The Patriots season ended January 3. The next day, Bill Belichick did his 2020 post-mortem press conference. Unless he veers in his plans, we won’t hear from him again until sometime in mid-April at the team’s pre-draft press conference.
After that, there will be a minicamp media session in early June. Then -- unless he does some one-offs with media Friends of Bill -- he probably won’t speak again until the start of training camp.
That offseason speaking schedule couldn’t be questioned when the Patriots season ended with a parade in early February. The state of the franchise in those years -- really for the past 20 years -- was self-evident. Best coach. Best quarterback. Look at our rings. Any questions? No? Good.
But now there are questions. And it’s time for someone from the Patriots -- preferably Belichick -- to step to the mic.
Because the only thing we’ve gotten since the 2020 season ended was an awkward social media post the day after the Super Bowl. The gist? "You may still be mystified as to why the quarterback who just won his seventh Super Bowl isn’t here anymore. Just know this: We’re still trying!!!"
Curran: Pats rolling the dice if they draft a QB early
This is a very interesting dynamic to watch unfold. Belichick turns 69 next month. He is the greatest coach in NFL history. He does not like criticism (who does?). He also doesn’t like -- generally -- delving into explanations. Anyone who watched the brilliant A Football Life: Bill Belichick documentary from almost a decade ago will recall that even if the audience is his boss Robert Kraft, Belichick is gonna Belichick. An illustration of this can be seen at the 39:30 mark in this link.
But the Patriots franchise is in uncharted waters under Belichick. Brady-less and coming off their first losing season since 2000, what’s the direction of the team? Should fans, media, corporate sponsors, advertisers, etc., just take it on faith that Belichick has a plan and that 2020 -- for a variety of reasons -- was a one-off? Or is it incumbent on the team to engage a little bit?
At some point, Kraft probably will. He usually speaks at the NFL Owners Meeting in late March and he’ll probably be the one who will face the music this year as well. He understood in the 1990s after buying the team the need to be "out there" and he took heat for being too visible and too available. As the team improved, he’s picked his spots. But he understands he’s no longer the steward for a local NFL entrant worth $100M with an operating income of $4M. His investment is now worth $4.4B. Excellence, accountability, preparedness, resourcefulness and the ability to outsmart competition are all key aspects of the brand the Patriots built.
Having no particular plan at the most important position in pro sports calls into question the preparedness. Thinking Brady was almost out of gas then seeing him win the Super Bowl calls into question the wisdom. And hiding under the desk calls into question the accountability.
But there’s the conundrum. Belichick won’t do anything at the point of a bayonet. Even if he’s coaxed into a media session, chances are it becomes a shrug-a-thon punctuated by snorts and throat clears.
Belichick’s sarcastic, "Great question, thanks for asking ..." responses that began as playoffs fell out of reach indicated to me he believes his decisions are beyond questioning.
Replace "Great question" with "How dare you?" and "Thanks for asking" with "You’ll get nothing and like it ..."
There’s a segment of Patriots fans that has no issue at all with that. To them, Belichick’s more than earned the right to operate as he sees fit. If that means pissing on media ingrates, well, that’s part of the brand too. I respect that perspective, even if I’m on the receiving end. It’s part of the Belichick package and I consider myself very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to observe it up close.
But I also think the Patriots are whistling past the graveyard if they buy into that, "Never apologize, never explain," mindset. The logo and the head coach aren’t enough to keep consumer’s addled attention on them if they sink into mediocrity.
Patriots Talk: Is New England's answer at QB in the 2021 NFL Draft?
In a perfect world, what exactly are the questions Belichick would field?
How about these.
Bill, you spent the last few years wanting to go year-to-year with Brady. You resisted requests for a long-term, market-value deal. You wouldn’t guarantee two years even at below market value. Why?
Did you misjudge or underestimate Brady’s ability to keep playing at a high level?
Knowing what we know now, would you have done things differently with Brady beginning when Garoppolo was traded?
Since trading Jimmy Garoppolo in October, 2017, you’ve used later-round picks on two quarterbacks and acquired Brian Hoyer and Cam Newton, neither of whom are players to build around. What’s your plan at that position?
Robert, are you OK with that plan?
Robert, are you concerned with the higher-round draft misses of the past several years? A follow-up, there’s been turnover in the personnel department. The scouting and coaching staffs are small by choice. Is Bill handling too much of a load?
Robert, do you think that the organization should be more transparent as it rebuilds? Are you at all concerned, especially in light of the pandemic, that there will be attrition among fans, sponsors, etc., that will impact this team over the next decade?
Robert, does Bill have a lifetime appointment as your head coach?
Bill, what are the priority positions you plan to address in free agency?
Will the salary-cap pinch being felt around the league cause you to move more slowly in anticipation of moves that may come later in the offseason? Do you expect an active trade market because of the cap constraints teams are feeling?
Are you concerned that -- without a quarterback plan in place -- free agents who covet a chance to play for a title will see too much uncertainty here and choose other teams?
How come you let the tight end position go unaddressed in the draft until last year?
How much patience remains for the development of N’Keal Harry in your program?
Same question for Jarrett Stidham.
Will you pick up Isaiah Wynn's or Sony Michel's fifth-year option?
Are you entertaining offers for Steph Gilmore or would you extend him?
What was all the weirdness about with Chase Winovich and his playing time in the middle of the season last year?
Your best pass rushers last season were Winovich, Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler. The latter two are free agents. Were you satisfied with the level of pressure you were able to get defensively last year or does that area need an upgrade?
Is there a "type" of quarterback you’d be looking for to fit into the system that you guys used successfully for so long or would you fit the system to the player kind of as you did with Cam Newton?
Can you throw it further than Cam Newton?
You look mad. Are you mad?
It would go about like that. Twenty minutes, give or take. In. Out. Nobody gets hurt. We can all move on from Brady and Gronk and decisions made that led to 7-9. Then we can turn the page to optimism about what a team with $60M in cap space, the 15th pick in the draft and the best head coach in NFL history can do going forward.