Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Hannable: Lots of uncertainty surrounding Patriots’ future following loss in Super Bowl LII

Ryan Hannable
February 05, 2018 - 3:43 am

MINNEAPOLIS — Winning cures everything, right?

Well, that doesn’t hold true for the Patriots after Super Bowl LII when they fell to the Eagles, 41-33 in another terrific game where the Patriots came back from 10 points down on two occasions in the second half only to see Tom Brady get strip-sacked when he had a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter. 

Following the game, a number of questions emerged surrounding the future of the organization and some pretty big ones at that.

The reported tension within the walls of Gillette Stadium appeared to transfer to the bottom of U.S. Bank Stadium where there seemed to be more frustration than sadness of losing a Super Bowl.

Let’s start at the top with Bill Belichick. Every indication is that he will return as coach in 2018, but it’s not fair to call it a guarantee.

"I'm just talking about this game," Belichick said when asked about his future afterwards.

Speculation on his future picked up a bit following a report from Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio that it’s not a sure thing Josh McDaniels goes to Indianapolis to become the Colts’ next head coach.

"I am not going to talk about that tonight," he said when asked about the rumor. "I'm not going to talk about that."

Why would McDaniels have second thoughts about going to Indy? It seems it would have to involve the Patriots, as either Belichick is going to retire, or there’s an agreement in place he will take over for the coach in the next few years. Since he’s pretty much given a hand-shake agreement to the Colts, if he backs out now he almost certainly would never get another head-coaching opportunity in the league besides in New England because no one could trust him.

This will be something to watch over the next couple of days.

As for Brady, he almost certainly will be back for another year at age 41, especially following the trade of Jimmy Garoppolo and what has been said in Tom vs. Time, as well as wanting to prove someone can play at an elite level into their 40s.

But, even Brady couldn’t 100 percent commit to returning.

"I expect to be back, so we’ll see," Brady said. "I mean, it's 15 minutes after the game, so I want to process it a bit. But I don't see why I wouldn't be back."

Then there’s the locker room and what it’s like following Belichick benching Malcolm Butler for all of Super Bowl LII.

Butler, who is a free agent, has virtually zero chance of returning next season after what happened in the game. Former Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner blasted Belichick on Instagram after the game and captain Dont’a Hightower, who is currently on injured reserve, liked one of the posts. Like he needed to do last season after the Jamie Collins trade, it appears Belichick will need to win back some of his team following his decision not to play Butler, who started every game but one this season, for what he called a coach’s decision.

It doesn’t end there.

Rob Gronkowski shocked everyone after the game when he couldn’t commit to playing in 2018. Asked about a report of this potentially being his last game, the future Hall of Fame tight end wasn’t exactly certain about a return next year.

“I am definitely going to look at my future, for sure," he said. "Sit down the next couple of weeks and see where I am at.”

It’s hard to imagine the 28-year-old suddenly calling it quits so randomly, so maybe there’s a reason behind it. Perhaps, Gronkowski wants a re-worked deal that doesn’t depend all on incentives. Just something to consider.

Finally, there are several key players who are free agents. Butler is at the top of the list, but also Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Nate Solder, Matthew Slater, Rex Burkhead, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle, Cameron Fleming, and a few others. While none of these players are franchise-changing, their future does impact the team and where they go this offseason.

For the first time in quite some time, there’s a strange feeling at One Patriot Place. Is this really the beginning of the end for the Belichick/Brady era? Nights like Sunday say it is beginning to start to feel that way.

And if the Patriots won Super Bowl LII, none of this would even be talked about.

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