The New England Patriots face plenty of questions heading into the 2021 offseason, and their outlook for the upcoming year is therefore a murky one: Will they compete for a playoff spot after going 7-9 last season, or continue to be a middle-of-the-road team with little actual perspective?
Things can change quickly in the NFL, especially for a team with the salary cap potency of New England, but without serviceable quarterback play it might all be for naught this season. Accordingly, there is an argument to be made that the team should focus on rebuilding from the ground up even if it means being in play for the first overall draft pick next year — at least that’s the argument made by Pro Football Focus.
PFF recently published a story titled “Best-case, worst-case scenarios for all 32 NFL teams” and author Anthony Treash identified the following for the Patriots:
Best-case: New England liquidates its assets and commences a rebuild
Worst-case: They sign a mid- or low-tier free agent quarterback to be their Week 1 starter and get stuck in quarterback purgatory
Regression hit the New England Patriots hard in 2020. They went from having Tom Brady to Cam Newton and subsequently fielded their least-efficient passing offense of the PFF era by a considerable margin. Then a coverage unit that was considered the best in the league in 2019 saw the steepest drop among all 32 teams in EPA per pass play allowed in 2020. They have no quarterback, a clear bottom-five receiving unit and two aging defensive backs on expiring contracts in 2022 that still have trade value (Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty). They aren’t going to be a contender in 2021, especially with a mid- to low-tier free agent passer like Andy Dalton or Mitchell Trubisky as their quarterback.
It’s not going to happen, but Bill Bellichick [sic!] should strongly consider liquidating their assets and focusing on a rebuild this offseason. Next year would be a throwaway year, but they’d become an immediate favorite to land next year’s top quarterback, Spencer Rattler. And considering what we saw from him in Year 1 at Oklahoma — the fourth-best PFF grade in the country at 92.5 — he has the potential to be an elite level prospect like Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
The post is essentially a call for the Patriots to tank in 2021 in order to improve draft position for next year. While the argument presented might make sense — a lost year might be more valuable in the long run if it results in a bona fide quarterback prospect — its fatal flaw is also presented: it is simply not going to happen under Bill Belichick.
Why? Tanking would go counter to everything he has built since arriving in New England more than two decades ago, and could be especially damaging to a locker room turning from one generation of leaders to the next. Above all else, one could say that the Patriots’ throwaway year already happened in 2020: they were in bad salary cap shape, had to deal with high-profile free agency departures, and needed to build a team despite the Coronavirus pandemic limiting offseason workouts.
Long story short, the Patriots should be in much better shape this year than they were in 2020. Accordingly, tanking will not be on the menu. Frankly, it never will be with Belichick around.