Bills acquire QB Bledsoe from PatriotsPosted: Sunday April 21, 2002 1:17 PM
ATLANTA (CNNSI.com) -- After much speculation and several trade overtures, the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills reached an agreement Sunday to trade quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
The Patriots will receive the Bills' first-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft for Bledsoe.
Bledsoe-to-Buffalo speculation has been swirling for weeks with the Patriots adamant about receiving first-round compensation in the 2002 draft, and the Bills offering anything from a third-round pick in 2002 to picks in the 2003 draft.On Friday, Buffalo offered a conditional 2003 first-round pick in a fax sent to New England. That proposal was rejected. The offer called for the Patriots to receive a first-round pick if Bledsoe played in at least 12 games and the Bills made the playoffs. The pick would have reverted to a second-round selection if the Bills didn't make the playoffs.
"One thing I will say on the record is we weren't giving up a draft pick this year because we never had the opportunity to speak to Drew or his agent," Bills president Tom Donahoe said Saturday evening. "We're not going to be put in that type of a position."
Up to Sunday, the Patriots were not willing to discuss anything short of 2002. Now, with day one of the draft behind them, both sides seemed to have softened their demands."Let me speak as a Patriots fan," team owner Robert Kraft said Sunday. "Drew Bledsoe is a special player. I have great respect for all he has done for this franchise, not only for his contributions on the field, but also his contributions off the field. ... He gave our fans some of the greatest memories in the franchise's history and there will always be a special place reserved for him in the hearts of Patriots fans.
"For many reasons, and at many levels, this was a difficult trade to make."
After signing a 10-year, $103 million contract last summer that's the richest in NFL history, Bledsoe was injured in Week 2 and out for seven games. Bledsoe was sidelined after taking a hit from linebacker Mo Lewis in the fourth quarter of a 10-3 loss to the New York Jets.
Tom Brady took over and led New England from 0-2 to an 11-5 regular-season record, winning the starting job in the process.
In a twist of fate, Bledsoe replaced an injured Brady in the AFC Championship Game and led the Patriots to a 24-17 upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The question for Super Bowl week became, "Brady or Bledsoe?" But once head coach Bill Belichick determined that Brady was healthy, the job was his.
As he did all season, Bledsoe took the decision with grace, continuing to support Brady as a friend and mentor; when Brady took a nap on the locker room floor before the game, Bledsoe was right beside him. The two also attended a World Series game together in the fall.
"He sets the example for me, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Drew. He's a huge reason why we are where we are right now," Brady said after he was named Super Bowl MVP for leading New England to the Rams' 30 in the final minutes to set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal.
"He said, 'Go win the game. Just drop back and sling it.' That was nice, coming from him, because Drew is as cool as they come."
And now, they both get a chance to play without having to worry about the other.
"I look forward to my future," Bledsoe said on the Superdome field after the game. "I still want to play, and I feel like I can play this game at a very high level."
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Bledsoe, 30, was drafted by the Patriots in 1993 and started for them ever since. He led them to the Super Bowl in 1997, but they lost 35-21 to the Green Bay Packers.
In nine seasons with the Patriots, Bledsoe established the franchise's career passing records with 4,518 attempts, 2,544 completions and 29,657 yards while starting 123 of 124 games. He also had 166 touchdowns with 138 interceptions.
New England now has three quarterbacks on its roster, including Brady, sixth-year veteran Damon Huard and Rohan Davey, the Patriots' fourth-round draft choice out of Louisiana State.
"As a player, I'm disappointed for selfish reasons. But as a team player I'm excited by him," said Van Pelt, who was bumped to backup. "You add a Drew Bledsoe to your team, it's huge. ... He's already done a ton in this league."
Even before the deal was announced, the Bills opened their box office to accommodate fans who heard the trade was imminent. Buffalo, which failed to sell out four of its eight home games last season, drew 504,709 fans last year, the lowest since 1987.
"Just the hint of Drew Bledsoe would get anybody down here," said Patrick Cimicato, after purchasing a pair of season tickets at the stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. "As expensive as it is for a game here, Drew Bledsoe is the main reason I came down here. ... I was jumping around in the car."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.