With the Senior Bowl winding down and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick nowhere to be seen in Mobile, Alabama, Boston sports talk radio did what it does best: throw unsubstantiated theories around while trying to explain the inner workings of arguably the most secretive organization in sports.
Whether it is 98.5 The Sports Hub or WEEI, the segments went something like this: ”Belichick should be at the Senior Bowl! What about ‘No Days Off?’ His work ethic is no longer what it used to be!”
While those arguments may make sense from a fiscal point of view — controversy drives business for those stations — they leave a lot to be desired from an actual football perspective. Belichick not being in Mobile to watch Senior Bowl practices is actually not a big deal, after all.
Let’s start with the fact that the exhibition event is only one piece of the complex mosaic that is the pre-draft process. The goal throughout of it is to get as much information as possible to make an informed decision come the draft in late April, but there are plenty of other avenues to go that do not include being present at the Senior Bowl: there’s tons of college tape available, while virtual interviews and Pro Days will also come up soon.
On top of it all, it’s not like the Patriots are not represented down in Mobile with Belichick not there. The team’s college scouting department is present, and did not just view the practice sessions but also interviewed top prospects such as Alabama quarterback Mac Jones or Wake Forest QB Jamie Newman.
Long story short, New England is still gathering plenty of information either in-person or via video.
The latter is obviously important given that the Coronavirus pandemic is playing a major role in how the whole NFL conducts its business. This year’s pre-draft operations are no different, which adds an additional layer to Belichick’s absence at the Senior Bowl: 28 of the NFL’s 32 teams decided not to send any coaches to Alabama, which means that the Patriots’ staff is in good company when it comes to sitting out the event.
Doing that is also nothing new for Belichick. While he was present last year and ended up drafting four participants — Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Justin Herron — he missed the Senior Bowl more often than not in the past. Last year was the exception, not the norm from his perspective.
There is one popular argument against this, though: with no Scouting Combine this year and the Patriots in the middle of a pivotal offseason, the Senior Bowl has added importance for them. There is some truth to that in the grand scheme of things, but as noted above it is still only one piece of the puzzle regardless of whether or not the Combine takes place.
The main difference between the two events is one that has not changed even in 2021: the Combine is a league-wide gathering — everyone from draft prospects, to coaches, to general managers, to agents is present — and thus the unofficial start of free agency. The Senior Bowl is not that, which is why the presence of coaches and other high-level executives does not play that big a role to begin with.
Belichick, like the other 28 head coaches sitting it out, has his reasons for not being at the event. It has nothing to do with work ethic or the like.