By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith often plays the role of Patriots defender in his debates on ESPN’s “First Take.” But as somebody who’s still shaken by Malcolm Butler’s benching in Super Bowl LII, Smith seems to be switching teams.

Speaking Monday after Devin McCourty’s comments were publicized, Smith said that all free agents now need to “think twice” before signing with the Patriots.

“I think it was an exercise in cruelty. I think every free agent should think twice about going to play for the New England Patriots and going to play for this man,” Smith said of Belichick.

Smith reiterated his stance shortly thereafter: “That was an exercise in cruelty on the part of Bill Belichick, the likes of which I have not seen. And as far as I’m concerned, any player should think twice about going to play for this man after a move like that. Because if I can bust my tail and put my health on the line all year long, and then we get to the biggest moment that’s possibly imaginable, and you can sit up there and get rid of me at that particular moment in time? What incentive do I have to want to play for you?”

It’s a Take, for sure, considering all the success of the Patriots and Belichick. But in an era where all Takes can be heard, Smith did make one error.

In referencing McCourty’s comments, Smith said, “McCourty can say what he wants; I don’t believe him.”

Smith was also asked directly if he believes McCourty, to which he replied, “No I don’t. I think he’s lying. … I don’t believe him for one second.”

But Smith also said: “Maybe they knew he wasn’t going to start, but no one knew that he would not play one single defensive snap in the entire Super Bowl.”

All McCourty ever said was that the Patriots knew that Butler wouldn’t start the game. Cornerback Eric Rowe said immediately after the Super Bowl loss that he practiced all week as a starter, opposite Stephon Gilmore. So that part has been known; McCourty just added a little more context to it.

McCourty never said that the players knew that Butler would not play at all. Nevertheless, Smith doesn’t believe McCourty for something that McCourty never said.

What’s really amazing — and what elevates Smith’s Take to a special tier of Take — is that he did such little research that he actually said this: “I think that Rowe, who replaced him, would have talked about that in the locker room postgame after they lost the Super Bowl. He would have mentioned that.”

Rowe literally talked about it right after the Patriots lost the Super Bowl. He was asked if he practiced as a starter all week, and he said yes.

So Stephen A. doesn’t believe McCourty for saying everyone knew that Butler would play zero snaps, even though McCourty never said that anyone knew Butler would play zero snaps. And Stephen A. says that Eric Rowe would have said he knew to expect to start in the Super Bowl, even though Eric Rowe said that he pretty much knew to expect to start in the Super Bowl.

But anyway.

Unfortunately, though all Takes are heard in this day and age, Smith’s only scores about a 3 out of 10 on the official Take Heat Scale. It needs to go back to the Take Laboratory and be injected with some enhancements. It is not the best Take. We anticipate the takes to marinate in the coming weeks and month to reach a Spice Apex sometime around late March.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

Comments (2)
  1. I stopped listening to Stephen Smith a long time ago. And for him to say – McCourty was lying?! How irresponsible can you be. He’s supposed to be a media professional and this is the type of speculating and assumptions that he’s just going to carelessly throw around. First Take is one of the worst sports shows out there. People who watch it are doing so, not because of the expertise or the professionalism of the hosts, but because of the shock value of hearing people argue and try to be clever and say outrageous things.

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