Patriots

It's fair to wonder where Bill Belichick stands on Donald Trump right now

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It's fair to wonder where Bill Belichick stands on Donald Trump right now

On the eve of the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump played an ace in the hole in New Hampshire.

It was a strong letter of support from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. It wasn’t intended to be shared as a gesture of public support but Trump shared it anyway.

It read, “Congratulations on a tremendous campaign. You have dealt with an unbelievable slanted and negative media, and have come out beautifully. You’ve proved to be the ultimate competitor and fighter. Your leadership is amazing. I have always had tremendous respect for you, but the toughness and perseverance you have displayed over the past year is remarkable. Hopefully tomorrow’s election results will give the opportunity to make America great again. Best wishes for great results tomorrow.”

Trump understood the weight Belichick’s personal approval would carry. It meant the greatest coach in the NFL was on his side.

Is Belichick still there?

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Unfortunately for Belichick, Trump tore down his political firewall when he shared that private note. And in the nearly four years since Belichick MAGA’d for the would-be president, so many unfathomable things have been said or done that one wonders if Belichick still remains an unwavering ally.

Where the Patriots head coach now stands is relevant.

Absent any kind of statement otherwise, it’s inevitable to wonder whether Belichick’s support of a president who — since 2016 — has found myriad ways to undercut, minimize, demonize and insult NFL players fighting for social justice remains as strong.

So many current and former Patriots have taken public leadership roles in that arena — the McCourtys, Matthew Slater, Benjamin Watson, Duron Harmon, Chris Long, Martellus Bennett — all with Belichick’s blessing and support.

But it’s still hard to reconcile how Belichick can at once support those players and their causes while also supporting a president who undermines them.

It’s something some of his players have grappled with.

“He told the players not to get into the election or debate with the media because it would become a distraction,” one former Patriot told me this week. “So we listened but when we he endorsed Trump, a lot of people were upset. He tried to say he didn’t endorse him and that he was just writing a friend a letter but we all knew what that letter meant.”

Meanwhile, another ex-Patriot isn’t holding his breath for Belichick to make a comment.

“I think the minority of coaches actually give a shit enough to step off the ledge,” he said. “I think he cares about players but not enough to speak out on this. Is anyone surprised?  Great football coach. There’s a lot of different ways to be a great football coach. His is winning a ton of games.”

Even with his previous support for Trump being public, Belichick seems to have been conferred immunity from specific scrutiny as the nation rages over the murder of George Floyd. The Patriots released a statement that would seemingly cover Belichick. But while others in the league are tiptoeing through minefields or baring their souls, the most important non-player in the league isn't saying anything and probably won't.

It is fair to ask what a public statement by Belichick would accomplish. Anything less than a complete disavowal of Trump’s verbal treatment of NFL players would be used as a cudgel against him. And wringing a comment from Belichick to satiate the media or the masses? Fat chance. That’s the antithesis of who he is.

How many times has he said from the podium that he doesn’t share details of private conversations? If a player would like to know where he stands, there’s no doubt Belichick would turn him away. Further, in that locker room of 53 men there are plenty of players with conservative views. Does Belichick then have to go smooth things over with them? Where does it end?

Belichick's support is there, former Patriots Benjamin Watson told me this week on the Patriots Talk Podcast.

“I was talking to someone the other day with the team, and I was telling him just that the Patriots, I believe, have done a good job in allowing their players to get involved with issues outside of the game," Watson said. "They've provided a space. There was a bill about education that came up last year, here in Massachusetts. A number of players got on board, speaking about it and talking about it. They had support from Mr. Kraft. They had support from Coach (Bill) Belichick to go and do those things. Support from the PR department. Other teams aren't like that, so there are varying degrees of which the organization will support and understand.”

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If Belichick was just an Average Joe punching the clock, would his political views matter to the general public? Has Belichick forfeited the right to support whoever he wants politically? Does it matter what Seth in Gloucester thinks? No. No. And not really.

But it does matter what his players think.

It matters if they wonder whether he is fully supportive of them. And since Donald Trump decided in 2016 to brandish Belichick’s note as evidence their boss was riding with him, it absolutely calls that into question.

There is no debating whether or not Belichick has “done the work” during his 45 years as an NFL coach. Ask NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown, who received so much from Belichick to help the Amer-I-can Foundation.

“He has been face to face with my gangsters in L.A. and in Cleveland,” Brown said in 2008. “Belichick is the only person that you would know who has been in my home with these guys. He has been in the hotel room in Cleveland with them; not only that, he’s been to the graduation; not only that, he got us our first contract in Rhode Island. And not only that, when he fined his players one year, he gave all the fine money to the foundation.

“He was there to lend his support and credibility and allow the gang members to meet him,” Brown said. “What happens is that when someone like that comes into my living room and sits down with them, it makes them feel that they have support. They read about this guy and all that, they never expect him to come and sit down with us and be a regular guy.”

In October 2016, less than a month before the election, Belichick took the Patriots to visit Jim Brown’s statue when the team was in Cleveland. Belichick wanted those players to appreciate Brown’s impact both in the NFL and in the community.

That visit was just one of many important gestures Belichick has made over the years in an effort to get his players to understand and appreciate who came before them and, perhaps, what they themselves can do with their platforms.

Nobody with the Patriots franchise has a bigger platform and a more important voice than Bill Belichick. No one is more influential.

It’s not wrong to wonder what — if anything — he will do with it right now.

Patriots' Devin McCourty: It's 'an absolute joke' NFL is changing opt-out deadline

Patriots' Devin McCourty: It's 'an absolute joke' NFL is changing opt-out deadline

Devin McCourty didn’t hold back on a Sunday afternoon video conference with New England media.

The Patriots veteran safety took no questions during a six-minute session, choosing instead to make an impassioned statement about his belief that people need to stay attuned to the equality problems in the United States.

McCourty pledged his support for the cause of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Louisville police when a shootout began after authorities burst into her home with a “no-knock warrant.”

McCourty also spoke about healthcare inequities, the “digital divide” underprivileged students face because some don’t have access to technology and the internet for remote learning, efforts to reach out and listen to minorities involved in law enforcement and the need for the NFL to have more diversity in coaching and personnel.

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McCourty then took aim at the league for reportedly trying to move up an agreed-upon deadline for players to “opt out” prior to the 2020 season.

A source told Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, “Teams are concerned that some players who think they won’t make the team are choosing to opt out and to take the six-figure stipend." While players apparently would owe the money back to the teams if they fail to make the roster in 2021, no team wants to have to chase a former player around next year in an effort to retrieve $150,000 or $350,000.

“Another concern comes from an issue we’ve previously flagged: Some agents, per the source, are using the threat of an opt out as leverage to get their clients new contracts.”

“It’s an absolute joke that the NFL is changing the opt-out period, mainly because they don’t want to continue to see guys opt out,” McCourty said. “I’m sure they’re shocked about how many guys have opted out. But it’s the same thing when we sign the CBA, sometimes some of those things that we think are good, sometimes backfire. You know, we have rookies who are locked in long-term contracts and tagged and tagged. You guys don’t think we would love to change that about the CBA? But we can’t. That’s the point of signing an agreement.

“So I think it’s terrible. I think it’s BS that the league [wants to change] that date.”

So far, eight Patriots have opted out. The latest was tight end Matt LaCosse who reportedly opted out Sunday. Wide receiver Marqise Lee also opted out this weekend.

McCourty seemed to indicate he was still mulling his ultimate decision. Separately, he explained to me that – if he did want to opt out for family reasons at any time – the passing of an opt-out deadline wouldn’t prevent him from doing so.

McCourty encouraged players to understand the power they have right now.

"Monday will be our first day in the building, so to try to act like guys are trying to make a decision about something other than virtual meetings is a joke," he said. "When players understand how much power we have, we've seen things change for us; primarily even with this deal, with the COVID-19 and trying to get everything back. We saw some of that strength. Hopefully we'll see how everything turns out come Wednesday, if it ends up being the deadline.

"I support guys no matter what they decide, but I'm still out here having fun and figuring things out. So we'll see how we go."

The NFL and NFLPA agreed to a host of changes to the CBA to get through the 2020 season but those changes have not been finalized. The opt-out deadline was supposed to be a week after the deal was done. Because of the delay getting it done, the opt-out deadline keeps moving further down the road.

And the concern from some teams seems to be that a player who’s destined for the bubble may see the writing on the wall and opt-out. It’s a cynical concern but it’s also not beyond the realm for a player who was already on the fence about playing and then realizes he’s a longshot.

The other concern according to Florio is players threatening to opt out if they’re not given a new deal. Florio pointed out he hadn’t heard of that happening but he noted, “For plenty of players, a significant bump in compensation could be the difference between opting out and opting in.”

Objectively speaking, players and coaches are the ones taking the personal medical risk. Owners aren’t. For a key player to say, “What will you do to make it worth my while? What’s the additional hazard pay?” is not that absurd.

NFL players don’t often use their leverage. McCourty, it seems, is hoping they start to.

NFL rumors: Patriots place Sony Michel, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon King on PUP list

NFL rumors: Patriots place Sony Michel, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon King on PUP list

The New England Patriots will begin training camp with three players on the physical unable to perform, or PUP, list. 

Patriots wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, running back Sony Michel and special teams standout Brandon King all have been placed on the PUP list, according to ESPN's Field Yates.

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Sanu had offseason ankle surgery in March. He suffered the ankle injury in Week 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles, and it prevented him from playing at a high level for the remainder of the 2019 season. Michel had foot surgery in May. The 2018 first-round pick had a disappointing sophomore season in which he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. King missed all of the 2019 campaign because of a torn quad. Therefore, it's not too surprising that these players have landed on the PUP list.

In Sanu's case, he's been working pretty hard over the offseason to get back into optimal shape. He's posted several workout videos on Instagram, including some sessions that included newly signed quarterback Cam Newton.