It was 12:30 a.m., and Bill Belichick was in a talking mood.
The previous night, NBC Sports Boston reporter Phil Perry asked the Patriots’ head coach whether Mac Jones was the highest graded player left on their board when they selected him at No. 15 overall. Belichick answered curtly, and said he wasn’t going to “go through all of the grades on everybody on the board.” Then he stiff-armed a follow-up, once again refusing to elaborate on the topic.
It was quintessential Belichick: brusque, dismissive and short. In the same press conference, Belichick also asserted Cam Newton was still the starter. It’s easy to envision Belichick grumbling that mantra throughout training camp.
“Cam’s our quarterback.”
On Friday night, Belichick once again took questions from reporters following rounds two and three of the NFL Draft, and the session was predictably uneventful. Then the clock struck midnight. Before signing off, Belichick asked if Perry was on the call (he wasn’t at that point). Belichick wanted to revisit the topic of draft grades.
In the wee hours of the morning, Belichick offered a glimpse into his Hall of Fame mind. “I would just say that we don’t grade players like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,” he told reporters, including WEEI’s Ryan Hannable. “We use a combination of numbers, letters, colors and those things all have different meanings, depending upon what they would indicate about the player’s circumstances or situation or whatever it is that involved the players.”
It’s not entirely out of character for Belichick to become long-winded when the topic turns to mundane football matters. He’s given a 1,256-word answer on matchups in punt coverage; 1,020-word dissertation on Gino Cappelletti; and eight-minute lecture on teaching players the rules. Belichick will go long when the answer doesn’t hold news value. His soliloquies about special teams are nothing more than a tease.
But Friday was a little different. Belichick specifically circled back to Perry, and then provided some insight into how the greatest dynasty in NFL history operates. Granted, Belichick spoke in generalities, and waited until 12:30 a.m. to share his wisdom. But it was still notable. Belichick has dismissed thousands of perfectly appropriate questions over the years. For some reason, he decided to circle back to draft grades. Maybe it was just a random late-night burst of sincerity, or perhaps it’s something deeper.
Could this be the start of Belichick’s charm offensive?
Before we go further, it’s important to define what “charm offensive” actually means. It’s unlikely Belichick will ever supply real insight into the day-to-day operations of the football team. Candor in the press room doesn’t translate to a competitive advantage on the field. In fact, it can often work against you. Belichick masterfully uses his opponents’ verbal faux pas as bulletin board material.
But maybe Belichick is softening up as he enters his eighth decade. He ran a more collaborative draft process this year, and seemingly wanted people to know about it. He gave assistant Elliot Wolf credit for orchestrating the trade with Cincinnati so they could move up and draft Christian Barmore.
As NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran notes, Belichick was mostly pleasant last season, earning a 7.6 grade during “garden variety media sessions.” Belichick was also upbeat during his virtual pre-draft presser last month.
He told a joke!
On Saturday, Belichick even played along with the silly fervor over his dog, Nike, who was captured last year at his virtual draft set up.
Belichick is aware of his legacy. That’s why he opens up to NFL Films, and publicly defended himself at the start of the Deflategate scandal, telling reporters he was not the “Mona Lisa Vito of the football world.” He’s engaging when he thinks he has something to gain, such as stirring up some goodwill in the aftermath of a 7-9 campaign.
Tom Brady made Belichick look foolish last season, and now it’s time for Belichick to reclaim the narrative. Dog pictures and early morning epiphanies are one way to start.