By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been so prolifically good for so long that this 1-2 start to the year is enough to jam up the 98.5 The Sports Hub phone lines from now through November with people calling for Belichick’s job. (That’s 617-779-0985, and please remember that Michael Felger loves when you’re talking on speaker phone and watching on TV in the background.)
Most of these calls will come across as nonsensical whining, conspiracy theories that are somehow still revolving around Jimmy Garoppolo and Malcolm Butler, or simply not knowing how good they have it in a pro football landscape with too many terrible head coaches that do not know what the hell they’re doing when things get even slightly tense.
But there’s one new Belichick near-decision that’s hard to understand. Even for those that cut the sleeves off all long sleeve apparel and think dollar bills should say ‘In Bill We Trust.’ And that’s an offseason rumor centered around trading all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski, and his subsequent threats to retire when the Patriots almost pulled the trigger on a deal.
A rumor that Gronkowski confirmed as being more than just that following Sunday’s Week 3 loss to the Detroit Lions.
“Yeah, it happened,” Gronkowski said when asked about threatening to retire when an offseason trade to Detroit became more than just a rumor. “[Tom] Brady’s my quarterback. That’s all. Wasn’t going anywhere without Brady.”
This. Is. Pure. Insanity.
And I’m not just talking about the fact that Gronkowski didn’t dismiss the question with the typical, “I’m not getting into that right now. I’m just focused on how I’m gonna battle through quadruple coverage next week because teams are going to stop covering Phillip Dorsett after tonight.” Or that in an attempt to crush a story, Gronkowski’s answer has instead acted as the defibrillator to a story the Patriots surely need and want ahead of an unnecessarily important Week 4.
But if what Gronkowski saying is the truth, this means that Belichick tried to put the Patriots through an offseason in which he walked away from wide receiver Danny Amendola and running back Dion Lewis, traded Brandin Cooks, and also moved Gronkowski. Unless the Patriots obtained both Marvin Jones and Golden Tate in such a trade with the Lions, it seems almost impossible to suggest that Belichick’s plan would have benefitted Tom Brady and the Patriot offense in 2018.
Especially when the name of the game in these final years of both the 41-year-old quarterback and 66-year-old head coach should be titles, and based on the first 12 quarters of an obviously talent-depleted Patriot offense’s production.
And again, it’s something that’s incredibly difficult to make sense out of no matter your stance on Belichick’s brilliance.
Now, when the Patriots walked away from Amendola and Lewis, it made sense; Amendola turns 33 later this year and wanted to get real money after taking discount after discount for the Patriots. Lewis, meanwhile, was coming off a career year and everybody knows the Patriots (rightly) don’t overextend themselves on running backs. You could even make a case for the Cooks trade making sense for the Patriots, as they were not going to pay him anything close to what the Los Angeles Rams decided to pay him. As an admitted Cooks fanboy, that latter point pains me, especially as Cooks has caught five fewer passes (19) and totaled 106 more yards than the entire New England wideout corps through the first three games of the new season.
But moving on from Gronkowski? It, uh, is confounding. To say the least.
Backup Dwayne Allen has feet for hands, and would have been cut from Patriots camp had it not been for the pay-cut he accepted during the final week of the preseason. He still hasn’t caught a pass this year, by the way. And nothing about Jacob Hollister’s game should have told you that he was ready to be the next Gronkowski. Or even come close to replacing his production over a full year, even if Hollister’s 16 games were measured against a season with say five games missed by No. 87.
You’re talking about moving the game’s top tight end — injury concerns or not — and a player on a contract that even with bonuses or additional money thrown in the picture is still among the most favorable in all of football.
And while we’ve all consistently talked about and praised Belichick for being ‘too early’ rather than too late when it comes to moving on from his stars, this would not be doing that. At least in relation to the Patriots’ top objectives for the year.
Gronkowski was still signed through the 2019 season, and it’s obvious that throwing in some extra coin and incentives every year has been an acceptable plan to date. The 6-foot-6 tight end was also coming off a fantastic year in which he was the game’s top tight end target during the regular season, and added nine catches for 116 yards and two scores in the Super Bowl (a game you would have won had your defense been able to make one stop against a backup quarterback). Spending more than 13 seconds debating whether or not it made sense for the 2018 Patriots to move a player of Gronkowski’s caliber — and after already moving on from so many other viable offensive pieces to that point — seems insane.
It makes you wonder what the endgame was on the part of the Patriots and their goals for the 2018 season, and what this offense could have looked like had the deal been completed. (I’d rather not think about that, to be honest.) But it’s clear that this would have been the most glaring, directionless call Belichick could have made for this team.
A call that not even a landline could have saved.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.