PHOENIX — Bill Belichick rolled into the coaches breakfast at the NFL’s annual meetings on Tuesday morning and, before heading to his assigned table, stopped to say hello to old friends Matt Patricia, Brian Flores, and Bill O’Brien. By the time Belichick got to his table, and to the reporters surrounding it, he was somewhat less talkative.
That means a monosyllabic non-answer fest that rose to the level of Belichickian performance art. It lasted 116 questions over 43 minutes and averaged 15.4 words per response. Belichick used the phrase “we’ll see” 21 times and “I don’t know” 13 times. (Props to Jeff Howe of The Athletic for crunching the numbers.)
A sampling of what was, or more accurately wasn’t, covered:
Belichick was asked if he had an idea that Rob Gronkowski was going to retire ahead of his announcement.
“Offseason’s offseason,” he answered.
Did he have any back and forth with Gronkowski or his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, about a return?
“Yeah, I already made my comments on Rob and I don’t have anything to add.”
Is he expecting to have Josh Gordon in 2019?
“Yeah, I don’t know. His status isn’t under our control.”
How does he feel about the group of wide receivers the Patriots have now?
“There aren’t any games right now.”
Does he feel like the team is competitive at this point, ahead of the draft?
“Yeah, I don’t know. Just take it day by day.”
Are there any updates to the coaching staff?
“Yeah, I don’t have any update on that.”
Has Michael Bennett’s game changed since the Patriots faced him in the Super Bowl?
“We’ll see. He hasn’t been in our system before so we’ll see how it goes.”
What did he see on film from Matt LaCosse, a tight end the Patriots signed as a free agent?
“We think he’d be competitive.”
What did he see in Mike Pennel, a defensive lineman the Patriots signed as a free agent?
“I think he’ll be competitive.”
Is there any advancement in bringing back kicker Stephen Gostkowski?
“He’s not under contract right now.”
Is he hopeful to get a contract extension done with Tom Brady?
“I’m not going to get into any contract discussions. We never do that. So we’re not going to start doing that now.”
What did former character coach Jack Easterby bring to the team?
“Jack’s done a great job for us, on a lot of levels.”
Do you replace him or was his role unique?
“There are some unique aspects to it.”
Well, OK then.
Some find this charming, some find it rude, hopefully all recognize that we’ll live to fight another day. It was a brutal press availability, even by Patriots standards, but to quote Belichick following the Miami Miracle loss last season, nobody died. He wasn’t necessarily scowling through his answers, either. Tongue was planted firmly in cheek on more than one occasion.
The only thing Belichick was remotely interested in discussing at length was the good job he believes Sean Payton and Mike Tomlin, competition committee members, did in presenting the rules changes up for vote this year to the coaches in their meeting.
“It’s really an honor to be in that room with all those great coaches,” Belichick said. “There are a lot of great observations and ideas put out there to make the game better. I think Mike and Sean did an excellent job of making us all aware of what some of the considerations were. It’s complicated.”
It was ultimately classic Belichick, not just in his selective short-spokenness but in his unwillingness to cooperate with the corporate schmoozefest that is the owners’ meetings or to offer any finite information during a time of the NFL calendar when most things are in flux. While many other coaches pal around in the evenings, Belichick doesn’t go to the annual cocktail party and walks briskly through the lobby of the Arizona Biltmore only when necessary, usually with a cellphone pressed to his ear. (It’s usually debatable if anyone is on the other end of the call.)
Belichick was asked what about these few days are most useful to him, and he said he gets the most out of talking to other coaches about the rules.
“I learned a lot. There was a lot of insight. So things like that, they’ve been great. It’s really the only time of year you have that opportunity,” Belichick said. “So a lot of great thoughts, a lot of great coaches in the league that have different experiences. And it’s very enlightening to hear those.”
That’s pure Belichick, happiest around fellow coaches. Loathing of the performative silliness that comes with certain league events? That’s pure Belichick, too. We’ll try to get some better answers sooner rather than later. Will we succeed?
To borrow another phrase, we’ll see.