As much as it might seemingly make sense for them to do so, there’s no way that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots intentionally tank a season.
The idea that the New England Patriots might purposefully decide to try and tank the 2020 season in order to improve their draft positioning come 2021 seems very much to be in vogue right now and gaining major media attention and traction on social media.
To which I say, “Reaaaaaally?”
In case it wasn’t clear, that’s rampant skepticism on my part about this whole suggestion.
For the record, I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense to try and tank this season. Jarrett Stidham, the Patriots’ presumptive starting quarterback in Week 1, is as unproven a commodity at the game’s most important position as they get.
But the notion that Bill Belichick, one of the most competitive and innovative minds in NFL history, is just going to roll over and forfeit the 2020 season before it even begins is absurd.
For starters, why would he do that?
Analysts and fans alike have long debated whether Bill Belichick or Tom Brady is more responsible for New England’s dynastic success these past 20 years. If Brady leaves and the Patriots immediately flounder the following season, what does that say about Belichick as head coach?
Whether or not there’s any ulterior motives for both men to try and outdo the other now that their partnership is officially over is unknown. Both have taken the high road in the immediate aftermath of their divorce, praising each other and taking every opportunity possible to contradict the suggestion that their parting was at all personally-motivated or a result of friction and bad blood.
Still, where there’s smoke, there’s often fire.
Even if Brady’s departure and Belichick’s willingness to let him leave was a completely mutual and peaceful decision — and it wasn’t — there’s enough evidence out there from what they’ve both said and done over the past five years to make it clear that these two hyper-competitive winners want to win without each other in 2020 and beyond.
There’s a reason Belichick spent a fourth-round draft choice in 2019 on Stidham. He obviously saw enough in the former Baylor/Auburn QB’s game tape to spend a relatively-high draft pick on him, and he then saw enough during the preseason last year to give him the No. 2 job behind Brady and get rid of Brian Hoyer.
Even if Stidham doesn’t pan out this season, it’s difficult to imagine Belichick intentionally tanking and giving up on the 2020 season.
Some people out there think that because he’s such a free spirit/unconventional thinker/mad scientist genius, he’s planning on losing enough games this year to put his team in prime position to draft either Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State’s Justin Fields next April.
Look, I’ll be the first to admit that right now, either one of those players looks a lot better than what Stidham has looked like up until this point.
That’s not to disparage Stidham either. It’s just a fact that his collegiate career and limited preseason/regular season action last year pales in comparison to the raw talent, athleticism, and potential we’ve already seen from Lawrence and Fields. Both of them have illustrated that they can win against college football’s premier competition and on the biggest stages.
But there’s a very real chance that both of them will go in the top-10 during the 2021 NFL Draft — if not going No. 1 and No. 2 overall, depending on what happens this year in college football (and in the NFL).
What are the odds that the Patriots honestly finish with a top-10 draft selection next April? Slim to none, I’d say. Even if this New England offense sputters and takes a step further back from last year’s dismal showing (by our own lofty standards), the Patriots defense is still one of the best in the league.
According to Bleacher Report’s Blake Schuster, at least one unnamed AFC evaluator is “worried” the Pats will intentionally tank in 2020 to land Lawrence next year.
That’s all fine and good — I’d be worried too if I was an AFC evaluator looking at the Patriots under Belichick and contemplating the idea that they could go from having Brady at the helm to having someone as talented like Lawrence replacing him in little more than a year.
It’d be a dream scenario for Pats Nation to have a Green Bay (Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers) or Indianapolis (Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck) type transition over this stretch of time, just as it’d be a nightmarish scenario for the other 31 teams in the NFL and their rabid fanbases.
Worry is one thing; expectation is another.
It makes sense to worry about the Patriots coming away with Lawrence the same way it would make sense worrying about them finding their way to acquiring Deshaun Watson next year. Remember that there are quite a few experts — including some Vegas sportsbooks — who have Watson penciled in as the favorite to be New England’s new starting QB come September 2021.
But just as with Watson, it’s foolish to expect the Patriots will find themselves in position to have Lawrence under center this time next year. That’s not the way the NFL works, and it’s not the way Belichick operates as a head coach or general manager.
Don’t believe me? Just hear it straight from recently-retired Pats fullback James Develin, who spent eight years in New England under Belichick:
“I don’t think (they’ll tank),” Develin said on the Dale & Keefe show, per WEEI’s Ryan Hannable. Pressed on his reasoning, he elaborated on Belichick’s culture and the fabled “Patriot Way” in his explanation:
"“I think one of the biggest things about the Patriots organization is everyone is focused on winning. It’s all about winning, it’s all about improving the team no matter what the cost. I think there will never be a day that there’s ever a second wasted in that building on purposely trying to position themselves in the draft, or something like that. I just truly believe in my heart that that will never happen. We will always be trying to win games and always put ourselves in the position to be a better football team.”"
Strange things have happened to this team over the past year — things that would have seemed impossible as recently as two years ago. No one would have ever predicted that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski would be Buccaneers in 2021, or that former Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill would come into Gillette Stadium in January and upset the Patriots in the playoffs.
But Belichick and the New England Patriots “tanking for Trevor” this season?
Don’t count on it.