Bill Belichick addresses reporters about the pending roster decisions in the weeks before the season opener Sept. 11. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)
FOXBORO — It’s a balancing act that Bill Belichick has, for the most part, mastered over his 17 years in Foxboro.
Weighing current production against potential. Weighing established veterans against younger, cheaper talent. Deciding between proven performance and future gain.
On Wall Street, it’s the stock market every day. In Foxboro, and around the NFL, the futures business can be just as dicey. And this is the busiest and riskiest time of the year. Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio have begun to trim the roster down, in an effort to reach the 75-player limit for Aug. 30 and the final 53-man limit for Sept. 3.
The Patriots must decide between the proven commodity of Donald Brown and the unknown in D.J. Foster. They must get more reps for Jonathan Jones, Justin Coleman and Cre’Von LeBlanc to see how to best round out their secondary. There are very subtle battles going on at the back end of the roster (as Chris Price noted) and those battles need exposure in games for coaches to reach difficult decisions.
The Patriots are still in an enviable position of having elite talent at the top end and trying to round out their roster with quality depth. But that job has become all the more crucial with the losses of Sebastian Vollmer (hip) and Dion Lewis (knee) and the possible downtime with players like Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich and Shaq Mason.
Belichick was asked Tuesday how difficult it is, this time of year, trying to decide whether or not to keep a player that the team may want to work with in the future or cut him at the risk of that player landing with another team.
“That’s the 64,000 dollar question. That’s what it is. It’s been like that since the day I got into this league,” Belichick said. “From all of the personnel meetings I’ve ever been in it’s a [matter of] a player who’s more experienced [and] more ready to help the team now, versus a player that’s not as ready now but at some point you think the pendulum will swing in his favor. Will you do that? Can you do that? What are the consequences of making that move? What are the consequences of not making that move? How likely, as you said, is it that you could keep both players in some capacity? That’s what it’s about, trying to balance now with later.
“We’re going to field a team in November, we’re going to field a team next year, we’re going to field a team in 2018. Not that we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves, but we’re going to be in business in those years, so we have to sort of have an eye on those moving forward and a lot of the other factors that go into that. Those are all tough decisions. They’re all things that you really have to think about. It’s no different than acquiring – well it’s different – but it’s the same thing as acquiring a player.
“So, if you acquire a player who are you acquiring – a young player for an older player, an older player for a younger player, help now versus help later, development versus known performance – and so forth. They’re all interrelated but it really gets back to the same key points. When its close it’s tough. If it’s not close then it’s not really a tough decision. It’s a relatively easy decision, but the ones that are close, some people in the room want to have one opinion, other people have another opinion. You kind of have a split camp there and both sides’ arguments are good arguments. It’s kind of your perspective. Is it today or is it tomorrow? I’m sure every team in the league is having a lot of those discussions about eight, 10 players; five and five, whatever it is, four and four, but that kind of thing.”
Belichick and company released three players apiece on Monday and Tuesday, letting go of Bear Pascoe, V’Angelo Bentley and Cedric Thompson Monday and veterans Donald Brown, E.J. Biggers and Frank Kearse on Tuesday. Now comes the tricky part, finding reps for the younger players who get the chance to get more reps to convince the coaching staff they belong.
“The whole thing is really a balancing act between getting your team ready and evaluating players,” Belichick said Tuesday. “Of course, it’s always good when you can evaluate – especially by this third preseason game, fourth preseason game – evaluate players against known players. It’s one thing to play them in the fourth quarter against other players who don’t really have much of a track record in the NFL, whereas if you put them in at other points of the game you’d be able to see them against a guy that you have a lot better idea of what their skills are and how a young player would matchup on that. But you have to get your team ready, so there’s definitely a balance between that. We’re just not looking at people; we’re trying to get ready to play football.
Every year at this time, the Patriots also scour the waiver wire and keep lines open with other teams to discuss potential trades.
“There is a lot of player movement at this time of year,” Belichick added. “There is going to be a ton, more than any other time during the calendar year, from Tuesday to Sunday, so within that five, six, seven day period and the days surrounding it I’m sure there will be a lot of activity. Let’s call it in that 10-day period, that’ll probably be 90 percent of the transactions the entire year other than the draft. So yeah, it is busy. We talk about it on a regular basis, try to keep up with it. Between the preseason game, this game, the Giants game, the Arizona game, even the Miami game – that’s a new staff – roster decisions, other team’s personnel, conversations, however you want to characterize that, the wheel is spinning pretty fast this time of year for the coaching staff and for the personnel department. It’s just that time of year.”