You know how people always say that Bill Belichick has a season-altering decision to make every year? Well, he really does, but this time it’s not about choosing between Mac Jones and Cam Newton. It’s about where he’s going to play the Super Bowl.
Bill Belichick may not get the credit he deserves for turning the New England Patriots into the best football team in the NFL. He’s often described as polarizing, even by fans of other teams. But for all the criticism he gets, he’s never made a flippant or short-sighted decision. That’s not his style. It’s also not the style of the Patriots’ enigmatic head coach, who’s always had at least one game-changing decision to make each week.
As the Patriots prepare to face the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII this Sunday, New England’s offense has been largely based around its three-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback, Tom Brady. During the 2017 regular season, Brady threw for 4,828 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. That was the second most passes he had thrown in his career, behind only his 5,235 yards in 2015. The Pats also ran for 1,731 yards, the 8th most of Brady’s career.
Bill Belichick should be optimistic about his coaching prospects in January. After all, the New England Patriots’ roster is unquestionably superior than it was a year ago. And with rookie Mac Jones appearing capable of directing the offense, it’s fair to say Robert Kraft’s team is well-positioned for the future.
That isn’t to say that Belichick’s job is done. Aside from deciding between Jones and Cam Newton, he also has another season-altering choice to make that may cost the Patriots a lot of money.
Bill Belichick’s time to pick between Mac Jones and Cam Newton is almost out.
Newton was given a second shot in New England, but his days as the team’s starting quarterback seem to be limited. And that seemed to be the case until a “misunderstanding” about obtaining COVID testing away from NFL facilities lost him precious practice time.
Is Newton out of a job as a result of his on-field performance?
Most likely not.
However, it’s difficult to overlook Jones’ improvement since joining the club as the 15th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. The first-year pro seems poised to surpass Newton, since he is smooth, confident, and accurate.
When it comes to deciding who should start at quarterback in Week 1, Belichick must evaluate a number of variables, including whether Jones is physically capable of enduring the rigors of a complete season.
But that’s not the only important choice he’ll have to make this season.
Belichick must make a game-changing decision that has nothing to do with the starting quarterback.
Bill Belichick, the head coach of the New England Patriots, must decide if Stephon Gilmore will be a member of his squad in 2021. | Getty Images/Jim Davis/The Boston Globe
The Patriots shouldn’t end near 27th in points scored for the second consecutive season unless something goes terribly wrong. It’s debatable if they’ll have a top-10 scoring defense for the 10th consecutive season.
After all, if Stephon Gilmore isn’t in the right corner, the unit will look completely different.
Despite having surgery to repair a partly torn quad, the four-time Pro Bowler has made it plain that he wants a raise. The Patriots, on the other hand, have not made any changes to his contract or signed him to an extension. Given Gilmore’s age (he turns 31 in September) and present health condition (he’s on the active physically unable to perform list), it’s understandable that Belichick is taking a cautious approach to the issue.
However, with Week 1 coming quickly, he must make a season-altering choice sooner rather than later.
Will he address Gilmore’s deal by adding money to the 2021 contract of the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year? Is Belichick confident enough in him to sign a contract extension with him? Or will the Patriots refuse to deal their most accomplished defensive back and go the other way?
If Belichick chooses one of the first two options, the Patriots will have to be considered a serious contender to reclaim the AFC East title from the Buffalo Bills. However, if Gilmore is traded or sits out, the Patriots’ defense may be exposed, and the team could suffer as a result.
Belichick isn’t known for caving to players when it comes to money, but he may not have an option in this case. The club lacks depth at the position, and why go the cheap way with perhaps your most important defensive player after going all-in during free agency?
Giving Gilmore a well-deserved raise in salary would not only improve the Patriots’ defense, but it would also put Belichick in a far better position to win a ring without Tom Brady.
With a healthy, motivated version of Stephon Gilmore in the lineup, the Patriots’ defense has top-five potential.
Even if Gilmore isn’t the same player he was two years ago, the Patriots are unquestionably better off with him than without him. Don’t be shocked if New England finishes at or near the top of every defensive statistic in 2021 if he wears a Patriots jersey for another season.
Belichick has the makings of an outstanding squad after fielding a talent-deficient one a year ago.
The Patriots have a formidable front seven that features Dont’a Hightower, Matthew Judon, and Kyle Van Noy, a seasoned linebacker trio. In addition, Josh Uche, a 2020 second-round selection, seems to be on track to make a significant improvement in his second season with the club.
Both experienced veterans and young players with potential make up the defensive line. Lawrence Guy and Davon Godchaux, a free agent acquisition, could create a formidable inside combination. Christian Barmore, a rookie second-round selection, is expected to make an immediate impact as a pass rusher. And 2019 third-round pick Chase Winovich still has an opportunity to show he belongs as a sub-package player in New England.
The Patriots also have a lot of skill on the defensive side of the ball. At safety, McCourty, Adrian Phillips, and Kyle Dugger, a 2020 second-round pick, should dominate the snaps. At cornerback, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones should continue to play important roles. And it may be difficult to leave undrafted free agent Myles Bryant off the final roster in 2020.
At the end of the day, without Stephon Gilmore in the lineup, the Patriots have little chance of unseating Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs from their AFC title.
Only time will tell whether Bill Belichick thinks it’s worth spending more money on a 30-year-old cornerback who just returned from a season-ending injury.
Pro Football Reference provided all statistics. Spotrac provided all contract information.
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