May 31, 2018
An NFL offseason marked by ridicule and speculation about the sturdiness of the New England Patriots empire shows no signs of slowing down.
The avalanche began with post-Super Bowl comments from Eagles left tackle Lane Johnson, who said New England's system is robotic, joyless and based on fear. After taking criticism from former players, Johnson clarified that his remarks came in the context of alleged Patriots trash-talking against head coach Doug Pederson and owner Jeffrey Lurie.
Earlier this week, Johnson's impression was confirmed by at least one former New England player. San Francisco 49ers defensive end Cassius Marsh, who spent less than three months with the Patriots last summer, said there was "nothing fun" and "nothing happy" about life in Foxboro.
Now the latest salvo comes from Eagles Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks, who explained why he's not a fan of the "Patriot Way" after OTA's on Tuesday. While a member of the Houston Texans, Brooks played under Bill O'Brien, who formerly served as Bill Belichick's quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
“It’s crazy that people haven’t known this,” said Brooks. “It’s been this way for like a decade. You’ve seen— Reggie Wayne did it. He retired. He went there [to the Patriots] for a training camp and retired. Shit is not fun there. I was under the same regime in Houston [with O’Brien]. I almost retired. Shit was miserable, every day. Every day.”
“I came in [as a rookie] under [Gary] Kubiak, who was just an older version of Doug [Pederson], then I went to O’Brien, who was Belichick, and then I came back to Doug, who’s like Kubes, so for me, man, shit was great. Like, I cannot tell you how much better this is than it was down there. Like, it’s just night and day. What does [Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] say? Happy workers make more productive workers. When you’re not having fun, man, those grinding, those hard-ass nosed days ...”
Brooks was eventually cut off by Lane Johnson, who again explained that while championships are obviously the ultimate goal, NFL players will eventually look back on their careers and remember the team environments in which they worked. They'll value the friendships and the thrill of competition more than the number of rings they have stuffed away in a box.
“All these guys talking about ‘I’ll take the rings.’ OK. You can have your rings," Johnson said. "You can also have f***ing 15 miserable years.”
It's probably time to turn the page on this narrative, which will play itself out next season when we learn whether the apparent turmoil in New England spills into the the team's chemistry on the field. If they've been miserable for 15 years already — and still winning — then it's probably going to be a lot worse if the wheels come off in the aftermath of Super Bowl LII.