It’s not fun on most days to play for the New England Patriots. That should be pretty well established by now.
There is, however, an argument about whether that matters. The NFL is a business, business is best when you win, and nobody wins more than the Patriots under Bill Belichick. Super Bowls seem like a blast.
But the daily grind to climb the mountain every season is hard. That has led to a strange parade of former players sounding off against “The Patriot Way,” including a former Patriots defender who said he was considering quitting football last season rather than continuing to play for Belichick.
Marsh was miserable in New England
In a feature by Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco 49ers defensive end Cassius Marsh talked about his 2017 season with the Patriots. He complained that the Patriots had him doing things like dropping into coverage, which he hadn’t done and didn’t feel was his strength. He wanted to rush the passer more. Unhappy with his role, he requested a meeting with Belichick and wanted to get cut.
“They don’t have fun there,” Marsh told the San Francisco Chronicle. “There’s nothing fun about it. There’s nothing happy about it. I didn’t enjoy any of my time there, you know what I’m saying? It made me for the first time in my life think about not playing football because I hated it that much.”
The Patriots often use players at different spots and players can often find themselves in the doghouse with their playing time significantly cut at the drop of a hat. Ask Malcolm Butler. The Patriots traded for Marsh last September, but after nine games he wanted out.
“I confronted (Belichick) about all the things that were going on,” Marsh told the Chronicle. “I won’t get into detail, but it was B.S. things they were doing. I just wasn’t a fan. And so I, basically, without asking to get cut, I kind of asked to get cut. … I had confidence that I would have an opportunity elsewhere and I would take advantage of it.”
Others have detailed how tough it is to play for Belichick
Marsh isn’t the only player to complain about how tough it is to play for the Patriots.
Receiver Danny Amendola, who signed with the Miami Dolphins, had an honest yet fair assessment of Belichick.
“It’s not easy, that’s for sure. He’s an (expletive) sometimes,” Amendola told the Miami Herald. “There were a lot of things I didn’t like about playing for him, but I must say, the things I didn’t like were all in regards to getting the team better, and I respected him,” he said. “I didn’t like practicing in the snow, I didn’t like practicing in the rain, but that was going to make us a better football team and that was going to make me a better football player. It wasn’t easy, and he’d be the first to admit, at the [Super Bowl] ring ceremony, that it wasn’t easy playing for him. The silver lining was that we were at the ring ceremony.”
Offensive tackle Nate Solder, who left the Patriots to sign with the New York Giants this offseason, had a similar message in The Players’ Tribune. It was not a rip job of Belichick or the Patriots. It simply noted that playing for the Patriots isn’t easy.
“It can be a tough environment,” Solder wrote. “It’s very businesslike, and at times it can be cold. Everything in New England is predicated on performance. It’s a place where people sometimes treat you differently based on how you practiced that day or how you answered a question in a meeting. One day, you could walk around the facility feeling like a Pro Bowler — the next, like you’re about to get cut.
“I don’t mean that to sound harsh or negative. It’s also an incredible place to play, and I’m grateful for the years I spent there. It’s just that it could be tough sometimes. The Patriots have set a standard, and the pressure is very real.”
These aren’t new themes. One of the main points of a memorable ESPN story about the Patriots in January was that quarterback Tom Brady had tired of constant criticism from Belichick. Even Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson has ripped the Patriots a few times this offseason, saying once he wouldn’t want to be “miserable” with the Patriots even if it meant winning multiple Super Bowls.
But the Patriots aren’t going to change because of the complaints. The results are pretty good.
The price to win
One reason the Patriots remain successful throughout the years, no matter the roster changes, is they try to identify players who will fit in their program. There’s no secret players will get coached hard and there’s a lot of pressure to win, but the goal is to find players who understand that’s the price to be a Super Bowl contender every year.
There are probably a lot of days in which it isn’t too enjoyable to come to work for the Patriots. But there’s nothing in an NFL contract that guarantees fun. If Marsh was happier with a 6-10 49ers team than an AFC championship Patriots team, he wasn’t the right fit anyway.
Belichick doesn’t seem worried about making friends with the players or hoping they’re enjoying their experience. He’s singularly focused on winning. Maybe that’s why he wins so much.
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