PHOENIX — Bill Belichick participated in the coaches’ breakfast media session at the annual NFL meetings Tuesday.
Belichick, who rarely offers lengthy responses during his interviews at the league meetings, seemingly imposed a five-word limit on his answers this year.
Over the course of 43 minutes, Belichick said little about Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, incoming free agents, departing free agents, NFL rule proposals, assembling a new coaching staff after the exit of several long-tenured assistants, and other aspects of a 2019 Patriots team that has undergone significant change since capturing its sixth Lombardi Trophy.
The top order of business this spring for the Pats: The fallout from Gronkowski’s retirement, which was announced somewhat unexpectedly earlier this week. The longer Gronkowski’s decision dragged on, the more likely it seemed the future Hall of Famer would return for a 10th NFL season. Belichick offered little insight into his view of how the process unfolded, simply saying, “The offseason is the offseason.”
Asked if Gronkowski’s two months of contemplation affected the Patriots’ ability to build their 2019 roster, Belichick said, “That element occurs every offseason.”
Gronkowski’s retirement will clear approximately $9 million in cap space, money the Patriots could have used to chase high-priced free agents like receiver Adam Humphries (whom they pushed for at the last minute) or Golden Tate. But with Gronkowski’s retirement coming two weeks into free agency, most of the prominent players are off the board. The Patriots could now use the extra money to absorb a high cap hit in a trade.
Gronkowski’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has said he wouldn’t be shocked to see the massive tight end in uniform at some point during the 2019 season. Belichick wanted no part in discussing this scenario.
“Yeah, I’m not dealing in hypothetical questions,” Belichick said.
When asked how difficult it would be for any player to return to form after sitting out of training camp and half the regular season, Belichick said, “I think we’ve covered all that. Next.”
Also on the agenda: Tom Brady’s contract. Brady currently carries a cap hit of $27 million in 2019, the final season of his deal. Brady has never played in a contract year. He’s always received an extension beforehand. According to multiple sources, there’s nothing brewing on a Brady extension at the moment. Brady, who turns 42 in August, has long stated his desire to play into his mid-40s. And with no obvious successor on the roster, the Patriots likely want Brady to stick around beyond 2019.
“I’m not going to get into any contract discussions,” Belichick said. “We never do that. So we’re not going to start doing that now.”
Then there’s the issue of Brady’s supporting cast. With Gronk gone, the top pass-catchers are Julian Edelman, James White, Rex Burkhead, and Phillip Dorsett. Receivers Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris were low-cost signings. Their status on the roster remains to be seen.
The same goes for Josh Gordon, who is a restricted free agent. The Patriots placed an original-round tender on Gordon, which means any team that signs him would need to part with a third-round pick to do so. If he signs the offer sheet with the Patriots, he’ll return on a one-year deal. Of course, Gordon remains indefinitely suspended by the NFL for violating the terms of his reinstatement. It’s unclear how many games, if any, Gordon will be suspended to start the 2019 season.
Asked if the Patriots are planning on having Gordon in the fold, Belichick said, “Yeah, I don’t know. His status isn’t under our control.”
Even if Gordon plays in 2019, Dorsett could be in line for an expanded role. The free agent receiver re-signed because the Patriots, and Josh McDaniels in particular, made him feel confident he’d get the chance to make more plays.
“Everyone is going to have an opportunity, so how those go, what happens to them, I can’t control,”Belichick said. “Phil’s got good skill, he’s a talented player. He’s got a lot of big plays for us.”
The most high-profile acquisition by the Patriots thus far was Michael Bennett, a tough and versatile defensive lineman.
Bennett, who became a standout in Seattle and moved on to Philadelphia for one season, must adjust to a new defensive system.
“Look, Mike’s a good football player,” Belichick said. “He has a good understanding of football.”
Belichick added: “I think he’ll help our team.”
Bennett got his career started in Tampa Bay, where he played for head coach Greg Schiano. In New England, Schiano is expected to be one of the top defensive coaches. It’s unclear if his title will be “defensive coordinator.” The rest of the defensive staff is an unknown, as well. The Patriots lost defensive playercaller/linebackers coach Brian Flores, defensive line coach Brendan Daly, and cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer.
Belichick declined to provide an update on his staff.
So how about Belichick’s own journey throughout the NFL? An interesting topic, right? Belichick is about to embark on his 45th year in the league, which he called a “privilege.”
And that was about it.
“Yeah, I’m just going to skip all the questions about me, my future and everything else,” Belichick said. “You want to talk about the football team, great. Don’t think we need to talk about me. We’ve covered that.”