FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots run their program a very specific way, giving players the choice to get with it or get out. Brandon Spikes may be on his way out.
Spikes chose to skip voluntary organized team activities this offseason, deciding instead to work out on his own at a Florida facility rather than in Foxboro with his teammates. So, when he arrived at Gillette Stadium on Monday, making his first appearance of the offseason, he was welcomed into a different environment, which included second-team reps, than the one he left in January.
He rejoined his teammates on the practice field for the first time on Tuesday. His return was a welcome sight for his defensive mates, as they seek to build some cohesion heading toward training camp, but his absence up to this point is what Bill Belichick seemed to notice most.
In the midst of the Tim Tebow lovefest that took place at Gillette on Tuesday, Belichick slipped in what appeared to be a subtle slight at Spikes for ditching out on the voluntary OTAs.
“All of our players, except one, have been here regularly through the offseason up until this week,” Belichick said during a pre-practice news conference on Tuesday.
The jab went overlooked at first, especially considering all the attention on Tebow, but it was said with some intent. Spikes’ absence gave off a me-first impression, which goes directly against the Patriots team-first mentality, and appears to have gotten under Belichick’s skin.
Spikes, 25, who’s in the final year of his rookie contract, doesn’t view his time away in quite the same vein. The move makes him seem selfish, as he looks to land a big-money deal — can you blame him? — next offseason. But Spikes says his motivation was mainly to get in better shape and become a better linebacker.
“I just felt like I was just [trying] to put myself in the best position to compete for a spot on the team and also help this team win a championship,” Spikes said. “You guys know me. I do things a little different from anybody else. I don’t think that’s bad or a shocker. Honestly, if everyone in this world was a conformist it would be a boring place.”
He’s right about conformity, too. It is boring. But Belichick likes boring, and that’s a big part of the Patriots’ program.
Originality and individuality are fun and entertaining, but the Patriots are all about football. There’s no room for fun and games inside the Patriots’ locker room, and Spikes doesn’t seem to like that.
Spikes is an affable, gregarious character with a big mouth and an even bigger imagination. His personality has created some hilarious candid moments inside the locker room, including his retelling of some old basketball memories, as well as some controversial ones off the field — ahem, Chatroulette. But those qualities don’t exactly tie into the Patriot way.
Belichick wants all of his players to be focused on football first and to buy into the no-nonsense, business first system that he’s built. That’s why guys like Tom Brady, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Devin McCourty are leaders on this team. All of them are passionate about the game of football, and none of them put their own goals ahead of that of the team.
It’s not to say that Spikes isn’t passionate, or that he’s not putting the team first, but his head just doesn’t seem to be in the place where Belichick wants it to be.
“I stayed in contact with some guys, making sure things weren’t changing in the meeting rooms and things like that,” Spikes said of his offseason. “I just wanted to stay on top of my game and I felt like being somewhere else, being on my own I normally do better and be productive that way.”
He believed that working on his own would put him in a better position to succeed, and it might. But even if he’s in the best shape of his life and finally becomes serviceable in coverage, that lack of “team” commitment could make him expendable.
Belichick wants 53 leaders on his football team and 53 guys who are going to work to make the Patriots, as a whole, better. Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick apparently weren’t taking on enough of a leadership role, and look where they ended up — Jacksonville. Yikes. Maybe Spikes will be the next ex-Patriot to end up in Northern Florida. He did spend four years in college down there, and the Jaguars are treating the Patriots’ junk yard like their own gold mine — six former Patriots are currently on their roster.
None of this means that Spikes won’t be back in New England in 2014. Nothing the Patriots do is much of surprise anymore, and signing Tim Tebow only confirmed that. So, there is a chance Spikes could stick around, although all indications, including drafting linebacker Jamie Collins in the second round, would point otherwise.
Spikes is still one of the most dominant run defenders in the NFL, and the Patriots’ defense is better because of him. But between Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and now Collins, there may be no place for Spikes soon enough. Plus, he’ll be looking for a major pay raise, something Belichick isn’t quick to hand out to just anyone.
There is still a minicamp and an entire season to finish before that question even becomes viable, but Spikes’ actions this offseason may have him on the outs in New England. He has plenty of time to recoup his losses. Now, it’s just a matter of if he wants to.