Laird: Is Bill Belichick actually worth $20 million a year?


“Eighty thousand dollars a year! In these times! Why that’s more than [Herbert] Hoover gets for being president of the United States.”

Some 90 years ago, that was the famous declaration a reporter made to Babe Ruth regarding his holdout-asking price amidst the Great Depression.

“What the hell has Hoover got to do with this?” the Babe supposedly demanded in retort. “Anyway, I had a better year than he did.”

Bill Belichick may not decide games on the field as The Babe did, but I couldn’t help think of that famous tale from a Ruth biography this week when Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio tweeted, “Belichick is believed to be [making] north of $20M [per season].”

Twenty million dollars a year! In these times!?

Is Belichick worth it? And more to the point, is Belichick worth it after a 7-9 year that was better than very few of his peers, be they coaches or general managers?

Now, I can hear you yelling already, before a hot take is even made, “It’s Bob Kraft’s money and coaching salaries don’t affect the salary cap! Kraft is a billionaire! It’s one down year, of course he’s worth it!”

Sure, that was my first instinct as well. And yes, NFL coaching matters. Sub-par coaching can derail even elite quarterback talent (see, Rodgers, Aaron and Roethlisberger, Ben).

But the more I think about it, Belichick’s $20-million-per-year take is a shocker - even for the coaching GOAT - because it just MIGHT be impacting the roster construction and it smacks of hypocrisy in the face of the Patriots’ own financial philosophies.

First off, are we sure the Krafts don’t budget a certain amount of in-house spending per year that INCLUDES coaching salaries? They are in the business of making money, of course. Every ‘Dolla-Dolla-Bill’ spent could mean one less for a free agent player (or to one of Belichick’s prized coaching assistants).

As the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin pointed out in November, the Krafts haven’t exactly been big cash spenders recently by league standards. “They have spent below the league average in seven of the last 10 years, per NFL Players Association records, including in Super Bowl years of 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018,” Volin wrote. “This year the Patriots are 31st in cash spending, ahead of only the Jaguars. They are spending $158.6 million on the roster, while the league average is $205.9 million.”

Do Robert and Jonathan Kraft look at the $20 million they spend on Belichick, and demand he make up for it by spending less on players or assistants? It’s all speculation and we’ll likely never know the truth, but the recent data we do have shows that the Krafts have been frugal.

One thing we know for sure is the way the Pats operate philosophically with player contracts, where many talented guys have taken less over the years for the team’s greater roster-building good. Brady was certainly the gold standard in that category for 20 years, until he wasn’t and sought top-dollar elsewhere.

In the case of lesser talent, well… as my ‘The Greg Hill Show’ colleague Jermaine Wiggins explains it, they operate mostly on a “here’s our offer, take it or leave it” basis.

Cam Newton, for instance, had no other NFL suitors and was forced to sign for $1 million dollars this past offseason at a time where the Pats seemed tight against the salary cap. On one hand, Newton simply had no leverage. But on the other hand Belichick showed his ruthless nature by freeing up ample cap space just as the ink was drying on the Newton deal. It’s business over emotion for Belichick, same as it ever was.

But as the Pats drift further from the Dynasty days, will future free agents be willing to sign for less? And further, now knowing the huge cash the boss is making, will any stars ever buy in to taking less for some socialist ideal built within The Patriot Way?

Brady might not have been the whole system, but 2020 is proof that Belichick does need the right players to win. And if the head man isn’t taking less, nor spending to the salary cap limit when he dons his GM cap, why would star players take less to play in Foxboro going forward?

I get it, all bosses make the big dough, because they take on the most pressure. But that leads to the essential conclusion: yes, Belichick is worth $20 million. But… going forward, Belichick needs to deliver more for that money. The glory days are over. The teardown and rebuild is underway. Change has come to New England, and Belichick must change with it to justify that enormous fee.

It’s time to grind, not take Barbados summer vacations. It’s time for love and affection for assistants. It’s time for a better attitude when dealing with the media (public relations now matter more, especially with sports fighting for dollars in a down economy). It’s probably time to stop nickel and diming every employee just because you can. Free agents will need to be wined and dined a little, not just shown pictures of 6 Lombardi’s past.

And yes, it’s time to win. Otherwise, having a $20 million dollar head coach might no longer make ‘cents’ for the Krafts, who now have a long term franchise future to think about. It’ll be the owners who decide to “do what’s best for the franchise.”

By the mid 1930’s, Ruth took a pay cut, proof that even the greatest among us have a shelf life and declining values. Belichick has climbed atop the coaching mountain, but if he cares about keeping the Pats franchise climbing he might soon have to begin his own personal descent.