With the Patriots facing so much scrutiny this season due to their uncharacteristically poor performance, some have theorized the team could be purposely losing to attain a higher first-round draft pick.
Although tanking in the NFL isn't common, it's a conspiracy that has taken on a mind of its own in recent weeks, as many are really looking for a less disappointing explanation for how lousy the season has gone than accepting the likely truth, the team is just not that good. Regardless of why that seems to be the reality, it's unfortunately where the team is currently, with the hope of getting back on track next year.
But before looking ahead to the 2024 season, the idea that Bill Belichick is leading a full-blown tank job is starting to catch on to the point of Patriots players being asked for their opinion about the theory.
The first to share his take on the whole thing is longtime special teams captain Matthew Slater, who was asked for his reaction to the rise of fans hoping for the team to lose games or, to take it even further, to tank the rest of the season, during a recent appearance on WEEI's "Jones and Mego."
"I personally try to put myself in positions to understand everyone’s mode of thinking. I understand that rationale, I understand fans having an opinion or hopes and expectations of what we do. And I don’t have a problem with that. I’m not offended by it.
I think as a player, though — especially a player in my situation — you realize opportunities in this league are never guaranteed. And, you know, as easy as it is for the fans or pundits to look ahead to the future, as a player, your future is never guaranteed. especially for someone in my position."
Firstly, Slater saying he can understand why some would hope for his team to lose is beyond admirable. That can't be easy to hear as one of the longest-tenured and most accomplished members of the current roster, especially as this is likely his final season before retiring.
At the same time, he makes a point many seem to overlook when believing the team could be tanking the players. In professional sports, how players perform come game time is all they have to prove if they're valuable.
It seems entirely reasonable to assume that virtually no player on a 53-man roster would ever agree to purposely lose games for a team that has no reason to keep him on the team and could cut him at any moment. There's no loyalty in sports, and athletes are far more aware of that than those of us who sit at home and watch.
Everything depends on how they perform. If their current team releases them, yet they were playing horribly to help them accomplish tanking, what team would be willing to pay up to sign them? Their job and livelihoods depend on how they perform, making it nearly impossible to believe any of them would agree to actively participate in a tanking season.
Slater essentially echoed that same mindset, stating players want to take advantage of their opportunities and not waste them by intentionally losing or tanking.
"I think as players, it’s up to us to embrace the opportunities we’re given and treat them like our last. So, the idea of losing games or tanking will never appeal to players … I want to win the next six games."
Considering how long Slater has played in the NFL and his relationship with Belichick because of it, he would know better than almost anyone if tanking was truly occurring. Not to mention, he doesn't appear to be the type of player who would ever agree to something like that, mainly when it provides no benefit to him and nearly all his teammates.
His answer may not satisfy those who are hellbent on believing an active tank job is in progress, but at least he set the record straight the best way he could, and his words can always be revisited if the theory continues to be discussed over the final six games.