With hours to go before the NFL’s 53-man roster cutdown deadline, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was asked a simple question:
Does having to cut a large swath of New England players at this time each year weigh on him emotionally?
Short answer: “Absolutely. Without a doubt.”
This is a difficult day even for Belichick, who became known for ruthlessly prioritizing team success over personal relationships as he built the Patriots’ dynasty. His explanation of why, given during his Tuesday morning Zoom call, lasted more than four minutes and featured nearly 600 words.
Here’s a full transcript of the Patriots coach’s response:
“Everybody knows what the situation is when we go into it. We have 90 players. We go to 53. Thirty-seven of the 90 can’t be on the team. Whichever 37 they are, that’s another conversation, but 37 of the 90 can’t make the 53-man roster. We all know that this is a production business, and it’s very competitive, and when you join the National Football League, you know what that’s going to be. You’re one of 90; you have to earn a spot as one of the 53. So there’s no new rules, ground rules — there’s nothing new there.
“The actual process is very difficult for all of us — myself, certainly assistant coaches who have established a close relationship with their players and respect for their players because of their effort, work ethic and commitment that they make to the team. But ultimately, 37 of those 90 players can’t be with the team. It’s always difficult to talk to those players about the fact that they’ve done a lot, they’ve contributed a lot, they’ve worked hard, they’ve put a lot into it, but 37 of the 90 — or now 27 of the 90 with the roster being at 80 — are not going to be on the 53-man roster.
“So that is difficult. It’s difficult for the players. I’m sure all their family, friends and so forth hear the news, contact them and so forth. There’s the hard part of dealing with that. The flip side of that is 53 players with a 16-man practice squad puts you 69 — let’s call it 70. So now there are, let’s call it 10 players that — again, players can come from other teams and so forth, but just in round numbers — the 27 really is a little closer to 10. It’ll be more than 10, but a little closer to 10 than the 27 because those players potentially would be players that’ll be asked to be on the practice squad, which will enable them to continue their career and their development in the National Football League, just not on the 53-man roster.
“So that’s a little bit of a bridge in the whole process. I don’t think any player would see that as good news, but it’s not as bad as not being on the (team at all). It’s some kind of a bridge in between. And honestly, for some players, practice squad is a realistic goal for them if at the initial stage of the process at the 90 when they came to the team — whenever that was; training camp or draft or the spring or whenever — that just being on the roster, being able to continue to develop their skills, knowing that they’re not quite ready in the short run but they have long-term potential. That’s realistic too in some cases.
“So, long answer to your question. Some players, we have to move on from. Some players, there may be an opportunity on the practice squad, not on the 53-man roster. And then of course, all that is subject to the player’s individual situation, whether he’s a vested veteran and terminates as a free agent or whether he’s subject to waivers and we’ll see what happens on that on Wednesday when the other teams respond to the waiver wire with potential claims.
“But it’s a difficult time for players, the head coach and, I would say, position coaches and other members of the organization who have established relationships with the players with whatever roles they have, whether it be trainers, equipment people, operations, PR, media.”
The Patriots must finalize their initial 53-man roster by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.