New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe is looking forward to a fresh start after a disappointing 1999 campaign.
Bledsoe and the Patriots finished last in the AFC East after a season which the quarterback admitted was the most frustrating season of his seven-year career. Despite a coaching changeover and the departure of several key players on the 1999 roster, he feels New England is capable of turning their own fortunes around in the 2000 season.
"We have lost some guys, but I know a lot about the character of this team, and I believe that we do have enough talent to go out and compete," Bledsoe said. "It's not just blind faith. I firmly believe that with the guys we have in the locker room right now, as it stands, we can be very competitive."
The team may have to compete without two longtime Patriots who rank among the top Patriots to play the game. Bledsoe said the departure of tackle Bruce Armstrong and tight end Ben Coates was not easy news to handle:
"My career wouldn't be where it is and I wouldn't have accomplished what I have accomplished without those two guys," Bledsoe said. "We wouldn't have won nearly as many games over this last seven or eight year stretch. Those two guys are probably both on a very short list of the very best players ever to play for the Patriots. To see the two of them depart is very hard to take."
Bledsoe is still holding onto hope that Armstrong will be a Patriot again when the season begins.
"Bruce has been, and hopefully will continue to be, an extremely important part of our team," Bledsoe said. "Prior to his injury in Arizona, I felt like he was playing his best football since I've been here. He's a guy who has seen it all, with the exception of a championship."
Now a veteran of seven seasons, Bledsoe himself has seen a lot of football in New England. With the retirement of Miami's Dan Marino, Bledsoe is the AFC East quarterback with the longest time in the division. He is also now the longest-tenured Patriot.
"It's amazing how quickly that happens. I've now been a Patriot longer than everybody who's here," Bledsoe said. "I've been here longer then any of the players, the owner and the coaches. I've been here longer than everybody but the equipment manager and two trainers. It amazes me. I feel like a kid, and I look around and I have the longest tenure of anybody in the organization."
Bledsoe also has one of the highest contracts on the team, but he understands that when the time is right, he and team management will likely have to rework the deal in order to help the organization.
"My cap number is high, and it is handcuffing the team to a certain extent. Hopefully there will be a re-negotiation," Bledsoe said. "It's not going to be a situation where I'm going to hold the team hostage for the last dollar. The Patriots have been extremely fair to me over the years, and I know they will continue to be. At some point there probably needs to be something done in order for us to be active on the free agent market."
Though he isn't punching the panic button, Bledsoe knows that time goes by quickly in the NFL. He said his approach to the 2000 season would be similar to every other year, which is to train and prepare for a championship season.
"Time is short in this league. In your first two or three years, you feel like you can play forever," Bledsoe said. "In all honesty, I still feel like I can play for a long time. The first seven years have gone by extremely quickly. I know the rest of it is going to go by quickly, and you have to take advantage of every opportunity you have.
"I am going to approach this year like it might be my only opportunity to get to the Super Bowl. That's the way you have to approach it."