The Patriots Peanut Gallery is kicking Bill Belichick while he’s down. There haven’t been many opportunities to do this over the years, but now is the perfect time to strike. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski aren’t at practice; Danny Amendola slammed Belichick on his way out of town; Malcolm Butler was inexplicably benched for the Super Bowl.
Under normal circumstances, the Eagles players and Patriots reject who are criticizing Belichick for not having enough fun would be ridiculed. They are football players, dammit. What's up with all of this namby-pamby bellyaching?
But for once, Belichick appears slightly vulnerable. It was an unusual winter and the weirdness has carried over to the spring. It is odd that Brady was throwing passes on a yacht in Monaco instead of working on out routes with Julian Edelman in Foxboro. Throughout his entire career, Brady has touted the importance of OTAs. And now he’s traveling the world to fulfill business obligations with Aston Martin and Tag Heuer. It’s apparent the reported rift between Brady and Belichick still exists.
Gronk, meanwhile, seems to be in subtle insubordination. He’s missed every team activity this offseason, but made it to Gillette Stadium for a Supercross Press Conference, in which he mocked questions about his then-uncertain football future.
Oh, and his parting message to Amendola was to be “happy and free” now that he’s out of New England. Amendola, meanwhile, ripped the Butler benching to ESPN’s Mike Reiss after signing with the Dolphins.
"I have my thoughts about it because I was out there putting my blood, sweat and tears out on the field that night, and one of our best players wasn't on the field," Amendola said in April. "To tell you the truth, I don't know why. I did ask, but I didn't get any answers.
It seems like Butler’s Super Bowl sidelining ranked several Patriots players. When Butler released a statement on Instagram to address the benching, numerous current and former teammates “liked” the post. Brady even commented, calling Butler an “incredible player and teammate and friend. Always!!!!!!”
Belichick has made curious and unpopular decisions before. But he almost always wins, so there isn’t much critics can say. This time, though, he lost.
That’s why Eagles offensive lineman Lane Johnson can feel comfortable saying he values fun over rings. The Eagles defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, so Johnson possesses the ultimate trump card. Same goes for offensive lineman Brandon Brooks, who said this week he was miserable playing under Belichick decibel Bill O’Brien in Houston. Brooks also cited washed-up Reggie Wayne’s decision to retire after spending camp with the Patriots in 2015 as proof that playing for Belichick is a dreadful experience.
Most tellingly, discarded defensive end Cassius Marsh, who was awful with the Patriots last season, is whining about how the demanding environment in Foxboro almost made him quit football. (Maybe the tears in his eyes were the reason he couldn’t catch Kareem Hunt.)
It’s unlikely any Patriots discord will prohibit Belichick from coaching his team to another division crown and first-round bye. The Patriots seem like locks to play in their eighth straight AFC championship. Brady will be there for training camp in July. Right now, he's working with Alex Guerrero and training the way he wants to train. Come Week 1, there's little doubt Brady will be ready. That means the Patriots will probably get back to walloping opponents, making all of this drama seem like a distant memory.
The Peanut Gallery must get in their digs now. It's only a matter of time before they start looking foolish again.