Patriots

Matt Cassel: How the Patriots will handle Antonio Brown saga behind the scenes

Matt Cassel: How the Patriots will handle Antonio Brown saga behind the scenes

With any organization, you have to address the elephant in the room. But you also have to send a clear message to everyone involved.

So, after the lawsuit against Antonio Brown came to light Tuesday night, I'm guessing Bill Belichick called a meeting and told his Patriots players something like this:

Look, you guys don't know the circumstances. You don't know what's going on in terms of the investigation, the allegations, everything else. You'll read a lot of things, but at the same time, this is not anything to do with you individually.

We have to deal with it as a team. And the best way to deal with it as a team is to let Antonio speak for himself and let the due process take place. We'll keep you informed, but you shouldn't be commenting on someone else's situation, because you don't know the facts or the circumstances.

Unfortunately, I've been around a lot of organizations over my 14-year career that have dealt with off-field issues.

I was in Kansas City in 2012 when Jovan Belcher committed murder-suicide. That was a much, much heavier situation.

You're dealing with it not only as a friend and as a teammate, but then also the calamity of the situation with an innocent woman being killed. 

One day you're sitting next to him in stretch lines, and as you drive in the next morning, your whole world is rocked by the simple fact that two people are dead, one being your teammate. In that circumstance, there's no easy way to handle it.

I was in New England in 2007 for Spygate. Comparatively speaking, that was an easy one. 

We knew what was going on with Spygate. We were in football mode, and it didn't impact our day-to-day. There's so much noise on the outside -- "You're cheaters, you're this, you're that" -- but the easiest way to settle that is to go 18-0 and go to the Super Bowl. Yes, we lost, but everyone thought it was going to have major implications on the season, and it was just business as usual.

I was in Minnesota in 2014 when Adrian Peterson was suspended. In that situation, we were about to play the Patriots when his suspension came out the Friday before the game.

He was at practice all week, and then I got a phone call from the PR department saying, "Has anyone reached out to you regarding Adrian?" I said, "What are you guys talking about?" I had no clue. I was completely blindsided by it.

And it ended up being a huge story. We had every major media outlet -- I’m not just talking about sports outlets, I’m talking about CNN, Fox News, all these people -- at our facility. It was a distraction, and it was overwhelming for a lot of guys. I’m sure the coaching staff and the organization had to figure out how to best go about it with one of their franchise players.

The Patriots are in a similar situation right now with Brown. But as a player on that team, you literally sit there and say, "Well, I’ve got to get ready to do my job."

Because at the end of the day, it’s a business. It’s a job. And you’ve got to get ready to play, because Sunday is going to be here before you know it, and distractions are going to happen. 

But this is one of the best things the Patriots have always done: They try to eliminate those distractions outside the stadium and just do their job. And as a player growing up in that system, that’s your mindset each and every week, no matter what happens.

If Brown is coming out to practice? Great, we’re all practicing.  If he’s not, then the next guy steps up and we move forward.     

Editor's note: Matt Cassel had a 14-year NFL career that included stops with the New England Patriots (2005-2008), Kansas City Chiefs (2009-2012) and Minnesota Vikings (2013-2014). He's joining the NBC Sports Boston team for this season. You can find him on gamedays as part of our Pregame Live and Postgame Live coverage, as well as every week on Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk podcast and NBCSportsBoston.com.

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Gunner Olszewski earning trust of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick with hard work

Gunner Olszewski earning trust of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick with hard work

The New England Patriots have had an unsettled receiver room for most of the 2019 season. At one time, it seemed like they had one of the best groups in the league. But the release of Antonio Brown and the team's decision to trade Demaryius Thomas left them a bit weaker at the position. And in recent weeks, they have been thin at the position due to injuries.

Phillip Dorsett (hamstring), Josh Gordon (knee/ankle), and Julian Edelman (chest) have all been dealing with various maladies over the course of the first six weeks of the season. Additionally, first-round rookie N'Keal Harry has been on IR since just after the team's final cuts.

With these absences, some unexpected contributors have been able to step up. And one of them is Gunner Olszewski. The undrafted rookie out of Bemidji State has earned a big role as a return man and has recently seen an increase in offensive action. And so far, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been impressed with his energy and effort.

"Gunner works really hard," Belichick told reporters at Saturday's media availability. "He gives a lot of effort to do, again, whatever we ask him to do. Whether that’s return kicks, cover kicks, block, catch – he works really hard. Just gives his best all of the time, so you can’t ask for anything more than that. He keeps getting better, so we’ll see where it goes. But, yeah, he’s a good, hard worker."

Of course, hard work is only part of the equation. In the Patriots' offense, it's important to have chemistry with Tom Brady. Has Olszewski done enough to earn Brady's trust so far?

"Yeah, definitely," Brady said when asked about his level of trust in Olszewski. "I think they’re – like I said, those guys are – when you’re young, you gain trust in practice, and a lot of it’s doing the right thing over and over and over again. Those guys are working at it. I mean, they’ve been here a short period of time, so try to get as many reps as you can and talk about things. You get coached up, and any young player, they’re trying to earn the trust of the coach and the players every day."

This is seemingly the most positive Brady has felt about his young receiving weapons this year. Perhaps the team's success against the New York Giants despite being limited to only one formation because of their lack of healthy personnel had an impact on Brady. And maybe that helped him to become more confidence in Olszewski and fellow undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers.

Either way, Brady will likely have to look Olszewski's way a bit more than usual on Monday night against the New York Jets. Josh Gordon is out for the game and so too are tight ends Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo. That should afford Olszewski a good opportunity to make his presence felt.

Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Jets Week 7 Preview>>>

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Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Jets Preview: Pats facing MNF challenge

Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Jets Preview: Pats facing MNF challenge

The Patriots have had one game in which there was even a shred of doubt about the outcome into the fourth quarter. And even then, did anyone figure the Bills were going to score? Exactly.

But Monday night at MetLife the Patriots could get their second decent challenge of the season.

Despite their 1-4 record, the Jets just got capable quarterback Sam Darnold back and his presence made a huge difference in the team’s win over Dallas last week. As for the Patriots offense, which isn’t working at optimal potency, the Jets did a nice job against the Patriots in the first meeting between the teams after New England walked through them on their first three drives.

With 11 days to prepare for this, Josh McDaniels is sure to have hatched something to get Gregg Williams’ defense off-balance. But the Patriots are still hamstrung on offense by their personnel so this one could turn into a slugfest.

Click here for Tom E. Curran's full Week 7 Patriots preview>>>