Bill Belichick and Sean Payton have been friends for more than two decades, stemming from a mutual connection with Bill Parcells. They are the two longest-tenured NFL coaches (21 years for Belichick, 15 for Payton), and are considered two of the league’s brightest minds. They have held multiple training camp joint practices together, and Payton openly supported the Patriots throughout Deflategate.
Yet for two old chums, Belichick and Payton couldn’t be more opposite in their approaches to the media and their public personas.
Take, for example, how the two handled their aging star quarterbacks. Belichick had minimal contact with Tom Brady this offseason, and essentially told him, “Thank you for your service.” Payton and the Saints told Drew Brees to take his time, consult with his family, and that the decision to play in 2020 would be his. Brees will eventually retire a Saint, while Brady is now finishing out his career in Tampa Bay.
Or take the coaches’ differing social media strategies. Belichick derides “Snap-face” and “Insta-chat” and keeps most of his private life private. Explanations for most team decisions are purposely vague.
Payton, meanwhile, posts his playbook to Twitter. In March, he shared a few of his plays to his 350,000-plus followers, complete with diagrams and explanations of terminology. With “Gun Bombers Rt 352 Y Shock X Lucy,” Payton explained that “352 is simply a 3-step drop, 5-man protection,” and that “Jerry Rice mastered this lookie option route (Lucy) … especially against Jimmy Johnson’s Quarters coverage.”
Finally, take the way the two coaches communicate to the public via traditional media.
Belichick has been a hermit in 2020. We heard from him in January the day after the playoff loss, once in April before the draft, and once after the draft. Belichick’s dog has been getting more TV time than he has.
Belichick wouldn’t say anything about Brady this spring other than via a prepared statement. His response to a question about Jarrett Stidham potentially starting this year: “We’ll see how everything plays out.”
Payton, meanwhile, is everywhere — radio, TV, Twitter. He’s got opinions, and he’s not afraid to share them.
Appearing Thursday separately on CBS Sports Network and 105.9 FM in Baltimore, Payton chimed in with a couple of eyebrow-inducing takes.
Payton, still clearly bitter about being suspended for the 2012 season for the Bountygate incident, took aim at the NFL office once again when asked about comments made Thursday by James Harrison. The former Steelers linebacker implied that Mike Tomlin reimbursed him for a $75,000 fine in 2010 for a vicious hit, which the Steelers later denied.
“If people are waiting for the league to investigate that, they shouldn’t hold their breath,” Payton said. “That’ll be something that’s tucked away under the rug at Park Avenue. They’ll look into it briefly. Listen, don’t get me started on that. I lost $6 million in salary, and honestly it was something that I’ll never truly get over because I know how it was handled and how it was run and the reasons behind it. That’s just the truth.
“I think what took place with us back in  in so many ways was a sham, and yet there wasn’t a lot we could do with it.”
That wasn’t the only arrow Payton slung at the league office. He was also critical of the NFL this offseason for eliminating the rule to use instant replay for pass interference calls.
Payton, one of 10 members of the NFL’s competition committee, was the driving force behind the league adopting the rule in 2019 following the debacle against his team in the NFC Championship game. The NFL is scrapping the rule after one messy season, but Payton said the problem wasn’t the rule itself, but the people who were applying the rule.
“Obviously, we weren’t prepared to enforce that and monitor that the correct way,” Payton said. “Certainly it had a chance to be successful. But, quite honestly, we weren’t ready in New York to handle it. I know that sounds critical, but that’s just a fact.”
While Belichick is speaking as little as possible about his young, unproven quarterback, Payton is going full speed ahead in hyping Taysom Hill, whom the Saints re-signed this offseason to a two-year extension with $16 million fully guaranteed.
“We think he’s going to be an outstanding NFL quarterback,” Payton said. “For those that aren’t sold, it’s probably because they haven’t seen enough of him in games, and I can certainly understand that. Now, that being said, we’ve seen hundreds of reps that weren’t necessarily regular-season games and we’ve seen some of the things we feel he can do on a consistent basis.
“He’s a very good athlete. But I think that’s a normal reaction for any fan relative to someone that is getting ready to play that position and they haven’t had the same amount of snaps to look at.”
Payton also said he will keep the 41-year-old Brees on a pitch count this fall.
“Certainly during the week of practice. For the last couple of years, Wednesday’s been a down day. He’s rested his arm,” Payton said.
Belichick’s head must explode when he reads those comments. But Payton isn’t afraid to speak his mind or provide the fans with a little excitement. And apparently he isn’t worried about it preventing him from winning games.
Harrison’s charge leaves a mark
James Harrison created a nice little mess for himself and the Steelers on Thursday when he ratted out coach Mike Tomlin on a Barstool Sports podcast.
Harrison recalled receiving a $75,000 fine in 2010 for a hit on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, and implied that Tomlin quietly reimbursed him for it.
“I ain’t gonna say what, but he handed me an envelope after that,” Harrison said.
A team or coach quietly reimbursing a player for a fine is illegal in the NFL, of course. Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement, “I am very certain nothing like this ever happened.” Harrison’s agent, Bill Parise, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that “it didn’t happen.”
The NFL declined comment, and Tomlin has been conspicuously quiet about the accusation. The league likely has zero interest in reopening this can of worms and investigating an incident from a decade ago, of which there is probably no paper trail.
But in the NFL of a decade ago, bounty systems were prevalent, and the game was much more brutal. The idea that Tomlin would quietly reimburse his star player for a bone-crunching, tone-setting hit is not all that crazy.
Rookies still the best value
A few notes about Patriots rookies and their financial impact:
▪ From a management standpoint, rookies are the best assets in the NFL — fresh bodies with cheap contracts. The Patriots’ draft class, consisting of 10 players, is incredibly affordable, even at the top.
Safety Kyle Dugger, the draft’s 37th overall pick, will have a salary-cap number of about $1.515 million this year. That will rank him 30th on the Patriots once he signs. Linebacker Josh Uche, who went 60th overall, has a cap number of $979,879 in 2020. That ranks 39th on the Patriots.
Here are the rankings of the Patriots’ other draft picks: LB Anfernee Jennings (46th), TE Devin Asiasi (48th), TE Dalton Keene (50th), K Justin Rohrwasser (59th), OL Michael Onwenu (65th), OL Justin Herron (66th), LB Cassh Maluia (67th), and OL Dustin Woodard (68th).
So it’s really cheap to swing and miss on a draft pick. And if you hit on one, it becomes a home run for your franchise for four seasons.
▪ The Patriots had signed nine of their 10 draft picks as of Friday morning, with Dugger the last unsigned. The Patriots also only had about $600,000 of salary-cap space, meaning they probably have to make one or two roster moves to free the cap space for Dugger.
But while the Patriots will be tight on the cap this year, they will get some breathing room at the start of the regular season. In the NFL offseason, a team only has to count its top 51 contracts against the salary cap, meaning the Patriots will pick up cap space once some of their players outside of the top 51 inevitably replace players currently residing inside the top 51.
▪ The Patriots also signed 15 undrafted rookies, and at first glance it looks like some of the undrafted players make out better than the seventh-round picks. For example, linebacker De’Jon Harris signed with the Patriots for $140,000 guaranteed, while Woodard, a seventh-round pick, got $97,324 guaranteed. The Patriots also guaranteed $125,000 for defensive tackle Bill Murray, and $100,000 each for running back J.J. Taylor and receiver Isaiah Zuber.
But the details are in the fine print. Most of the guarantees are in the form of base salary, which comes with offsets — Harris, for example, only got a $15,000 signing bonus, plus $125,000 of his base salary guaranteed, but with offset language.
It essentially promises Harris a spot on the practice squad. If Harris is released and signs with another team, the Patriots’ $125,000 obligation decreases with every pay check Harris draws from his new team. He ultimately could leave the Patriots with just $15,000.
The Patriots’ 15 undrafted rookies combined to receive $101,500 in signing bonuses. That’s the real commitment from the team, and it’s basically peanuts.
for camp locations
With the start of the season up in the air because of the pandemic, some buzz is being generated about the league finding neutral sites for training camps, potentially to serve as hubs for multiple teams.
The Greenbrier in West Virginia is becoming the most popular resort in the NFL. It previously built an entire football facility — three practice fields and a 55,000-square-foot complex — to accommodate Saints training camp, and has since hosted the Texans, Cardinals, and others. Now the resort says several teams are reaching out about using its facility, whether it is during training camp or during the season for West Coast teams playing road games in the East.
ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World has 17 fields that can be fitted for football. And the athletic director at the University of Florida said this past week that the Gators have state-of-the-art football facilities and would be happy to host one or several teams. Other major football universities could also potentially be used, though it will be an issue if college football is starting back up in the fall around the same time.
Giant mistake with Manning
The Giants should have moved on from Eli Manning before last season, instead of giving him tepid support as the starter, and then drafting Daniel Jones at No. 6 overall. It took Jones all of three weeks to take the job from Manning, and Manning had to spend his final days as a Giant wallowing on the bench.
“I think looking back, [it] was definitely, probably, a little bit awkward at times,” Jones acknowledged to reporters this past week.
The 2020 season has the potential to get awkward in a couple other NFL cities. In New Orleans, Drew Brees put up good numbers last year, but the Saints went 5-0 without him, and Brees and the offense struggled in the playoffs when the stakes were the highest. Now Brees is 41, and he’s got two good-looking backups behind him — Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston, who threw for 5,000 yards last year.
Philadelphia could have an awkward dilemma on its hands if Carson Wentz struggles out of the gate. The Eagles just used a second-round pick on Jalen Hurts, and while no one believes he’s there to take Wentz’s job, Hurts’s presence does turn the heat up on Wentz a few ticks.
And it could get super awkward in Green Bay, of course, if Aaron Rodgers has another down season. Rodgers is clearly not happy with the team’s decision to draft Jordan Love at No. 26 overall, and his frustrations could boil over if things don’t go well on the field.
From the Brady playbook?
Matthew Stafford’s wife put out a statement on Instagram right away Friday morning. She knew just what to expect.
The headline blared from the Detroit Free Press: “Stafford puts Michigan house on the market for $6.5 million.” We all remember what happened the last time a star quarterback put his house up for sale — Tom Brady eventually left the Patriots.
But Kelly Stafford said that the family is not preparing to leave the Lions.
“We’re about to have our fourth child, and I personally do not want to live on a lake or have a pool with four children under the age of a little over 3,” she said. “So that is the reason that it’s on the market.”
But this could be a make-or-break season for Stafford, who has not won a playoff game in his 11 seasons and missed half of last year with a back injury. Stafford will cost $19 million in dead cap money in 2021, but that wouldn’t prohibit the Lions from moving on if they so choose.
Browns offensive line coach Bill Callahan told reporters this past week that Jedrick Wills, the 10th overall pick in the draft, will likely be the team’s starting left tackle to start the season. “I’m quite confident he’s capable of being our left tackle,” Callahan said. “They’re going to go through some lumps and they’re going to have times when they’re going to get beat, but the best in the game get beat.” Doesn’t it sound just like the Browns to take a guy who started 29 games at right tackle in college and make him into a left tackle, where he had zero starts? The footwork and technique are opposite, and it’s not easy to adjust, especially for a player who spent the last three years playing on one side. And they’re going to throw Wills to the wolves at left tackle for Day 1? Good luck . . . Ben Roethlisberger is 38, coming back from a major elbow injury, and looks like Grizzly Adams, but Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said he has “never worried” about Roethlisberger’s conditioning. Of course, as The Athletic’s Jay Glazer wrote recently, “There is no fitness in Ben Roethlisberger. His idea of a great offseason workout program is doing one yoga session, playing golf, and drinking some beer.” . . . Tight end Thaddeus Moss, son of Randy Moss, said he signed with the Redskins over the Bengals and Patriots as an undrafted free agent because the Redskins called him first. But career-wise, he probably should have gone to Cincinnati to catch passes from Joe Burrow, his college quarterback . . . The NFL is furloughing its league office employees, and Roger Goodell volunteered to reduce his salary to $0. But I would love to know if Goodell is forgoing his salary, or his entire $40 million annual compensation. Goodell’s salary is reportedly between $4 million-$5 million, with bonuses up to $36 million.