Patriots

Matt Cassel: Making sense of Michael Bennett's 'philosophical disagreement'

Matt Cassel: Making sense of Michael Bennett's 'philosophical disagreement'

I’ve been in a lot of philosophical debates over the years, but I’ve never had one that’s resulted in a suspension for conduct detrimental. 

So, I would be interested to hear what philosophical conversation took place with Michael Bennett and Brett Bielema. To what extent did that conversation go outside the box? What words were said? Who was there? Was it something in front of the whole team? 

We’ve all been there as players. In a high-intensity environment -- an environment where there’s a lot of stress on both you and your coaching staff every week -- you have moments where there’s an explosion. You yell at your coach or you and your coach have a disagreement, and you guys get after each other a little bit. 

But usually after that takes place and everything settles, there’s a conversation that establishes, "I was wrong. I shouldn’t have handled it that way," and you move forward. And everybody recognizes that it’s somewhat part of the game.

There's another way to handle it, which is maybe more appropriate: You close the door and get a 1-on-1 with your coach. You can yell, you can talk it out, you can do whatever you need to do.

Sometimes that really is the best way to handle it: You’re showing respect for your coach and not disrespecting him by doing it in front of everybody. 

Again, I don’t know the exact situation with Bennett, but it sounds like something that was a bit more than just a philosophical disagreement.

In terms of playing time, I think Bill Belichick makes that clear to everybody who comes to the New England Patriots. 

I remember when the team got together my first time. He told us, "I want to make it very clear: You guys establish your playing time. I’m going to play the guys who I think put us in the best position and give us the best chance to win week in and week out. Regardless of who you are, regardless of how many Pro Bowls you’ve been in, it doesn’t matter. 

"If a rookie free agent is outplaying the guy who’s been here for five years and has all the awards, then we’re going to play the rookie free agent. Because guess what? That guy is giving us the best opportunity to win."

He lets you know that. It’s not something that’s shocking to anybody in the building. It’s very evident to everyone there that Bill lays out the law.

If you don’t address a situation like Bennett’s, then it sends a message to your team that other guys might be able to do it. 

So, I don’t think anything good can come out of it unless you do what you need to do in terms of a suspension or docking someone’s pay. Because you can’t have a team where people think they’re above the rules.

But when Bennett comes back, as you’ve seen Bill do time and time again, it’s business as usual. There won't be anything like, "Bennett’s coming back this week and we’re happy to have him." 

No. It’s going to be right onto the next game, and he’s either going to fall in line or he’s not. That’s just how it goes.

PATRIOTS TALK PODCAST: LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE

Editor's note: Matt Cassel had a 14-year NFL career that included four seasons with the New England Patriots (2005-2008). He's joining the NBC Sports Boston team for this season. You can find him on game days 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.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Patriots' Benjamin Watson shares thoughts on timing of Colin Kaepernick workout

colin_kaepernick_no_helmet.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Photo

Patriots' Benjamin Watson shares thoughts on timing of Colin Kaepernick workout

FOXBORO — The best way to characterize Benjamin Watson’s reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s one-man pro day scheduled for Saturday? Hopefully mystified.

“I think that’s unprecedented,” Watson said when I asked him for his thoughts on the NFL-organized effort to showcase Kaepernick.

Watson knows that it is indeed unprecedented. But even though his antennae are up as to what the NFL’s motivations might be, he instead focused Wednesday on the possible end result.

“I support Colin,” Watson said. “I hope that this leads to him getting a job.”

But, he added, “I don’t know why this would lead to it when nothing else in the last three years would. Honestly, teams have had several opportunities to bring him in at any point. I don’t know why it’s come to this but if this is the way he’s going to get a job if he deserves to be in the league and he can play, then I will say great.

“When I started hearing the details of it, it seems … kind of odd,” added Watson. “I will wait to hear more because I’m sure more details will come out. So I’ll be waiting and hopefully we’ll get a little more clarity about the ‘why’ and the timing and the Saturday and all the other questions everybody else has about it. But at the root of it, if somebody sees Colin through this workout that wouldn’t have seen him before and he can play, then that’s (ideal) if that’s what he wants.”

As Watson said, more details will come out about the workout and they will be in response to the legitimate questions asked.

For instance, why does the league need to hold a workout for a player every team in the league presumably could have worked out privately over the last 800 days?

And why did the league feel compelled to trumpet the fact they were doing it by tipping off select reporters of big news that would be dropping this past Tuesday, as Yahoo’s Charles Robinson reported.

And why was Kaepernick given two hours to accept or decline the offer?

Why on a Saturday in-season when every scout worth his salt is working a college game?

Was there supposed to be a list provided by the league of the teams sending a representative as has been reported and — confusingly — refuted?

Is the aim of said list — and whether it’s shared or not — an effort to determine teams who may be interested in Kaepernick as a quarterback?

Or is this hypothetical list a means to identify which teams either support Kaepernick’s effort to return to the NFL, or want to appear as if they do so they do to keep critics at bay?

And the reverse: Is a team that doesn’t scout Kaepernick on a Saturday in mid-November 2019 not sufficiently attuned to social justice concerns in general or specific to Kaepernick?

Is interest genuine? Or is it the equivalent of a lapel pin?

This seems to me, as I said to Watson, a CYA (cover your ass) attempt by the league to make it seem like the player wasn’t colluded against.

“Why now?” asked Watson. “They could have CYA’d a long time ago. That’s what’s odd to me, the timing. Why now? I’m not privy to those conversations.”

In my opinion, no American with a significant platform has been more insightful than Watson when articulating his feelings on why it’s Kaepernick’s right to respectfully protest.  

These words were part of his first comments on the topic from September of 2016.

Before competition, as I stand in shoulder pads and cleats, my helmet in my left hand, adrenaline flowing and my heart raging under my right, I never forget the ills of America but for a moment I envision its potential, remember its prosperity and give thanks to God for the land He has placed me in and the people I love who live in it. 

I stand, because this mixed bag of evil and good is MY home. And because it's MY home my standing is a pledge to continue the fight against all injustice and preserve the greatest attributes of the country, including Colin Kaepernick's right to kneel.

His actions and similar actions by figures of the past and present are a vital part of our journey and a key component of the equation for social change and should be respected as such.

When he was with the Ravens and that team considered bringing in Kaepernick back in 2017, they asked Watson about it.

"I think the biggest thing they have to decide is, in the process of deciding, is he a good fit for our football team?" Watson said. "That’s the hope that I would have for any team. I would hope that any team, when it comes to Colin Kaepernick, would look at his skills and look at their needs and say, ‘OK, I’m going to give him an opportunity, because I have a need in that area, and he can fill it,’ and nothing else. That’s what you want as a player. That’s the respect you want as a player. All the other stuff is important; don’t get me wrong. But when it comes to football ... the reason we call sports an ‘equalizer’ is because you can come in here, have a different view, but if you can perform and are respectful, then you can have a chance."

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti went as far as to ask fans to “pray for” the Ravens when deciding whether or not to sign Kaepernick. The Ravens never signed him. The reason, according to former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, was because of a tweet issued by Kaepernick’s girlfriend that painted the Bisciotti-Ray Lewis relationship as akin to the brutal plantation owner/compliant slave dynamic from the movie "Django Unchained."

Ironically, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about Kaepernick finding an NFL home in 2017, his answer was: "Those are football decisions that each team has to make. What they think are the right ways to make their football teams better. Those are decisions I don't get involved with, decisions that rightfully belong with the club."

Why is the NFL doing this now? Protests during the anthem have receded. They are barely discussed. Isn’t that what the NFL ultimately wanted?

Suppose Kaepernick does wow a team and is signed to an active roster. The conversation as to whether he’s standing, sitting or kneeling when "The Star-Spangled Banner" begins will be 24-7 before, during and long after the final notes are played.

Watson’s response was interesting and enlightening. And it illustrated my disconnect in processing the protests — empathetically in general but cynically as to Kaepernick’s motive and timing — from Watson or someone who isn’t merely spectating on what it’s like to be black in America but is living it.

“The (controversy about Kaepernick kneeling) was on its way to (receding) in the beginning until the president called football players SOBs,” said Watson.

My mind whispered to me, “Oh yeah. I forgot…”

Watson clearly has not.

“When the president said that in Alabama in 2017, there were a handful of players protesting,” he pointed out. “Some people didn’t like it. Some people did but it wasn’t as big a deal as it became. But when he said that, that’s when you saw the mass protest during the anthem.  And for those several weeks after. (Donald Trump) ignited it.

“I was in Baltimore and we were the first team to play (after Trump’s comments) because we were in London so we were ahead of everyone and we didn’t have time to digest it,” he recalled. “Guys were hurt, guys were CRYING, Tom. Our president said that about us. Dudes were shook up.

“Whether you voted for him or not, there was still respect,” he added. “This is our president, this is the leader of our country. For him to say that, that’s what ignited the second round. So it reignited things with Colin and that made it turn the way it did. Now we’ll see where this goes.”

If it goes anywhere it all. A lot can happen between now and this Saturday's workout. But, as I worked on this piece, there was a line from another post by Watson that stuck out as the perfect note to end on.

“Conflict when handled correctly strengthens. Conflict when mismanaged destroys.”

Looking for the best unfiltered Patriots conversation each week and throughout the offseason? Listen and Subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast!

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Tom Brady says he loves Patriots rookie N'Keal Harry's 'edge' and 'tenacity'

Tom Brady says he loves Patriots rookie N'Keal Harry's 'edge' and 'tenacity'

FOXBORO — Members of the media have heard very little from N'Keal Harry since he was placed on injured reserve at the start of the season. He expressed hope that he'd be able to play prior to his team's Week 9 game in Baltimore two weeks ago. Other than that ... silence. 

From his teammates, though, we've been provided a little more detail as to how things are going with the first-round rookie from Arizona State. 

“I think he continues to get better," Devin McCourty told WEEI's Dale & Keefe program last week. "One of the things he does a really good job of is playing hard in practice. He at times, he pisses off the DBs because he works his butt off — out there blocking, out there getting open. I think that is the good thing about seeing him out there running around.

"It’s hard. When you’re a young guy and you’re a rookie and you miss that much time, you come out there and it’s everything in your game you have to work on. I think as an older guy, that has been exciting to see him there every day after practice just getting work in. He’s doing his best to try and get back out there.”

To hear that Harry is pissing off others on the practice field isn't all that surprising. He's an emotional practice player. That's something we saw all the way back in June. It's something his college coaches appreciated about him when he was with the Sun Devils. 

"N'Keal's very competitive," Arizona State receivers coach Charlie Fisher told The Next Pats Podcast earlier this offseason. "He looks to do good. He gets pissed if he doesn't do it good in practice. Like all great players, he wants to do it good. He takes great pride in trying to do whatever it is your trying to teach him, and he tries to do a good job with it."

On Wednesday — joining WEEI's Christian Fauria during Fauria's 25 consecutive hours on air to raise money and awareness for the American Diabetes Foundation — Tom Brady spoke to Harry's effort on the practice field. While Brady was reluctant to sing Harry's praises ahead of the Ravens game, which he explained, he was willing to laud Harry's "edge" on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. 

“I think with our team, what I think we’ve done over the years is we’ve not projected expectations for people that put them in an unfair position that people are expecting things that, you know, are not in my control,” Brady said. “If you want to ask someone like N’Keal how he feels he’s doing, you should ask him. To ask me, and then put unfair expectations on a younger player, I don’t think that is helpful at all. It is really up to each individual player. 

"It's not just N’Keal because I like N’Keal a lot. Everybody’s role is earned and I think that's the mark of the Patriots and that's part of the culture — you have to come out here and you have to earn a spot and earn a role. You do that through practice, earning the trust of your teammates and your coaches that you can be talented when the moments are their biggest."

Brady added: "Unfortunately for N’Keal, he got hurt early in training camp. He didn’t have the development when other guys were practicing for over two months. He’s working hard. He’s extremely hard-working. He wants to do it. He’s got a great edge about him. I really love that. I really love his tenacity and he’s learning every day, and he’s working hard to get better. I think that is all you can ask of a younger player.”

The Patriots could ask for more from Harry on Sunday, when he'll have an opportunity to be in uniform for his first game as a pro. Will the Patriots activate him, though? 

If part of the reason Harry was inactive in Baltimore was because of the game plan — Josh McDaniels wanted to use the hurry-up, which experienced players might have an easier time executing — then perhaps he'll have a reduced (or non-existent) role in Philadelphia if that's the plan once again. The Patriots were relatively effective with their fast-paced offense that day despite falling short on the scoreboard. 

But activating Harry would give the Patriots a big-bodied red-zone target — something they could use as they're throwing in the red zone more often lately yet still only succeeding on half of their red zone attempts for the year. Harry might also help the team's No. 27 ranking when it comes to success rate on goal-to-go passing scenarios. 

The Eagles secondary is also generally a juicy matchup for opposing receivers. Their corner group has struggled at different points this season and they're 25th in the NFL in yards allowed per attempt to receivers (8.9). 

Seems like it could be a good time to allow Harry to take that practice demeanor his teammates have noticed out to the game field. 

LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE TO TOM E. CURRAN'S PATRIOTS TALK PODCAST:

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.