Six New England Patriots have opted out of the 2020 season, a list that includes Dont’a Hightower, Marcus Cannon, Patrick Chung, Danny Vitale, Najee Toran and Brandon Bolden.
After those decisions, Trevor Lawrence began trending on Twitter, and the correlation with Patriots coach Bill Belichick is as scripted as the memes that followed:
Is Belichick tanking the 2020 NFL season in an effort to get the star Clemson quarterback as part of a diabolical scheme to get the No. 1 pick. In the 2021 NFL Draft? One anonymous NFL executive posited the question to ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday in response to news of the Patriots six opt-outs, by far the most in the NFL so far.
But the answer is a hard no. Here are all the reasons why:
MORE: Complete list of NFL players opting out of the 2020 season
This is about COVID-19
Hightower is the most notable NFL player to opt out because of COVID-19, and those motivations are health-related. NFL.com reported Hightower became a first-time father on July 16 and his mother has Type 2 diabetes. To suggest Hightower would voluntarily sit out a full season and receive a voluntary opt out salary of $150,000 is ridiculous.
Hightower was scheduled to make a base salary of $8 million this season. The players that opt out are doing do because the United States is dealing with a pandemic that has led to more than 150,000 deaths in the United States.
The tank-for-Trevor theories involving the Patriots, however, started well before those opts out. We can debunk those, too.
A Tom Brady breakup was coming
Six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Buccaneers in the offseason; which marked the end of a 20-year career with Belichick in New England.
While this is the dominant headline of the offseason, it’s not a new trend. Brady turns 43 in August, and other Hall of Fame quarterbacks such as Joe Montana and Brett Favre have finished their careers with other teams.
The difference with those two is the 49ers and Packers had obvious successors lined up in Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers, respectively. New England had Jarrett Stidham as the highest-ranked quarterback on the depth chart when Brady bolted.
If the Patriots were tanking, however, they would not have signed a former NFL MVP at quarterback this offseason.
MORE: A timeline of Patriots scandals under Bill Belichick
Cam Newton could fit with Pats
New England signed Newton to a one-year deal on June 29, a move that improved the Patriots’ Super Bowl odds.
Newton, who was the NFL MVP in 2015, is trying to revive his career in a new setting after nine seasons in Carolina. Newton is a dynamic talent when healthy, and there is a good chance he wins the starting job in Week 1.
Newton might not be a six-time Super Bowl winner, but he could prove himself with a one-year deal and work into an extension with New England.
That would give Belichick more time to pick the Patriots’ next franchise quarterback. Believe it or not, it doesn’t have to be Lawrence.
Trevor Lawrence isn’t the only franchise QB in 2021 NFL Draft
Lawrence has been bookmarked as the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft since his freshman season with the Tigers, and his resume speaks for itself. He is 25-1 as a starter the last two seasons, and he’s led Clemson to back-to-back appearances in the College Football Playoff championship game.
Lawrence is generally considered a generational talent in the mold of John Elway, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck – all No. 1 picks in the NFL Draft.
There are other potential franchise quarterbacks in the draft, however. Ohio State’s Justin Fields is a returning Heisman Trophy finalist who edged out Lawrence at the Elite 11 Passing Academy when both were in high school. North Dakota State’s Trey Lance is another potential first-round pick, and both of those quarterbacks have the potential to be long-term starters in the NFL.
Keep in mind that Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa was considered the front-runner to be the No. 1 pick in 2020, and LSU’s Joe Burrow changed that by putting together one of the best seasons in college football history. There is room for surprises for the coming season — if there is one.
NFL COACH RANKINGS: Has Bill Belichick’s reign at No. 1 come to an end?
The Patriots’ track record
What if the Patriots went 1-15 in 2020? This is a franchise that has won at least 10 games in 17 consecutive seasons. The Patriots were 12-4 in 2019.
Only two teams in NFL history — the 1993-94 Houston Oilers and 2012-13 Houston Texans — have endured a 10-game drop in wins from one season to the next. If New England were to experience such a drop-off, the tanking conspiracy theories would be off the charts.
This is a franchise that is already infamous for the Spygate and Deflategate scandals. New England lost a draft pick for a videotaping incident involving the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline last season.
It would be too obvious if the Patriots had such a drop, and there is no guarantee they would have the worst record in the NFL.
On top of that, does Belichick strike you as a coach who would want to lose on purpose?
Bill Belichick won’t lose
Simply put, it’s not in Belichick’s nature to lose. He has 273 regular-season victories; which is the third-most in NFL history behind Don Shula (328) and George Halas (318). Belichick, 68, has done that over 25 seasons as a head coach.
This is the same coach who guided the Patriots to 11 wins in 2008 with Matt Cassel when Brady was lost with a season-ending knee injury. New England also went 3-1 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett while Brady was serving his four-game suspension for Deflategate in 2016.
Now, in a year where Brady is in Tampa Bay – there is more incentive than ever for Belichick to win without his star quarterback.
If that is not enough, then consider Belichick’s draft history. The Patriots have made nine first-round picks since 2010 – and the highest draft pick was Nate Solder at No. 17 in 2011. Now, if you want to talk about a package deal of draft picks to attain the No. 1 pick and get Lawrence in that fashion?