How Bill Belichick Explained Jake Bailey’s Patriots Suspension

'He was unavailable. That's the bottom line'


Jan 8, 2023

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Why did the New England Patriots suspend punter Jake Bailey ahead of Sunday’s regular-season finale in Buffalo?

Bill Belichick declined to say after the Patriots lost to the Bills 35-23 at Highmark Stadium, ending their season. But he disputed an account of the situation from Bailey’s camp.

Bailey’s agent, Doug Hendrickson, said Saturday in a statement that the punter “never missed a single treatment, meeting or practice” while he was on injured reserve and “was hoping to come off IR to play last weekend,” only to be “informed he was being suspended these last two games.”

“This comes as a surprise given his full participation during injury reserve,” Hendrickson said, adding he’d “filed a grievance to fight this unknown suspension.”

Asked after Sunday’s game whether he shared Hendrickson’s view, Belichick replied: “No.”

The following exchange then ensued:

Question: Could you elaborate on how you see it?

Belichick: “He’s not eligible to play.”

Q: His agent said he felt like he was ready and he was surprised to be told he wasn’t.

Belichick: “He was on designated for return and he wasn’t able to play. So, the suspension is a whole ‘nother thing. But he wasn’t able to come back.”

Q: So he wasn’t unavailable because of the suspension is what you’re saying?

Belichick: “He was unavailable. That’s the bottom line.”

Q: Because of injured reserve?

Belichick: “He was unavailable.”

The Patriots designated Bailey to return from IR on Dec. 21, when he began practicing. NFL rules allow players to practice for 21 days before they must either be added to the 53-man roster or revert to season-ending IR. Bailey’s return window wasn’t set to expire until this coming Wednesday.

New England could have used their big-legged specialist against Buffalo.

Bailey was the NFL’s worst statistical punter before landing on IR with a back injury in November — a precipitous fall for a player who was a first-team All-Pro just two years earlier — but he remained effective on kickoffs, able to consistently deliver touchbacks. Kicker Nick Folk lacked that same leg power, and the Patriots forced just three touchbacks on kickoffs after Bailey’s injury, by far the fewest in the NFL.

On Sunday, Nyheim Hines returned two Folk kickoffs for touchdowns, spotting the Bills 14 points in a game they went on to win by 12. The Patriots allowed a league-high three kick-return touchdowns this season, with all three coming after Bailey’s move to IR.

Bailey signed a three-year, $9.1 million contract extension in August, but his suspension might allow the Patriots to void his 2023 guarantees and release him this offseason. ESPN’s Mike Reiss wrote before Sunday’s game that it’s “hard to imagine him playing for the team again.”

The Patriots also suspended rookie cornerback Jack Jones, reportedly because he missed rehab sessions after suffering a knee injury in Week 14.

Thumbnail photo via Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports Images
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