pittsburgh, and he was inheriting a team that was coming off its second consecutive non-playoff season. It was also a franchise that had boasted dominant defenses and dominant running games for much of the preceding decade, and consistently made deep runs into the playoffs only to come up just short of Super Bowl glory (They would lose two AFC Championship games at home, and a Super Bowl, in large part because they lacked a franchise player behind center).

The Steelers had been using a revolving door of mediocrity at quarterback, including Neil O’Donnell (probably better than mediocre, and a better player than he’s remembered, which isn’t very good after Super Bowl XXX), Mike Tomczak, Jim Miller and Kordell Stewart. Given the lack of a game-changing quarterback there was a constant call every April for the Steelers to find the next Terry Bradshaw and get a player that could not only have them knocking on the door of the long-awaited “One For The Thumb,” but in the words of Bum Phillips, “kick the son of a bitch in.”

The Steelers hadn’t selected a quarterback in the first round since Mark Malone went 28th overall in 1980, instead opting to find mid-and-late round gems, including one of The Brady 6 in 2000. With the 163rd overall pick, and 36 spots ahead of Brady, the Steelers selected Martin from Tennessee.

He was the fourth quarterback off the board, and would go on to throw just 16 passes in the NFL, all of them with the Oakland Raiders during the 2003 season. At the time, I tried to tell myself the pick would work out because Martin had done something in college that Peyton Manning was unable to do at the same school — win a National Championship. That line of thinking, of course, is absurd, and would be like trying to tell yourself Mark Rypien and Trent Dilfer were better for your team than Dan Marino. But this was 11 years ago and, well, I like to think I’ve learned something over the past decade.

Hindsight tells you that Brady should have been the pick; but perfect 20/20 hindsight and revisionist history also tells you that Brady shouldn’t have simply been selected earlier than he was, he should have been THE No. 1 overall pick in the entire draft (the Browns selected Courtney Brown with that pick. He played only five years in the NFL and was a considerable disappointment).

Still, this isn’t Tony Eason over Dan Marino. Or in the case of the Steelers, Gabe Rivera over Dan Marino (even though we don’t know how good Rivera could have, or should have been). This is something that can’t really be explained. Just like it can’t really be explained how a player like James Harrison can go undrafted, get released four times, and then become one of the most feared players in the NFL. Now there’s an ESPN documentary I want to see.

Every team, including the Patriots, missed on Tom Brady. Yes, the Patriots missed, too, because they passed on him six times to go with Adrian Klemm, J.R. Redmond, Greg Randall, Dave Stachelski, Jeff Marriott and Antwan Harris ahead of him. None of them played in the NFL beyond 2005. If they knew what was ahead for him in his career you can be damn sure they wouldn’t have waited until the sixth round to take him.

But that’s easy to say now, and it’s easy to look back at the rest of the NFL and ask how this guy slips through the cracks. Then again, how could anybody have known this — THIS!– would go on to a Hall of Fame career?

I mean, just look at him! He looks like me in high school, only somehow less athletic with worse coordination.

All that said, the quarterback people wanted the Steelers to take in 2000 wasn’t Brady, but actually Pennington in Round 1. As I recall it, the pre-draft debate was around him and wide receiver Plaxico Burress, the player the Steelers ended up taking.

How different would Steelers history look today had Colbert and Co. gone with the quarterback that year in the first round? Would they still be looking for one for the thumb? It’s certainly not a stretch to think so, simply because it’s unlikely they would have been in a position to take Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

If we look at Pennington’s development and assume he would have followed a similar path in Pittsburgh he would have been a productive player when he wasn’t injured (something that was, and still is, a problem for him). Good enough to make it so the Steelers probably wouldn’t have taken another quarterback just four years later, but not quite good enough to play at a Super Bowl level. And even if they did want a quarterback in 2004, would they have been in a spot to take Roethlisberger? Or would they have been picking over the second wave of quarterbacks, like Tulane’s J.P. Losman?

It’s possible they could have come away with Aaron Rodgers in 2005, but outside of him the potential options over the next few years proved to be dreadful.  With Pennington the Steelers offensive philosophy would have likely had to shift to more of a West Coast-style to suit his skill set, they wouldn’t have had Burress who, for all of his faults, was an extremely productive player with the Steelers, and instead would have likely continued to rely on Troy Edwards to play opposite of Hines Ward.

And it would go on like this, continuing to snowball. In other words: Chaos Theory. Or, as it’s more commonly known, the Butterfly Effect. Soon, you’re possibly looking at Bruce Arians as a head coach somewhere in the NFL (because the Steelers-Browns 2002 playoff game may not happen, meaning Arians may not get fired in Cleveland) and the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks eventually hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Chaos, indeed.

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  • ROb D

    Great post..really enjoyed it.

    I am fascinated with ‘what if’ scenarios at times. Thinking of the STeelers with Pennington which would seem to be a formula for .500 football forever..lol..is kinda sobering.

    The phrase “rely on Troy Edwards” had me staggering and holding onto a wall for support. Good lord! How much time I spent praying to the football gods to magically turn him into a player we as Steeler fans could be proud of. All for naught..I hate when your initial impressions of a player prove accurate. The first time I saw him play I knew in my heart that he was a bad pick.

    Quiet about SEattle! You’ll wake them up and they’ll start whining anew about all the bogus calls in the SB..lol..I kinda wish they’d win one just so they would have something else to obsess about. They are like Red Sox fans before the end of the drought. Endless rehashes of dusty “we mighta won IF…” and now dead history.

  • kyle

    I’m sick of beating this drum and I know it won’t make any more people listen but…Drew Brees has better career stats than Brady despite being two years younger. Brady has had an unusual go of it. Being a late round pick (which was perfectly justified since he was mostly a back up in college), taking over for an injured starter, winning the hardware while he was a care-taker and his coach was cheating, putting up gaudy numbers after that — it all makes for an interesting story. The idea that he’s a surefire first ballot hall of famer bugs me though, because nobody talks about Brees like that. I’m not saying either one of them is or isn’t; I’m just asking for consistency.

    • Paul

      You realize the guy has won 2 MVPs since spygate and put up record breaking numbers in 07, right?

      • kyle

        I mentioned that he put up gaudy numbers after the cheating and super bowl wins. So, yes, I do realize it. Tell me how he’s in consideration for best all time when last season there were three ACTIVE quarterbacks with better career numbers, including one who is younger than he is.

        • Anonymous

          Brady is good. He’s borderline HoF on account of his rings. But he is also the single most overrated player I’ve ever seen play the game. The best of all time noise is nonsense.

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