Some pretty important Patriots have left this week for the money. Huge money. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, even if some of these same players have taken discounts in the past.
The Patriots have their way of doing business, and it’s primarily about not overspending. They rely on their reputation, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the rings and the idea of winning the next one.
The question we should be asking now, after watching Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler exit, is whether New England is still that destination? Do players still want to come here to chase a championship with the Patriots?
Or is the perception of the franchise changing because of the drama that has played out in Foxboro over the past year — to the point where some of their desired targets might stay away?
“There’s always been the notion, that when you go to New England, you don’t go to get paid, you go to get rings,” said SiriusXM NFL analyst Solomon Wilcots, who said the turmoil behind the scenes in Foxboro is talked about around the league.
Add in the Super Bowl benching of Malcolm Butler and the Patriots’ reputation may be damaged.
“Around the NFL, if this guy (Butler) did everything he was supposed to do for that organization,” Wilcots said, “he pulled himself up by the bootstraps, turned himself into a player . . . and to get benched? What happens now, players look at coaches and teams. And now they’re saying, ‘Wait a minute!’’’
It’s hard to ignore the drama with the Patriots. Their 40-year-old quarterback Tom Brady is not feeling appreciated, he told wife Gisele Bundchen in his Tom vs. Time documentary. Now he’s wondering if he is still has the conviction to get himself ready to play.
The cryptic social media messages from tight end Rob Gronkowski, who seems to be portraying himself as an unhappy camper, told Amendola to “be free, and be happy.”
Think others haven’t noticed the unrest and dysfunction at Patriot Place?
They’re also looking at the shelf life of Brady. Sure, at 40, he looked awesome in the Super Bowl against the Eagles, like he could play another few years. But now there’s an in-house problem house that doesn’t seem to be going away.
Wilcots said the unrest gets noticed by other players.
“That’s allowing players to look elsewhere, even players on their very own team,” he said. “Because, if you mess with Tom Brady . . . well, they just did it with Malcolm Butler, and if you think that doesn’t resonate around the locker room and if that didn’t get people’s attention . . . Well, then, who the hell am I? Because I can tell you right now, Gronk is thinking if Brady’s not there, he sure as hell is not staying.”
Wilcots didn’t mince words when asked about Amendola’s departure. What does it mean to him that a guy who took multiple pay cuts and loved being a Patriot and playing with Brady walked out for the money?
“It means it’s over,” he said, referring to the run of competing for championships. “Plus, he already has his rings, too.”
So maybe some of these guys are simply reading the tea leaves and deciding it’s better to cash in elsewhere. Of course, not everyone is leaving as the Patriots did re-sign core special teamer Nate Ebner and running back Rex Burkhead.
But here’s what one former Patriot, who preferred anonymity, had to say Wednesday on the subject: “I think players are looking at the Pats as a dynasty that’s about to die away and other teams may have a better upside.”
Wilcots agreed, saying that right now some other teams just might be more attractive.
“The Eagles, the Jaguars, there’s other teams now people are looking at,” he said. “Some people are looking at the Patriots and saying, maybe, they’re at the end of their run. It’s players, agents, because one thing the Patriots never had to worry about was their chemistry or distractions. Well, that’s not really true anymore.”
The 41-33 loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII also may have proved something else that might make free agents shy away.
“Brady can still be great, but it ain’t good enough,” said Wilcots. “Brady played the game of the ages. That’s what gets lost. He threw for 500 yards, with no interceptions. Are you kidding me? And it wasn’t good enough to win? A quarterback can’t play any better.
“He ain’t the problem. But there are bigger problems.”