Bill Belichick is speaking the truth about the New England Patriots, says former team executive Scott Pioli

Former Patriots Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli has pointed to New England’s struggles in 2020 as a natural consequence of the team’s roaring success over the past five years.

The Patriots enter Monday night’s clash with the winless New York Jets 2-5, third in the AFC East and on a four-game losing streak amid their worst start to a season since 2000.

Speaking on his weekly radio slot on WEEI last Monday, head coach Bill Belichick cited salary cap problems as a reason for the team’s current situation, although he stressed he isn’t using that as an excuse.

“We paid Cam Newton $1m, it’s obvious we didn’t have any money,” said Belichick. “It’s nobody’s fault, that’s what we did the last five years, we sold out and won three Super Bowls, played in a fourth and played in an AFC Championship game. This year we had less to work with, it’s not an excuse it’s just a fact.”

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Pioli had worked alongside Belichick in Cleveland before heading to New England shortly after the latter’s appointment as head coach in 2000.

The five-time NFL Executive of the Year, who was involved in drafting Tom Brady at 199th overall, is as familiar as Belichick’s philosophies as anybody, having won three Super Bowls during his eight years with the organisation.

“I don’t see it as excuse-making from Bill, that’s just not who he is,” Pioli told Sky Sports. “I think he was asked a question and he gave an honest answer.

“It made me think back to the time when I was with Bill in Cleveland way back when he cut Bernie Kozar. Bill told the world the truth as he saw it at that time and he got skewered for it, but the reality was he was telling the truth and everyone knew it.

“Bernie’s skills had diminished. Now he’s telling the truth with what this situation is right now.”

The Patriots currently have an eighth-most $26.5m in dead money according to Spotrac, with Brady’s departure after 20 years accounting for $13.5m of that. Applying the franchise tag to left guard Joe Thuney also means his $14.781m tag value counts towards this year’s cap.

A league-most eight Patriots meanwhile opted out of the 2020 season amid concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, including key veterans on defense in Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung as well as fellow 2019 starters in offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and tight end Matt LaCosse.

Besides Brady, the team also lost experienced defensive figureheads in Kyle Van Noy, Jamies Collins and Danny Shelton during free agency, while their draft picks are yet to make a meaningful impact.

The highest the Patriots have ranked in terms of cash spending in the NFL since 2016 is 12th, while the lowest is 32nd. They haven’t spent particularly big, but that could change come the end of the season as Belichick looks to navigate his way through a rebuild.

“The facts are, they did do some things from a salary cap standpoint where they made a run and made three Super Bowls in five years,” continued Pioli.

“You look at that in that snapshot, and again people are very often looking to be critical of Bill, I look around the league at all the teams that have quietly done that where they sold off players and have given away draft capital and money currency to make a run at a Super Bowl, and they don’t even get there or they get close and lose.

“I look at teams like the Dallas Cowboys, the Los Angeles Rams, the Houston Texans… they have given away enormous capital to make a one-year run and they end up with nothing. At least the Patriots ended up with a couple of Championship rings.”

A Cam Newton-led offense showed promise early on as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels re-shaped a scheme based around the strengths of Brady to the athleticism of the former Carolina Panthers quarterback.

The zone read and quarterback design runs became an unsurprising theme, while second-year wide receiver N’Keal Harry looked to be emerging as a useful target for Newton.

Initial encouragement has since faded, with Newton having gone three games without a touchdown pass since missing time due to contracting COVID-19.

“I think it’s been very average thus far,” admitted Pioli. “It started out strong, the last couple of weeks it’s been bad so you take the body of work and it’s been average, Cam admits that himself.

“The Patriots needed a quarterback, they had to do something. People too quickly want to put players in classifications either being great or they stink and the truth is most players are in the middle and they have good weeks and bad weeks.

“I think it was a really smart move that the Patriots made at that point in time (signing Newton). But now the rubbers are meeting in a road where people are picking up on what the Patriots are maybe doing with Cam as their quarterback.

“Now they just have to make sure they run and do the things where offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has to accentuate the positive and limit the limitations with Cam.”

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