Patriots

Preventable Patriots controversy is the last thing Bill Belichick needed

Preventable Patriots controversy is the last thing Bill Belichick needed

The Patriots locker room was choked with media Wednesday afternoon. We mostly milled in small crowds of three or four with nothing to do but chat until a player stopped long enough to signal a willingness to chat. 

Then, like ants on a dropped popsicle stick, we’d swarm. Inevitably, a question about what happened in the Cleveland press box last Sunday would be lobbed up. The answer would be some variation of, “Not my department,” accompanied by a shrug. 

Away from the throngs, I buttonholed two different Patriots starters. 

I asked how much the swirl caused by an independent contractor for Kraft Sports Entertainment shooting video of the Bengals sideline from the Browns press box was impacting the team.

“F--- that shit,” said one. “I’m thinking about playing good on Sunday. I’m thinking about the Bengals. I have enough to think about. Not a concern.”

The other just shook his head and offered a pitying smile as if to say, “You don’t really think that’s on our plate, do you?” 

It wasn’t technically Bill Belichick’s department either, but it has very much been on his plate all week. 

If any of the 31 other franchises made headlines for doing what the Patriots did Sunday, the general reaction would likely be along the lines of, “Wow. That seems boldly stupid given the nuclear fallout from the Patriots sideline filming in 2007.”

For the Patriots to do it, given the nuclear fallout from their sideline filming in 2007? 

It was like an SNL skit. It couldn’t be real. 

Not surprisingly, Belichick is beside himself about it for a couple of reasons. 

First, he tolerates the intrusion of Kraft Sports Entertainment because he grudgingly understands that promoting the brand is important to the owner. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of anything he’s doing with, you know, the actual football team, he’ll scowl but bear it. 

But spending time entertaining questions about what he knew and when he knew it in the wake of a second consecutive loss to an AFC division leader? Those are brain cells suddenly occupied by something that not only has nothing to do with football, but which puts him in an awful light. 

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And that’s the second reason Belichick is so angry. He understands that a huge swath of football-watching fans and commentators stand at the ready, waiting for a chance to dredge up SpyGate, the jaywalking offense that was prosecuted like a felony assault on professional football. It’s the second time in five years Belichick’s had to stand up and say, “I know nothing…” about some alleged impropriety and he knows the response from too many will be, “Sure you don’t…” 

At 66, he’s a living coaching legend. His involvement and enthusiasm in the NFL’s Top 100 Players production feels like an embrace of that. It’s obvious he’s flattered by it and he was willing to share the best side of himself in each episode. 

But this very preventable controversy in which he had no part means a dredging up of past sins, both real and imagined. Stern words from Roger Goodell about a “thorough investigation” and the inevitable penalty — whatever it is — is a scratch on a legacy that won’t be buffed out for those that want to fixate on them because they don’t like the man. 

So of course he’s livid, furious, and any other adjective you’d like to use that’s a synonym for monumentally pissed off. 

You can blame the Kraft Sports Entertainment personnel in Cleveland last Sunday for bad judgment in that instance. 

But you can’t blame ownership for trying to promote and advance its brand, which is what the “Do Your Job” videos do. With a salary cap near $200 million projected for 2020, every team needs to exhaust its revenue streams. Mini-docs on the inner workings of the famously clandestine Patriots are a layup idea. The execution on this one was … off.

How will the NFL react? It’s probably a boon for the Patriots that NFL owners were meeting this week in Dallas. That allowed Robert Kraft to explain directly to Goodell and fellow owners what precisely happened face-to-face. Maybe that minimizes the number of teams who ring up Goodell to demand the full weight of discipline land on the Patriots regardless of the details. 

The NFL doesn’t need this issue hijacking its season. The Patriots have already been in the headlines enough for off-field drama this offseason between Kraft’s incident in West Palm Beach and the Antonio Brown saga. 

The league as a whole would be best served if its investigation is quick and transparent. A reasonable punishment that hits the team with a fine and leaves football out of it would be the best way to tie it off tidily. 

But there’s no guarantee personalities involved at the league level aside from Goodell — league counsel and Patriots antagonist counsel Jeff Pash, for instance — could be looking for another pound of flesh from the Patriots' hide. 

Confiscating some of Belichick’s precious draft picks would surely make the coach apoplectic especially since it’s the business arm of the organization that did the deed. And while some of his ire would be directed at the league, most of it would probably be directed in-house. 

So there’s a lot of tiptoeing past the coach’s office going on right now. 

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Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Bill Belichick was there. Josh McDaniels was there. The Patriots had a large contingent down in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl practices (the game will air Saturday on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m.), which should come as no surprise.

Just look at how the Patriots have drafted of late. 

In 2019, they selected Jarrett Stidham, Byron Cowart and Jake Bailey -- all of whom participated in the Senior Bowl. They also signed undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, who played in the game. 

In 2018, they grabbed Isaiah Wynn in the first round, Duke Dawson, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Braxton Berrios after they'd competed in the Senior Bowl.

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Three of their four draft picks from 2017, plus two undrafted rookies, were in the Senior Bowl. 

From 2013-16, they brought aboard 20 Senior Bowl participants as rookies.

"The great thing about the Senior Bowl is that you're seeing some of the best players," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said last spring. 

"There have actually been some underclassmen who have been incorporated into that mix. So you're seeing them against good competition and it's a different dynamic or different situation that they've been placed in. You're kind of taking them out of their environment that they've been in and kind of giving them something new and seeing how they handle it against good people."

The small-school players -- or the players who are asked to do something they didn't do much as collegians -- are the ones who have an opportunity to really land on radars during Senior Bowl work. For the Patriots, who constantly harp on the benefit of having seen players work against great competition on a regular basis when they hail from an SEC program, seeing some of the best in the country work against one another matters.

"It’s one thing if they do it against a lower-level team," Caserio said back in 2016, when asked about the Senior Bowl. "I mean, look, not all teams are created equal. Not all conferences are created equal. That’s just a fact. We can’t control that. So when you can see them actually play against really good players or good players that are at a comparable level of competition that they’re going to see every Sunday, that has to be a part of [the evaluation], no question."

The next year, the Patriots took two Senior Bowlers from smaller programs: Youngstown State's Derek Rivers and Troy's Antonio Garcia. 

"Where [the Senior Bowl] probably helps a little bit is players on a lower level that maybe haven’t competed against the same level of competition," Caserio said back in 2017. "Obviously, they’re making a big jump. . . Garcia was down there. That’s going to be a big jump in competition because this is what they’re going to be playing against. 

"With all due respect to whatever conference Youngstown State is in, there’s not a lot of NFL players in that conference. I mean, that’s just the way that it is. You’re going to have to see him against NFL competition, which the Senior Bowl is usually a pretty good indication of that because you’re talking about the top seniors in the country. It’s a part of the process. You’re not making a decision based off of that, but maybe a player who doesn’t have as much experience against that level, you’re going to see how he fares, and then you just kind of continue to move forward."

Some small-school prospects who may have caught Belichick's eye this week? 

Dayton tight end Adam Trautman was already considered one of the better tight ends in the draft class and seemed to only help his stock.

Safety Kyle Dugger -- who hails from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University -- impressed. Ditto for Division III offensive lineman Ben Bartch out of Saint John's, who saw rushers from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and other high-end programs and reportedly held his own.

Perhaps the most recent success story out of Senior Bowl week for the Patriots wasn't with a small-school prospect, though. It might've been with Shaq Mason, a guard coming out of a run-heavy system at Georgia Tech. The Patriots simply hadn't seen him do much in the way of pass protection for the Yellow Jackets.

But Mason got to the Senior Bowl, took to the coaching he received, and the Patriots took notice. 

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"The thing I’ll say about Shaq," Belichick said after drafting Mason in 2015, "is just watching him at the Senior Bowl, I mean it was only one week, but he made a huge improvement just in those, whatever it was, four or five practices, whatever it was down there. His stance is different. You could see each day progressively how he was taking to the coaching down there and his footwork and his hand placement and his body position. I know it was basic. It wasn’t like it was a big scheme thing at the Senior Bowl, but just doing things on a daily basis better than the day before, looking more comfortable doing them. And it was different than what they did at Georgia Tech."

Big school. Small school. Everyone had something to gain in Mobile this week. And that includes the Patriots. That's why -- with more time off this year than recent years -- they were well represented down there.


 

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

The New England Patriots reportedly have made an addition to their coaching staff.

According to Jim McBride of The Boston Globe, they've hired ex-Los Angeles Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.

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Fisch's official role with the Patriots offense is to be determined. But now that there's an opening at wide receivers coach with Joe Judge joining the New York Giants, Fisch could be a candidate for the job.

He brings plenty of experience to the table having coached Denver Broncos wide receivers in 2008 and Michigan receivers from 2015-16. Fisch also coached Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks in 2010 and was the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator from 2013-14.