Patriots coach Bill Belichick says he wasn’t making excuses when he cited salary-cap space as a possible explanation for the team’s lack of depth.
“I mean, look, we paid Cam Newton a million dollars,” Belichick said Monday afternoon during his weekly radio interview on WEEI. "It’s obvious that we didn’t have any money. It’s nobody’s fault. That’s what we did the last five years. We sold out and won three Super Bowls, played in a fourth, and played in an AFC Championship game.
“This year, we had less to work with. It’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact.”
Over the weekend, in an interview with former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, Belichick noted that the team didn’t have much money to work with this year because its cap room was limited by spending from previous years.
When WEEI hosts told him Monday his answer could have been interpreted as an excuse for New England’s struggles this season, Belichick immediately cut in to say that’s not the case.
“I mean, it’s pretty obvious,” he said. “It was an honest answer to an honest question. No more, no less than that. I’m sure you can read a lot into it if you want to. That wasn’t the intent.”
At one point this offseason, the Patriots had the least amount of cap space in the NFL with around $600,000. That number increased in July after the organization settled grievances involving former players Antonio Brown and Aaron Hernandez, and again in August after a league-high eight players opted out of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With Tuesday’s trade deadline looming, the Patriots have $22.6 million in cap room.
Another figure of note, perhaps to Belichick’s point, is $26.4 million, the amount of dead money the Patriots have tied up with players no longer on the roster. About half of that sum, $13.5 million, is owed to Tom Brady. Another $4.5 million is owed to Brown.
Additional players contributing to the total are kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who was released in March; defensive end Michael Bennett, who was traded last October; and safety Duron Harmon, who was traded in March.
Other factors Belichick cited were the eight opt-outs, particularly starters Marcus Cannon, Patrick Chung, and Dont’a Hightower, and injuries to players such as Julian Edelman.
The team’s recent draft history could also play a role in the depth problem, although Belichick did not initially mention it. Since 2014, New England has drafted 12 players in the first and second rounds: Dominique Easley, Jimmy Garoppolo, Malcom Brown, Jordan Richards, Cyrus Jones, Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel, Duke Dawson, N’Keal Harry, Joejuan Williams, Kyle Dugger, and Josh Uche. Half of that group is no longer on the team.
Of the half still rostered, with the exception of the two rookies, Dugger and Uche, the production has been disappointing.
When asked how that draft history has had an impact, Belichick, who also serves as the team’s general manager, kept his answer short.
“I don’t know,” he said.