By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s been a pretty crazy couple of months for the New England Patriots. They lost that Super Bowl that everyone’s always talking about. Malcolm Butler didn’t play in that game. Rob Gronkowski pondered retirement. Tom Brady sounded noncommittal toward his football future in his Facebook show. Josh McDaniels left to go coach the Colts but then changed his mind. A handful of key contributors left via free agency, while a new crop of signees hopped aboard the Foxboro Express.
Through it all, we’ve heard very little from the engineer of that train, one Mr. Bill Belichick. As he prepares for his 19th season on the New England sideline, Belichick has largely operated in the background. As numerous folks from all corners of the sports world have taken some shots at the future Hall of Fame coach, he’s been content to go about his business without attempting to respond to each individual charge.
But he did break character briefly on Sunday when he chose to talk with several Boston-area reporters who are in Orlando to cover the NFL’s owners meetings. And because this has been a rather wild offseason full of turbulence and reports of power struggles and “planet players” feeling “miserable,” then it’s only fair that we put the microscope on these comments and blow them way out of proportion. Hey, somebody’s going to do it anyways.
(Quotes via audio from Patriots.com)
On Tom Brady indicating on “Tom Vs. Time” that he might not be 100 percent committed to returning to the football field…
“Yeah, so. Yeah. You know, I’ve had direct conversations with Tom, I mean, many times obviously through a long period of time. I’ll rely on those conversations that I have with him directly rather than something else. Tom and I have always had a good line of communication. We’ve always been able to talk directly with each other. I don’t see that changing. So I’ll rely on those instead of anything else.”
Microscope Message: Bill is clearly not a fan of the “Tom Vs. Time” Facebook docuseries, and he refuses to watch such nonsense when he could instead be watching “My Cousin Vinny” for the 79th time.
On how different Tom Brady is at age 40 compared to age 22, and whether he has to adjust to certain players changing over time …
“Yeah, I think everything’s an evolution. Every year is different. Things change. Guys go from not being experienced to experienced, we all have a lot of things along the way that happen to us and we all learn from them. So it’s always evolving. It evolves … every year, but really in some cases, it’s every day, every week, every gameplan, every month.
Microscope Message: Call me crazy, but it sounds like Bill might be dangling one of those much-desired “Patriot Of The Week” awards to try to entice Brady to re-channel his energy toward the 2018 season for the Patriots. They don’t call this man a genius for nothing.
On Josh McDaniels deciding to turn down the head coaching job with the Colts in order to remain the Patriots’ offensive coordinator …
“We got back from Minnesota, I had an opportunity to talk to Josh and we were able to work some things out. So I’m thrilled that he’s still with us and is going to continue in his role. I think he’s the top offensive coordinator in the league. He’s done a great job for me for a long time in a lot of different roles. So very glad that, based on the meeting that we had – there were a number of things that happened but after the meeting that we had – we were able to work that out and keep him with us.
“We’re all focused on the game. That’s really what the weeks leading up to that – whether it was the two playoff games, the AFC Championship, and then the Super Bowl – I think everybody’s focus was on that. Definitely there were some other things going on. But once that game ended, I think that really gave Josh and I a chance to sit down and talk more directly about the situation as opposed to, well we really want to talk about the game and what we need to do to try to compete in that game.
“So, you know. That’s basically what happened. Before the game, we had minimal discussions. We had a much deeper and longer and more in-depth and more constructive discussions immediately after the game.
Microscope Message: The Colts were reportedly offering McDaniels a lot of money. He had, by all accounts, accepted the job. He was hiring his assistants. But then he had a “deeper and longer” chat with his boss, and suddenly he decided to reverse course, spurn the Colts, and stay where he was.
Look, we don’t know what Belichick is capable of behind closed doors, but hypnosis cannot be ruled out.
On the possibility of Rob Gronkowski retiring …
“Yeah I’m not going to speak for anyone else, Tom [E. Curran]. The conversations I’ve had with the players — and I’ve had a lot of them – I’ll keep those private between myself and the player. I’ll respect those coach-to-player conversations. I don’t want to speak for anyone else.”
Microscope Message: Maybe this is reading between the lines a little too much, but I took this as meaning, “Yeah, look, the guy’s dancing like a jabroni on stage this past weekend and hopping on top of Shaquille O’Neal’s shoulders for a piggyback ride. Maybe it’s best I just refrain from commenting at this particular juncture for the sake of not saying something that I regret.”
When asked in a follow-up question whether the team might have to make contingency plans at tight end …
“You got the slider coming in there over the outside corner. Yeah, I think I just covered that.”
Microscope Message: A not-so-subtle message that Gronkowski will be pulling a Michael Jordan and switching careers. He’s going to play baseball. While everyone’s been speculating about the WWE or life in Hollywood, it’s been baseball all along. Should have seen it coming.
When it was mentioned that he brought up McDaniels first before addressing other topics…
“I went chronologically. I wasn’t, like, trying to do in order of importance or anything else. I was just trying to go chronologically, Ben [Volin].”
Microscope Message: It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Bill is putting his foot down and saying that Josh McDaniels will never — ever — become head coach of the Patriots.
When told that McDaniels hasn’t been spotted at any collegiate pro days or the scouting combine or other public events this offseason …
“Most of our coaches weren’t [at the combine]. … He’s working extremely hard and yeah, it’s good we’re covering our tracks. If you can’t find him, that’s a good thing.”
Microscope Message: Spygate.
On how much he enjoys going to different schools to get a front-row seat to private workouts with top draft prospects …
“Yeah again I enjoy all the parts of the process, from the game-planning and playing in the big games to evaluating prospects to bringing in the rookies in May that really have never played or practiced in the National Football League, kind of starting from scratch with them and then seeing them grow along the way to some of the players that we’ve seen do that – the Matt Lights, and the guys that have been part of the program for a long time. I mean, I wasn’t there for all of [Tedy] Bruschi, but when Bruschi came in in ’96, I was there. I saw his whole career. I know Tom, going from 2000 to still going, and so forth. I enjoy all the processes. The beginning part, the bringing them in, growing with them, and working with them at an elite level. The Steve Gostkowskis and Julian Edelmans and guys like that that come from one level and progress to a very elite level.
Microscope Message: It couldn’t be any more obvious. Bill is saying that he desperately misses Jimmy Garoppolo and he wishes he could have been guiding him in the NFL for the next 20 years.
On what he’s seen from the young players on these workouts …
“I kind of like to give myself the schools in the Southern swing. I’m not going to North Dakota and Iowa State. I’ll just kind of send someone else up there. When you’re the head coach you can kind of pick where you want to go.”
Microscope Message: Bill seems pretty upset that Carson Wentz got hurt last year. Makes sense. Losing a Super Bowl to a second-year sensation like Wentz probably would have been more palatable than losing to Nick Foles. A personal boycott of stepping foot in North Dakota seems extreme, but you have to respect his commitment.
On his thoughts about the new proposal to fix the catch rule …
“I mean, we all talk about it a lot. It’s a tough one. Those are the bang-bang plays. I think we all want to try to find something that’s simple, that we can all understand, that we can all agree on, we can all look at the play and say OK it is or it isn’t. How do we do that? I think that’s the goal of Al Riveron and the other people that are involved in that process. We had a little bit of discussion on it this afternoon, but I’m sure it’ll be a lot deeper than that. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe somebody will propose an amendment or a clarification or something to it that’ll help it become better or not, or take something out. I don’t know, we’ll just have to see how it goes. It’s certainly something that we’re all … it’s a tough call. There are a lot of tight calls. If we can do anything to make that better, make the game better, then I’m for it. We’re all for it. Just have to figure out what that is.”
Microscope Message: Dez caught it.
On Malcolm Butler’s comment that he was perhaps not 100 percent locked in and focused, hence the Super Bowl benching …
“I have a lot of respect for Malcolm. From the day he got here in rookie mini-camp four years ago, he’s always competed as hard as he could. He always was a great competitor on the field, and I totally respect that. I’m not going to get into last year, I’m not going to get into next year or some other year. I talked to Malcolm. I wished him well in Tennessee. Obviously Mike [Vrabel] and Jon [Robinson] are great people I have a lot of respect for in that organization, and I have a lot of respect for Malcolm and we wish him well.”
Microscope Message: There’s really only one thing to take away from that comment and it’s this: WHY DIDN’T MALCOLM BUTLER PLAY A SINGLE SNAP IN THE SUPER BOWL???!!!!