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.”
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.”
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.”