After ‘must win’ loss, it’s time for the Patriots to think about the future

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Bill Belichick would never tank. At least that’s what we’ve been told.

Of course Belichick himself told Sirius XM NFL Radio late last week that his team was playing a lot of young players this struggling 2020 season in part because he and his once-proud team have had to “adjust our cap from the spending that we’ve had in accumulation of prior years.”

So, New England is literally less invested in winning this season than it’s been in the past. It doesn’t sound like a team that’s doing everything it can to win in the first year post-Tom Brady in New England, aka the first year post-dynasty in Foxborough.

And it shows.

Yet another Patriots comeback effort came up short in Buffalo Sunday afternoon when Cam Newton fumbled with less a minute to play, already in range for game-tying field goal attempt. The 24-21 loss, New England’s fourth straight, dropped it to 2-5 on the season, well behind the now 6-2 Bills in the AFC East.

It was a game that Newton described coming in as a "must win." They didn't. So the season is over, right? Well, it kinda is.

The offense can’t find much consistency in any area, other than Damien Harris running hard. The unit has added untimely, drive-killing penalties to its previous list of weaknesses such as turnovers, suspect QB play and lack of targets in the passing game.

Defensively the overall tackling of late has been putrid, compounding the front-seven’s season long struggles to stop the run. And the so-called elite secondary hasn’t lived up to its reputation.

The Patriots, my digital friends, are an extremely flawed football team.

So if you’re not all in to win – and you’re already in a massive hole in the standings -- then you might as well go all out. As in all out for the No. 1 overall pick and the chance at Clemson generational stud Trevor Lawrence. Or at least a chance at one of the widely-acknowledged three franchise QBs in this year’s draft. Maybe even just as high a pick as possible to get a blue-chipper, regardless of position.

If Belichick will admit that he’s essentially resetting his books in 2020 in Red Sox-like fashion, why shouldn’t he start going about it as best he can in terms of resetting his roster?

It wouldn’t be that hard. And it could start with Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline. We now know unequivocally that the Patriots should indeed be active sellers.

Stephon Gilmore should be able to garner at least a second-round pick and then some, allowing the Defensive Player of the Year to go through with the sale of his Foxborough home and move on to greener pastures with a possible greener contract elsewhere.

Joe Thuney might swing a third-round pick from a line-needy squad looking to solidify a playoff run.

Anyone else that teams want to call on, with nearly no exceptions answer those calls!

Play young players wherever and whenever possible in the coming weeks and months. They gain experience and Belichick gains talent-evaluating perspective.

Games against teams like the Jets may not be quite the sure-thing they once were in this scenario. That’s OK. Actually, that’s great!

But oh what kind of message would that send to the locker room? The same one that Belichick has sent endlessly over the years with trades of guys like Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins, Jamie Collins – the NFL is a business. It is what it is. If veteran players like Matthew Slater, Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty and others can’t understand and accept that, then they’ve probably been in said business for way too long.

The rest of the roster has little to say, because they should only be worried about playing for future employment and opportunities. It’s not like what they are doing right now is working anyway.

“We’re trying our best, putting our best effort out there, but it’s just not enough,” Harris said who has yet to experience winning this season after opening the year on IR.

No, no it isn’t. And it won’t be too often moving forward.

The pipedream scenario of coming back to steal the division or Wild Card and a playoff spot is fading fast. A team that’s lost five of its first seven games is going to suddenly somehow win seven of its next nine to claim a postseason bid at 9-7? Not impossible, but also not even close to likely.

And what good would sneaking into the playoffs do anyway? It’s not as if it brings an extra gate to team coffers, there are no fans! All it does is lower the draft pick Belichick has in each round to try to rebuild an aging, barren roster.

So do the right thing, the responsible thing and play to win the games…games in future years with the talent and opportunities picked up by pulling the plug on this season. There isn’t much hope left for 2020, but that can actually turn into hope for future rosters, seasons and championship chases.

Call it Tank for Trevor. Or Fail for Fields.

Really, though, just call it good business. Just like resetting the salary cap in the way that Belichick has already admitted that the Patriots are doing in 2020, which will obviously help the team moving forward.

Belichick has always said he makes decisions based on the short and long term best interests of his football team. For the here and now, it’s time to give up on the former to emphasize the latter.

He can even take a page out of the book of one of his former pupils, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. In his first year in Miami Flores shipped some of his best talent out of town – a stud offensive lineman and star defensive back looking for new contracts, sound familiar? – for draft picks. But he got the remaining players to still play hard, just ask the Patriots about that from last year’s finale.

Flores also secured the draft pick for his franchise QB as well as other picks to restock his roster. Now, things are looking up in Miami as Flores and his 4-3 team look down at the Patriots in the AFC East standings.

Don’t think of it as tanking, Bill. Just look at it as game planning and preparing for the future.

It’s not irresponsible or disrespectful. It’s actually the right thing to do. It’s in the best interests of your football team. It’s a lot like allowing a team to score on your defense in order to give your offense a chance to win the game. Or taking an intentional safety to set in motion a comeback.

At this point, with things bottoming out in the present, it’s really the only thing to do.

The future in Foxborough starts now.