It is July which means football news bites are few and far between. Monday provided some fodder for the content machine in the form of a running back movement on Twitter in which the league's best backs all bemoaned the fact that their counterparts are being forced to make $10 million per year instead of $15 million per year. Otherwise, though, it's been all quiet on the football front this month and things will continue on that track until mid-August brings video of training camp fights and things of that nature.
An interesting narrative has slowly began to emerge during these doldrums, though. It started with a Boston Globe report and grew to a Rich Eisen segment. It may only just be beginning. The narrative? Bill Belichick is on the hot seat this season if things do not go well for the New England Patriots.
As is often the case during the summer months this story is actually old. Ben Volin originally wrote for the Globe in March that Belichick's friends "feared" he was coaching for his job in 2023 after owner Robert Kraft made it clear he was displeased with the lack of results in the post-Tom Brady era. Volin brought it up again in connection to Mac Jones hanging out with Kraft and Brady last week. From March, per The Globe:
Within the last month, two confidants of Belichick independently expressed concern Kraft could fire Belichick after the 2023 season. These are former Patriots who worked for the team within the last five years, and still speak with the coach often. They are worried their mentor might not get to go out on his own terms.
It got aggregated (or re-aggregated in some cases) and led a producer for the Rich Eisen Show to book NBC Sports Boston and longtime Patriots insider Tom Curran for an interview. In that interview Curran painted a sordid picture of Belichick's decision-making over the last few years to explain why it makes sense that Belichick might be on the hot seat. He wouldn't go so far as to report that definitively but settled on saying that the seat has been at "different levels of warmth" since things went sideways with Cam Newton during the 2019 campaign.
Look, everything Curran is saying makes sense and I am not calling into question the validity of these reports. It is just... really hard to truly believe that Bill Belichick, of all people, is on the hot seat.
That isn't because I believe Belichick is still impeachable in his decision-making. Far from it. The man has clearly gotten a little too lost in his own sauce. The hubris shown in believing he could make a Matt Patricia-Joe Judge duo work on offense last season is matched only by Icarus. His ability to evaluate offensive players has always been a weak spot and in recent years has become much worse as the team's front office talents flocked elsewhere to thrive. The dearth of talent at skill positions is 100 percent his fault between his draft whiffs and giving tons of money to subpar players like Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agoholor. Nobody is perfect when it comes to player evaluation but the most glaring holes in New England's roster right now are entirely his fault and (unlike in previous years) the product on the field has suffered. The man can still coach a defense like nobody's business but the aura of Belichick has eroded significantly since Brady left.
All that said, Belichick and the Patriots feel as inseparable as any coach and team in the history of any sport. It's like Gregg Popovich with the Spurs except Belichick is as important to the front office as he is to the sideline. Kraft undoubtedly wants results after being spoiled for 20 years, just like the fans. But he knows what a monumental task it'll be to untangle the Belichick influence if they really do want to move on. That should not and will not stop him from making the right decision for his team. It will, however, slow things down.
And it's not like the Pats have been horrible. On the whole they've been pretty average with some vacillation in the last three seasons. Last year was a very bad one for all sorts of reasons and frankly felt like a true disaster of a football season, yet they fell just below .500. It is not the success Kraft is accustomed to, but it can also get a lot worse and it's hard to believe he doesn't know that.
There is just no way Belichick is coaching for his job in 2023. Is he coaching for his reputation? Is it a crucial year in the pursuit of cementing his place as the greatest coach of all time rather than one of several great minds? Absolutely. There's still a lot at stake. But even with the insider reports (none of which say for sure Belichick's job is at risk, for what it's worth), it's impossible to believe he could be fired if things don't go well for a second straight year.
Two bad seasons do not get this coach fired. It's Bill Belichick. He is no longer an untouchable football god, but he is definitely better than almost all the alternatives. Kraft knows that as well as anybody, and he's the one making the final call. Belichick is coaching for a lot this season but not his job as head coach of the Patriots.