Hannable: Things are feeling a bit different in Foxboro right now

Ryan Hannable
March 14, 2018 - 10:33 pm

Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports

What happened to the days of Patriots players taking hometown discounts to stay in New England?

If players like Danny Amendola and Nate Solder, who embodied what it means to play for the Patriots, aren’t doing it, it’s pretty clear it’s no longer a thing.

The 32-year-old Amendola signed a reported two-year deal with the Dolphins for just over $12 million with over $8 million guaranteed. It seemed like all he cared about at this point of his career was winning and being on a team he was happy with, which he appeared to have in New England.

The winning part is obvious, and he is very close with Tom Brady and Julian Edelman, so it certainly was a little puzzling when word came down of the move.

Solder had been with the Patriots for his entire seven-year career and established great relationships not only with the team, but in the community. Also, money is something that never appeared to be the No. 1 priority for him. It was clear that the Patriots recognized he was the best free agent left tackle on the market and it would take a big deal to keep him.

In the end, Solder became the highest-paid left tackle in football when the Giants gave him a reported four-year deal worth over $60 million. New England wasn’t ever going to go that high, but could it have offered something like four years and $50 million? Probably, but it didn’t seem like there was much of a back-and-forth between Solder and the team.

At one point in time players like Amendola and Solder would have taken hometown discounts to remain Patriots because of the winning culture, so what has changed?

Perhaps, it’s the uncertainty of how much longer both Brady and Bill Belichick have and questions of what will come of the franchise once both of them leave. Another possibility is the New England culture has begun to run its course on players and the Patriots are no longer a premier destination.

It’s worth considering things might be completely different right now if the Patriots would have won Super Bowl LII, as winning does always seem to cure everything, but there’s no denying this has been a strange offseason for the Patriots.

It continued on Wednesday when Rob Gronkowski wished Amendola well on Instagram, but had a line that stood out more than the rest. “Stay lit, Be FREE, Be HAPPY,” Gronkowski wrote, with extra emphasis on free and happy. Brady also commented on the post by saying, “Well said gronk!!!!”

Normally, it wouldn’t be worth looking too far into the comment, but this is far from the first time Gronkowski has indicated something along the lines of it’s not fun playing in New England and he feels trapped in Belichick’s no nonsense style.

Just a few weeks ago, we had NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran report Gronkowski contemplated retiring last year during the preseason and he didn’t enjoy himself during the year. Even during the season there was an indication Gronkowski was being prevented from acting the way he wanted to.

In the Nov. 26 win over the Dolphins after Cooks scored a touchdown, he jumped on Gronkowski and rode him like a horse, but when Gronkowski was asked about it after the game, he said he couldn’t talk about it even though he wanted to.

"That was not planned or anything," he said. "We got yelled at. We’re not allowed to talk about celebrations. That’s what we got told. But, I kind of want to talk about it, but I kind of don’t because I’ll get in trouble, so I don’t know what to do. So, it just happened on the spot. It wasn’t planned. We’ll just keep it there."

This isn’t a player like Adalius Thomas seemingly going against the Patriot Way, this is one of the leaders of the team, an offensive captain. Then in the Amendola Instagram post, Brady, the most influential player in the locker room, agreed with it. Strange, and sort of alarming.

Belichick has acted the same way ever since he got to Foxboro in 2000, but there’s hardly ever been any outcries of displeasure (on the record or not) towards it until recently. 

It’s also worth mentioning Brady still hasn’t restructured his contract this offseason, so he’s on the books for a $22 million cap hit, the highest it’s ever been in his career. In recent years, Brady has worked his deal so the Patriots’ cap hit has been $14 million, which gave the team more money to sign players.

This isn’t the case this offseason as due to his $22 million cap hit, the Patriots entered free agency with just over $20 million to work with. 

If Brady ultimately doesn’t restructure his deal, it’s easy to see why. 

Year-after-year he’s taken less money to help the organization, but as his wife Gisele Bundchen indicated in the final episode of Tom vs. Time, he hasn’t felt appreciated or had much fun the past few seasons. Why should he help the organization, and Belichick specifically, when he’s been one of the main causes of the frustration?

This isn’t suggesting Belichick has lost the locker room and the Patriots are in danger of losing key pieces before next season, it’s just pointing out all the uncharacteristic Patriot things that have taken place over the last several months.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it all means, but there’s definitely been a lot of weird stuff happening of late and that isn’t very Patriot-like.

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