Bill Belichick has talked openly in the past about the balance he has to strike as a team-builder. Of course he wants to compete in the here-and-now. But he also has to build a Patriots roster for next season and the season after that.
What makes this point in time in the franchise's arc so fascinating is that it really hasn't been here before under Belichick. He hasn't been without a clear-cut long-term answer at quarterback while facing a 2-4 record as the calendar flips from October to November.
How will he handle it? Especially with a game coming up against the division-leading Bills in Buffalo this weekend, just two days prior to the NFL's trade deadline?
Would he and director of player personnel Nick Caserio ever try to add to this team with a win over the Bills? They have five division games remaining on the schedule, including two against Buffalo. They aren't mathematically out of the hunt for a playoff spot.
Would Belichick the Competitor win out over Belichick the Planner, perhaps giving up a draft pick or two -- particularly if the draft is going to be loaded with uncertainties as the college game copes with shortened schedules -- to give this roster a dynamic receiving threat or a tight end?
Or do Belichick and Caserio understand this team's limitations as they stand at the moment, and do they understand those limitations to be ones that won't be fixed with a trade or two? Does Belichick the Planner have to do what he can to maximize the number of picks his team has moving forward?
With a loss in Buffalo, would he be willing to part with a star corner like Stephon Gilmore or a star offensive lineman like Joe Thuney because it's what's best for the long-term health of the roster? Might he already be thinking along those lines and stick to his guns even with a win in Buffalo?
Asked Friday morning if the result of Sunday's game would shift his focus from the present to the future, Belichick said, "I don't think so."
"Ultimately, any decision we make would be to do what's in the best interests of the team," Belichick added. "You've already covered all the things that would be taken into consideration. Whatever it was, we'd take them into consideration and in the end do what's best for the team. What that is, I don't know."
Does that mean Belichick and Caserio already have an approach in mind for what they'd like to do for the team -- whether it's add assets or trade them away -- over the next four or five days.
"No, I really don't," Belichick said. "If there was something to talk about, we would talk about it."
Later in his WebEx call with reporters, Belichick was asked directly if a loss Sunday would make the Patriots "sellers" since that's "kind of the talk-radio fodder."
"Yeah, well, I guess I'll just put it nicely and pass on the opportunity to get involved in talk radio," Belichick said. "That's really a tough one for me to say no to. But I'm going to say no to talk-radio questions. Thanks for asking, though. I appreciate the opportunity to get involved."
The question is how involved in trade discussions his team will be before Tuesday afternoon?
From the sounds of it, what happens on Sunday won't impact Belichick's handling of the deadline one way or the other. If that's the case, it's hard to imagine he's itching to part with something of long-term value in order to drastically alter his roster in the short-term.