In April, after the Patriots declined to select a quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft and well before they signed free-agent Cam Newton to a one-year deal, we addressed the ridiculous-yet-technically-not-impossible scenario that was New England aiming to land Clemson star Trevor Lawrence in 2021.
Now it’s time to address another wild Patriots theory, that coach and quasi-general manager Bill Belichick somehow is behind so many New England players opting out of the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
MORE: How Patriots can replace opt-out players
As of Tuesday morning, six Patriots players — including notable names like Dont’a Hightower, Marcus Cannon, Brandon Bolden and Patrick Chung — had decided not to play the 2020 season under the opt-out terms established Friday by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. That was by far the most from one team in the NFL, leading at least one NFL executive to raise an eyebrow.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter shared on Twitter the details of a text-message conversation he had with the unnamed NFL exec. The person apparently thinks Belichick is “masterminding” New England’s flood of opt-outs. Pressed to explain why Belichick would do such a thing, the exec responded, “I don’t know! That’s why he is who he is!”
Actual text exchange with an NFL executive today after a sixth Patriot opted out:
Him: “You know Bill is masterminding all of this somehow.”
Alright. Let’s pretend for a second this anonymous exec is on to something, and that Belichick somehow is convincing his players to opt out as part of some elaborate scheme to improve New England’s salary cap situation and/or draft position.
I’ll say this: The Patriots suddenly have a lot more cap space to carry over into a 2021 cap-reduced year than they had yesterday. https://t.co/YdqpQqPxgU
Actually, never mind. Let’s not. Because it’s a bit much to suggest even the NFL’s most notable cheater would leverage a deadly pandemic in a long-game effort to potentially pad a resume that to many already makes him the greatest football coach of all time.
That status is relevant, because it’s the reason many aren’t ready to write off the Patriots in 2020 even though they lost Tom Brady in free agency and are down a handful of defensive 2019 starters, now including those opting out for the 2020 season.
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In order for New England to land Lawrence, for example, it likely would need to finish the 2020 season with the NFL’s worst record. That’s not going to happen, because the Newton acquisition alone suggests Belichick is not down with the idea of tanking.
And as long as Belichick is trying to win, even in a season that might be his most challenging in 21 years with the Patriots, he will win plenty.
The opt-out losses of Chung, Hightower, Bolden, Cannon, Danny Vitale and Najee Toran, though they come with varying degrees of significance, don’t change that.
Writes SN’s Vinnie Iyer: For most teams, losing key starters so close to the season would cause major scrambling and concern. The Patriots are better prepared than most teams, however, because of their constant search for specific role players who can ‘do their job.'”