Bill Belichick cites salary cap for some of New England Patriots depth issues

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said that his struggling 2020 team doesn't have the same level of depth as some past clubs, in part because of the salary cap, which has led to younger players being thrust into action.

The 2-4 Patriots, in the midst of their first three-game losing streak since 2002, visit the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills (5-2) on Sunday.

"We're playing more young players than we've played in the past [for a] combination of reasons. We were pretty heavily invested in our team in the past few years. From a salary-cap standpoint, we didn't have much flexibility at all. I think that was obvious on the Cam Newton contract [one year, $1.05 million base salary]," Belichick told Sirius XM NFL Radio.

"Then we had some opt-outs, so we lost some players there that would normally have been giving us significant amount of playing time. And then like every year, a couple guys are banged up and we've missed some guys here and there in certain games. I think when you combine it all together, there is opportunity there; some of that opportunity has gone to younger players.

"This is kind of the year that we've taken to, I would say, adjust our cap from the spending that we've had in accumulation of prior years. We just haven't been able to have the kind of depth on our roster that we've had in some other years. That's provided more opportunity for younger players. So it's a combination of all the reasons."

The Patriots had an NFL-high eight players opt out of the 2020 season, led by linebacker Dont'a Hightower. As for the salary cap, the team has about $26 million in dead salary-cap space, which accounts for past deals with quarterback Tom Brady, receiver Antonio Brown and kicker Stephen Gostkowski, among others.

That limited their moves in the offseason as they were extremely tight to the cap, although had the Patriots struck an extension for Brady, they could have provided themselves with more relief.

Belichick's comments to Sirius XM NFL Radio, in the interview with former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and Bill Lekas, were uncharacteristic for the normally tight-lipped coach. But with the Patriots having scored 10, 12 and six points in the past three games and with Belichick acknowledging early in the interview that talking to media members is a way to communicate with the team's fans, it was a message he seemed motivated to share with one of his former coaches.

Belichick also noted the disruption the team had after a 2-1 start, when Newton tested positive for the coronavirus two days before a road game against the Kansas City Chiefs. That led to a two-week stretch in which the Patriots hardly practiced.

"We had a good training camp. We played pretty well the first three weeks of the season. And then I'd say we regressed over the next two and a half weeks for a combination of reasons. We're trying to make that ground back up and more. We need to keep going forward. So that's what we're doing," he told Sirius XM NFL Radio.

"We're in that kind of space -- we're getting better, but we need to get better faster and, like I said, make up for some lost ground where we didn't practice and had multiple players playing different spots on the offensive line. Things like that, where even the experience we got -- it was beneficial, but it wasn't as beneficial as it could have been."