ATLANTA – Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are preparing to compete in their ninth Super Bowl as a quarterback-coach tandem on Sunday night, but both have been quick to point out this week that part of their motivation to win Super Bowl LIII is for those teammates experiencing the big game for the first time.
For all of the consistency that Brady and Belichick have brought to the Patriots, hundreds of players have passed through the organization during their unprecedented run.
The ability to manage the salary cap, continually churn over the roster and bring in talent on both sides of the ball has been one of Belichick’s greatest feats. Yes, New England will be taking part in its third consecutive Super Bowl come Sunday, but Belichick wouldn’t attempt to compare this year’s team to either of the past two.
“Roster building in the NFL is a very challenging task, and there are so many talented players in this league … and they’re very different,” he said Tuesday. “Ultimately you have to try to find the right mix for your team. That can be long- and short-term because there’s a development aspect to younger players and then with the longevity and productivity of older players.
“When you put all of that together, it all becomes cloudy, I would say. If it’s clear, it’s easy. Usually it’s not that clear, you have three or four options and you try to pick the right one and prioritize all of those things. There are multiple correct answers.”
The elusive roster mix
The Patriots have four rookies and nine players with fewer than three years of NFL experience on their roster. That includes running back Sony Michel, the first-round pick who has become an increasingly important weapon out of the backfield.
“What’s important on this year’s team is they’ve worked hard and they’ve tried to improve every day,” Belichick said. “Each year your roster is comprised of different players, and you evolve into this slightly or moderately different team every year. We’ve tried to adapt to our strengths and our weaknesses and to find the right combination to make our team the best it can be.
“Everything doesn’t always go perfect or right, but we go back to work and we try to get it better the next time. And they’ve done that relentlessly since the middle of April last year. We’ve been really demanding of those things, and they’ve really responded day after day, week after week, month after month.”
There are also new faces on the coaching staff every season. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia moved on to become the Detroit Lions’ head coach last year. His role wasn’t officially filled for the 2018 season, but linebackers coach and de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores is expected to move on after Sunday’s game to take over as the Miami Dolphins’ head coach.
Belichick said every year brings new challenges, none bigger than allowing important personnel to chase their dreams and mold a new mix of faces on the coaching staff and with the roster.
“Ultimately, every relationship is buily on respect and trust,” he said. “In some situations, when there are opportunities that are better than what I can provide, then I certainly would not try to impede those people from advancing their careers.
“I’ve been in that situation myself, and I think that’s just fundamentally the right thing to do.
As for how long Belichick will continue facing prospect of a new league year and the grind of the draft, offseason workouts and the season, he wasn’t providing any assurances similar to Brady stating he absolutely will play next season.
“Right now, I’m just really focused on trying to help our team prepare for the Rams,” Belichick said. “I’m not going to worry about anything else. As far as the future goes, the future for me right now is Sunday night against the Rams.
–By Derek Harper (@DerekAHarper), Field Level Media