Bill Belichick will meet with the media for the first time this morning, one day before his team conducts its first training camp practice.
Normally we don’t count Belichick press conferences as must-see TV (aside from his Mona Lisa Vito/Bill The Science Guy Deflategate press conference), but his opening-season salvos have at least been newsworthy.
In 2011, the NFL lockout had just ended and the team was finishing a trade for Albert Haynesworth.
In 2012, receiver Wes Welker had called the Patriots’ bluff by signing his franchise tag for $9.5 million (likely greasing the skids for his departure one year later), and no one knew where guard Brian Waters was.
The Aaron Hernandez situation in 2013 led to a Belichick that few had seen: contrite, sympathetic and genuine.
In 2014, Darrelle Revis was on the scene, but retired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia was not for the first time in 24 years (he’d be back two years later).
And then Deflategate dominated the next two training camps. In 2015, Robert Kraft took the podium first and defended Tom Brady, whose suspension had been upheld one day prior by “arbitrator” Roger Goodell.
Last year, the Patriots started their 2016 campaign knowing that Brady, who had dropped his appeal, would miss the first four games that season, and all eyes were on Jimmy Garoppolo and how snap counts would be divided.
Now, after a fifth Super Bowl title, an impressive offseason and with 19-0 talk in the air, what’s left to talk about with the Patriots virtually drama free? Brady's future as a televised self-help guru?
That’s just an example how different this season is for Belichick and the Patriots. Usually there’s something to discuss, a unit to pick apart. This year the “hot topic” will center on who’s the third cornerback and just how are all their great pieces on offense going to share one football. Yeah, the rest of the NFL is weeping for the Patriots.
Belichick the GM usually left Belichick the coach with some work to do, whether it was a new group of receivers to earn Brady’s trust or linebackers that had to be pieced together from the league’s scrapheap.
These Patriots are stacked. They have two franchise quarterbacks, four impressive running backs, two starting tight ends, five receivers that have all made big plays and the entire (still young) offensive line is intact.
The defense might not be as flashy, but there are no holes on that side either, and they’ve added one player who wreaked havoc in a Super Bowl (end Kony Ealy with Carolina), another who was the hub of some very good defenses (linebacker David Harris with the Jets) and a No. 1 corner (Stephon Gilmore).
Maybe the rub is that, for the first time since 2004, Belichick may have to do more massaging than tinkering with this team in a few areas, most notably at quarterback.
How is Brady going to respond if Garoppolo, who was impressive in his two starts last season, cuts into Brady’s practice snaps? Brady, who was yet to receive the contract extension that was rumored after the Super Bowl, knows that the Patriots could have traded his understudy this offseason for plenty of capital and didn’t. With Brady still talking about playing until age 45 and “isn’t ruling out” playing at 50, he’s going to want his full allotment of precious snaps in practice and the exhibition games.
Outside of that, Belichick’s greatest challenge could be keeping this team hungry and on edge. But that’s another area where the GM (with a big assist from director of personnel Nick Caserio) has done remarkably well than years past.
Look up and down that talented Patriots one-deep roster of starters. Try to name one player who's going to get fat and happy off a Super Bowl title, or buy into the 19-0 nonsense. Good luck. We’ll have to see where young guys like Trey Flowers, James White and Malcolm Mitchell are at after coming off starring roles for the first time, but all three seem to cut out of the same mold that didn’t allow Malcolm Butler to take a step back following his Super Bowl XLIX heroics.
Still, it wouldn’t be a shock if Belichick executed a shocking cut or trade (Rob Ninkovich, Dion Lewis, Alan Branch or Stephen Gostkowski seem to be the only realistic candidates, but none of them are close to likely) just to keep the players on edge. Maybe a trade brings in a player who shakes up the dynamics in the locker room.
Yes, we’re stretching. That’s the point. That’s how good these Patriots are.
Get ready to be bored again.