Bill Belichick always has a plan.
After inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower, right tackle Marcus Cannon, safety Patrick Chung, running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale and lineman Najee Toran all opted out of the 2020 NFL season amid coronavirus concerns, things began to look bleak for the Patriots season. But a league executive who spoke to ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday remains confident that Belichick will find a way to make the situation work in his team’s favor.
“Bill is masterminding all of this somehow,” the source told Schefter via text message.
A growing list of NFL players have bowed out of the season — coincidentally as MLB deals with the Marlins’ coronavirus outbreak — though the trend has hit the Patriots organization disproportionately hard. According to CNN, the opt-outs from New England comprise about one-third of all the players opting out across the league.
“I don’t know [what the reason is]! That’s why he is who he is!” the source added.
With no further details provided, one possible interpretation (that many on social media concluded) is that Belichick sees his team’s declining star power as an organic way to find a successor for six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, who left via free agency in March, without having to tank intentionally.
The logical target — not just for the Patriots — would be Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. But with the Heisman frontrunner expected to be highly sought-after and a favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the team would have to end the season with an abysmal record in a soft AFC East to even have a chance at drafting him.
Losing intentionally would typically be an anathema for the stern head coach, and the “Tank for Trevor” theory was quickly rebuffed by current and former players alike.
“No way in hell Belichick tanks this year,” former Patriots cornerback Darius Butler wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Anyone who’s saying that has never been around the guy!”
Chung chimed in and quote-tweeted Butler, “Whoever said that is dumb.”
Belichick-ian or not, the reality is that the calculus has shifted significantly this offseason. The jilted coach and de facto general manager has to rebuild the dynasty he and Brady built in their 20-year run together, with a quarterback room comprised of Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer.
The team was unable to pursue a high-ticket quarterback during free agency due to salary-cap limitations, and eventually signed Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP and former No. 1 overall pick, to a veteran minimum deal in June.
If healthy, the 31-year-old dual threat could bring a lot to the Patriots offense, but Lawrence offers a more attractive long-term solution.
Lawrence, 20, led the Tigers to a National Championship in 2019 as a freshman and has earned a bounty of awards to date, including USA Today’s 2017 High School Player of the Year, 2018 ACC Rookie of the Year, 2018 Cotton Bowl MVP, 2018 CFP National Championship MVP, 2019 First Team All-ACC and 2019 Fiesta Bowl MVP.