Patriots

Patriots suddenly have time on their hands; here's how Bill Belichick will use it

Patriots suddenly have time on their hands; here's how Bill Belichick will use it

In his 2019 wrap-up press conference after the Patriots' loss to the Titans, Bill Belichick was ready to dodge, duck, parry and evade any questions about … the future

“I’m sure there are a lot of questions about the future,” Belichick said in his opening statement after Tennessee ushered New England from the postseason. “Nobody has thought about the future. Everybody’s been focused and working on Miami and then Tennessee, and that’s where all the focus should have been and where it was. 

“Whatever’s in the future, we’ll deal with at some later point in time,” he added. “We’re certainly not going to deal with it now. It’s always a tough ending to the year, but that’s – we lost to a team that was a little better than us last night.”

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But what about … “All the future questions are the future. We’re less than 12 hours after the game. I think anybody that’s competitive and has been in this type of situation, all your focus is on the game. It’s not on something else. Hopefully, you can respect that, but if you can’t, then I’ve done the best I can to explain it. I’m sorry. It’s as simple as that.”

The aim that day was avoiding conversation regarding the greatest quarterback (player?) in NFL history.  The fact that – after 20 years – Tom Brady was two months away from having his contract run out was then and remains now kind of newsworthy.  

The assertion “nobody has thought about the future” is mind-bendingly disingenuous. Bill Belichick, a man who built a reputation and dynasty on planning and preparation, hasn’t thought at all about charting a course for 2020 and beyond? C’mon, now.  

But we nod and shrug and move on because, even at 66, Bill’s too burly to tie to a metal chair in the middle of a dank basement and be forced to talk. Maybe in a couple years. 

Brady aside, it’s been 10 years since the Patriots were into their offseason this early. How do they approach their work? After the 2009 playoff loss to the Ravens, Belichick didn’t have Brady issues to be wary of when he met with the media after his team got drilled. So, he opened up about the process of what came next. In wonderful granular detail. 

“The first thing we do is try to evaluate our team in all the things that we do – how much motion do we use, how each player played, what type of progress was made or wasn’t made, if there was a direction – whichever way the progress was going, whether going forward or if it was declining,” Belichick began. 

“We take a look at the team going forward in terms of what players we have, what players we don’t have and then gradually make determinations on how to improve those things.

“We’ll take a look at all of our practices, all of our mini-camps, training camp schedules, all those things.

“We’ve done that a little bit along the way, but then we put all that together and discuss it, whether it’s as a coaching staff, or an organization, or sometimes in consultation with different players, whether it’s a specific situation or a group situation, whatever it happens to be. 

“All that is put together, we talk about it and eventually we make decisions on players, on system, on scheme and how we do things. 

“Some things stay the same and some things change. It’s inevitable there will be change next year. That happens with every team, we know that. That’s not anything unusual, but just how to improve. 

“We don’t look at 2010 as anything other than 2010. We’re not trying to replicate some other year or something else. We try to look at the 2010 team and figure out what will make that the best. It’s an ongoing process. It will be thorough and hopefully we’ll make good decisions that will improve our football team.”

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They improved the hell out of their football team, going from 10-6 in 2009 to 14-2 in 2010. It was as close to a total reboot as the team has had under Belichick. It was culture, personnel and scheme. 

The 2019 Patriots had issues. Their coaching staff was bare bones and stretched thin. 

Their passing game was a disaster thanks to personnel swings and misses the previous spring or in past years. They had injury problems. They have expiring contracts at key spots. 

They don’t need an apparent attitude adjustment, although Brady’s exasperation at times during 2019 will probably come under scrutiny as the team decides how it proceeds with him. 

In some ways, this reboot looks harder than that one. In some ways, it may be easier. 

But one thing the Patriots have this year that they haven’t had in a decade is ... time.

Consider this: The Patriots went to the Super Bowl in 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Figure they couldn’t get “all-in” on the offseason in any of those years until February 10, 40 days after the regular season ended. In 2012, 2013 and 2015, they went to the AFC Championship.

They were, let’s say, 30 days late in getting to their planning in those years. In 2010, they had a Divisional Round exit after a surprise loss to the Jets. Call that 15 days.

This year, they lost a week. 

That’s about 312 days of extra football over the last decade for the entire organization. The trickle-down caused by that never-to-be-matched run of excellence had to take a chunk out of everyone. The benefits obviously outweigh the cost but a cost was exacted over time. Some of it is being paid now. 

I did ask Belichick during his post-Titans press conference about the “extra” time. 

“We’ll try to use that time as productively as we can. We’ll sit back, we’ll take a look at what the priorities are, what we can try to accomplish and then make the most efficient use of this time that we can. That’s what we’ll do. Has all of that been laid out yet? Absolutely not. That will be one of the first orders of business.”

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

We have an actual dollar figure attached to the swirling rumors of various Tom Brady free agency landing spots.

The Brady-to-Las Vegas speculation has been out there since TB12 was spotted chatting up Raiders owner Marc Davis at the Connor McGregor-Cowboy Cerrone fight in Vegas last month. Now, veteran NFL reporter Larry Fitzgerald Sr. (father of the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver) reports that Davis' Raiders are prepared to offer TB12 a two-year, $60 million deal.

It's interesting to note that Larry Fitzgerald Jr., like Brady, is a long-time interviewee of Jim Gray on Westwood One's broadcasts of Monday and Thursday night NFL games. 

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While Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported on Super Bowl Sunday that the Patriots are willing to go beyond $30 million a year to retain Brady, it's unclear if New England would make a multi-year offer, since the face of the franchise, who'll turn 43 in August, essentially worked under a one-year deal this past season. 

Our Tom Curran has reported that while the Patriots will "extend themselves" financially to retain Brady, money is likely not the most important factor to the QB.

As Curran wrote Friday:

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

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In Tom Brady's case, are NFL tampering rules made to be broken?

In Tom Brady's case, are NFL tampering rules made to be broken?

If Robert Kraft ever commissioned a sculptor to carve “10 Patriots Commandments” you’d be sure to find, “Thou Shalt Not Tamper With Our Employees” somewhere on that stone tablet.

Throughout Kraft’s ownership and Bill Belichick’s stewardship of the football operations, loyalty has been rewarded and betrayal punished.

From January 1997, when the Jets were monkeying around with Bill Parcells when the Patriots were getting ready for Super Bowl 31 against the Packers, through June 2019, when the Texans made their overtures to Nick Caserio, the Patriots have made one thing very clear: they aren’t going to be patsies when it comes to other teams trying to lure their people away.

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Which brings us to Tom Brady. As everything does. Do the Patriots care that a stealth parade of suitors is probably all up on him already?

Is this uber-protective organization fine with half of the league’s teams sniffing under the tail of the most important player in franchise history before they’re supposed to?

Rampant tampering with prospective free agents isn’t the NFL’s dirty little secret.

It’s not dirty since it’s somewhat necessary.

It’s not little since every team does it.

And it’s not even treated as a secret.

This week, the estimable and honorable Tedy Bruschi was asked about Brady on ESPN.
 

“I think he’s gonna see what’s out there for himself,” said Bruschi. “Matter of fact, I know he will. But I don’t think he’s going to have to wait until March 16 because you’ve got agents, you’ve got talk going on behind the scenes and I think he has an idea on the teams that are highly interested in him ... He will explore his options and he has the right to do so.”

The question then becomes what’s the league office going to do about it?

We all know the NFL’s penchant for selective rules enforcement. We all know they’ll happily string the Patriots up for transgressions real or imagined and let them twist in the wind. We all know the so-called Spygate II investigation that could have been cleared up in 20 minutes is still ongoing.

So, even if everybody’s doing it, isn’t it a little (a lot) hypocritical for the league to turn a blind eye to teams crawling up the trellis to slip in Brady’s window after dark?

Yes, it is. But a little hypocrisy never slowed the league down from doing anything.

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Besides, they might say, tampering with Tom Brady is actually a victimless crime. It actually does the Patriots a favor.

If Brady and his agent Don Yee have a sense of what’s out there before they start negotiating with New England, then the need for Brady to go on a free-agent tour is eliminated.

If Team Brady has no clue, then Yee starts from scratch when the legal tampering period begins March 16 at noon. 

There’s no way to vet each of the opportunities -- a source close to the situation figures there will be 10 teams expressing interest -- before free agency starts March 18 at 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, how are the Patriots supposed to convince free-agent tight ends or wideouts to come aboard if those players don’t know whether or not Tom Brady will be a Patriot? It’s easily argued that outside teams tampering with Brady is in the Patriots’ best interests.

Besides, if this really isn’t about the money -- and I’ve been told often enough that it isn’t -- it won’t matter if some crap-ass team is offering $70 million over two years.

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

All that said, it will still seem odd to me if the Patriots -- whether it be Kraft or Belichick -- don’t somehow have their sense of honor offended by all the predicted sneaking around.

It’s always offended their sensibilities going back to January 1997 when it came to light that Bill Parcells spent the week leading up to Super Bowl 31 ringing up the Jets from his New Orleans hotel room instead of getting the Patriots ready to play the Packers.

The Krafts were apoplectic. Belichick, an assistant on that 1996 Patriots team, was pissed too.

"Yeah, I'd say it was a little bit of a distraction all the way around," Belichick told our Michael Holley for Holley’s book Patriot Reign. "I can tell you first hand, there was a lot of stuff going on prior to the game. I mean, him talking to other teams. He was trying to make up his mind about what he was going to do. Which, honestly, I felt [was] totally inappropriate. How many chances do you get to play for the Super Bowl? Tell them to get back to you in a couple of days. I'm not saying it was disrespectful to me, but it was in terms of the overall commitment to the team."

Every situation’s different, I guess. In this case, the tampering rules were made to be broken.