As a decision on his future nears, Bill Belichick still talking about the Patriots as 'our' football team

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It was too early, Bill Belichick said Monday morning, for a decision.

The 24-year head coach of the New England Patriots was just beginning his 7:30 a.m. ET news conference.

He had not yet led his 9 a.m. team meeting.

But as he addressed reporters for the second time in 15 hours, Belichick began again with opening remarks that directly confronted his looming reality.

“I’m under contract,” he said. “I’m gonna do what I always do, which is every day I come in and work as hard as I can to help the team in whatever way I can. … As far as any decisions or direction or anything like that for next year, it’s way too early for that. End-of-the-year processes I don’t think will be fundamentally any different from the standpoint of how it’s done.

“The decisions — that’s a whole other conversation.”

Indeed, a seismic decision nears.

Will the Patriots retain the coach who spearheaded their six Super Bowl titles, or will they dissociate from the 71-year-old who has posted just one winning season in his past four tries?

If team owner Robert Kraft wants a change, will he allow Belichick to resign, or will Kraft terminate him, or will the decades-long business partners announce they’re mutually parting ways?

Belichick’s coaching and game-planning remain widely praised while his personnel decisions garner more criticism. Could he cede that front-office control to stay in New England?

“Yeah, look, I’m for whatever, collectively, we decide as an organization is the best thing to help our football team,” Belichick said when asked. “And I have multiple roles in that, and I rely on a lot of people to help me in those responsibilities. If somebody’s got to have the final say, I rely on a lot of other people to help.

“However that process is, I’m only part of it.”

Part of it, it was clear Monday morning, Belichick still feels.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick exits after speaking during a news conference Sunday after a game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Not once, not twice but five times in 13 minutes did Belichick mention either “our team” or “our football team” as he detailed the steps ahead. This was not a man speaking from a distance. Only once, when asked if he would be surprised if Kraft decided a separation were best for the team, did Belichick veer into third person — and even then, he quickly reintegrated himself into the narrative.

“I’m going to focus on what I can control and focus on,” Belichick said. “That’s my work ethic and my effort to do what I can to help the Patriots organization — which I’m heavily invested in.”

Otherwise, Belichick detailed plans to “improve our team” and “help our team” and “help our football team.”

For now, it is still his football team.

Even after finale, Belichick focused on Patriots' task at hand

Belichick declined to detail an exact timeline for his meeting with Kraft.

Will they even wrap discussions in one meeting?

“It might be a series of meetings. I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll deal with that internally.”

Belichick countered reporting that he hadn’t met with the team owner at all, keeping the contents of the conversations vague while confirming “we’ve met during the season.” Until they meet again, Belichick plans to move forward with business as usual.

He plans to commence a “good, detailed analysis” to determine how much the Patriots’ 4-13 campaign reflects multiyear trends and how much the toxins were 2023-specific. The Patriots suffered injuries to multiple star defenders and struggled to keep healthy or ever establish continuity on their offensive line. Contextualizing extenuating factors such as health will yield a more accurate assessment of decisions within the organization’s control, such as the carousel of quarterbacks.

Mac Jones, the Patriots 2021 first-round draft pick, opened the season as the team's starting quarterback but ended it as the Patriots' emergency third quarterback.

After finishing 4-13, the Patriots earned the No. 3 overall pick in the upcoming draft. If they stay there, it will be their highest draft pick since selecting Drew Bledsoe No. 1 overall in 1993. The franchise could stabilize the position that has arguably hurt them the most since Tom Brady left. Will Belichick be the one to oversee that turnaround?

"I’m here to work as hard as I can to help our team every day," he said. "You work for the team that you’re working for and do the best you can for it until somebody tells you different. So that’s not going to change."

Patriots players believe Belichick ‘doesn’t get enough credit’ in key area

What will change is the roster makeup for 2024.

On Monday morning in the Patriots' locker room, a team-logo-emblazoned folding chair faced each player’s locker. A large black trash bag had been draped over each seat.

Players ambled in and out before their final team meeting, with a handful beginning to fill the plastic sacks. A whiteboard alerted them that more trash bags were available on either side of the room; it offered them a means to donate excess team gear, a guide on what they should keep and a reminder to return athletic training tape and scissors.

Sorting through belongings, however, was the easy part. Sorting through emotions and projections of how the next few days will unfold was trickier.

Players do not, they said on and off the record, want to lose Belichick. Several struggled to imagine how a team separates from a coach of Belichick’s standing, not to mention his still-voracious knowledge base. They bordered on protective of their publicly grouchy coach, eager to share stories of his humor, personability and care for their career development and their lives.

“In this building, he's always joking around, always having a good time, always has a smile on his face, always talking to players,” quarterback Bailey Zappe told Yahoo Sports. “Always is open to having anybody come into his office and ask questions about football, [so] I always walk in and out trying to pick his brain about defenses because, I mean, he's so knowledgeable.”

Tight end Mike Gesicki offered a similar sentiment, unprompted. No matter that Gesicki received fewer targets this season than he had the four seasons prior, that his statistics fell short of all but his 2018 rookie year. Gesicki didn’t just voice his respect for Belichick’s résumé. He also implored reporters to recognize the fun Belichick created.

“In the meetings, he'll crack jokes when necessary and appropriate,” Gesicki told Yahoo Sports. “I think he doesn't get enough credit for that. … Behind closed doors, he definitely has personality.”

Expect that capacity for levity and welcoming players’ questions to impact Belichick’s ability to succeed in 2024 as he enters his 72-year-old season. Expect the potential for success under Belichick also to keep players’ hopes for a season alive, even if it trends in the wrong direction.

Receiver Pharaoh Brown considered Belichick’s impact against the coaching he experienced with the then-Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans. A losing season in New England felt different than Brown's prior three stops. He had a guess why.

“I've been in some rough seasons, so I kind of seen coaches change, and he kind of just trusts his process,” Brown told Yahoo Sports. “He knows it works. He believes in it. And that's why you see the team stayed together — the effort, the fight was there [when] everything didn't go right.

“I think that's a testament to him and what he brings.”