The Patriots are used to being among the Super Bowl favorites year in and year out.
So, it’s somewhat jarring to see outside expectations set so low for New England ahead of the 2020 NFL season.
Of course, the skepticism is understandable. Several notable free agents, including quarterback Tom Brady, signed elsewhere on the open market, and the Patriots did little this offseason to restock their roster. And now, multiple players have chosen to opt out of the 2020 campaign entirely over concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But to suggest Bill Belichick is tanking? That’s where Colin Cowherd draws the line.
“This is the least random coach in the history of the league. This is the least random organization in the history of the sport. They do nothing without preparation,” Cowherd said Wednesday on FS1. “But this is one of the few instances where I think the fans get it over the media. The media doesn’t want to say ‘tanking.’ And I don’t see it as tanking. The word scares us. I don’t think they’re tanking.”
The Patriots aren't tanking. They're restructuring.
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) July 29, 2020
It’s been a head-scratching few months for New England, to say the least, starting with Brady’s departure and the apparent complacency the team showed in addressing the quarterback position until Cam Newton fell into its lap.
Yet Cowherd doesn’t see the seemingly “random occurrences” — no plan to replace Brady, the decision not to re-sign other key contributors, not being remotely active in free agency, players opting out, etc. — as being random at all.
In fact, he believes New England is operating with a clear strategy that hardly can be described as “tanking” despite the quickness with which some pundits use that label to describe the Patriots’ outlook after an unprecedented run of championship success.
“Nobody buys stocks to lose. But you sell them sometimes to get your capital gain wins,” Cowherd said. “The Patriots aren’t building (for this season). They see there’s three A-plus college prospects and about three teams in the league that need them, and they’ve got enough draft picks where they can move even more: ‘We keep winning Super Bowls, we’ve got a bunch of equity, we’re up against the (salary) cap. Let’s let a few guys go, not be as aggressive, let’s see what we’ve got in Jarrett Stidham and, oh darn, if we go 7-9 and outside of Jacksonville nobody needs quarterback, we get one.’
“I don’t think this is tanking. This is not tanking. It’s restructuring. It’s selling a stock at a loss to help you with some capital gains wins.”
One NFL executive suggested to ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday that Belichick somehow is “masterminding” New England’s opt-outs. While that idea seems farfetched, as it certainly would fly in the face of conventional logic, it’s not unreasonable to think Belichick has a long-term vision for the Patriots.
Some might call it “tanking,” whereas others, like Cowherd, clearly prefer the term “restructuring” when evaluating the prospect of accepting losses to achieve future success.