By about 9:30 this morning, players had begun the process of leaving the Patriots locker room for the last time, either this season or for good. Some players gathered together, sitting in circles of chairs. Some players walked out, black trash bags stuffed with gear slung over their shoulders.
“It’s tough to look around and wonder who’s going to be here, who’s not,” kicker Stephen Gostkowski said. “It’s out of your hands and out of your control.”
The Patriots have an unusually large number of players in the final year of their contract, coupled with another group of players whose sizable contracts and diminished production will force the Patriots to decide if they will want them back. As the Patriots cleaned out their lockers – shoes strewn over the floor, jerseys hung up on hooks – they knew the players who do come back next year will be looking at a very different team.
“The offseason is what it is,” center Dan Koppen said. “Teams are going to make choices and players got to make choices. We’ll see.”
Adalius Thomas said yesterday he assumes he will not be back. Vince Wilfork, Kevin Faulk, Logan Mankins, Stephen Neal, and Gostkowski are among the high profile Patriots who may have played their last game for the Patriots.
“I guess it could be,” Mankins said. “There’s an uncertainty of whether it could happen or not. I’m still pretty disappointed in how the season ended, so I haven’t looked at that too much. As you’re cleaning out you’re locker, you kind of think, ‘This could be my last game.’ Hopefully it’s not.”
Mankins, who last month wondered aloud why he had not received a contract extension, said he hopes he will remain a Patriot. “I like the guys I play with here,” he said. “I like the coaches. I like the area I live in.”
Gostkowski, like Mankins, will is eligible to be a restricted free agent. He echoed Mankins’s desire to stay in New England.
“You think about it, but it’s out of my hands,” Gostkowski said. “What I’ve done here the past four years is already done. There’s nothing else I can do. There’s no more kicks I can make or miss or anything else that I can do. Hopefully, my four years here will speak for themselves. It’s definitely a place that I want to be back at, a great organization. I love the Krafts, love Coach Belichick, love everything that’s happened for four years here. It’s definitely somewhere I want to be.”
The Patriots have a lot of questions to answer, and they’ll come in time. Bill Belichick made the point today that he prefers to ignore sentiment on the day a season ends, the raw emotion clouding clear decisions. For today, the Patriots can only wonder what comes next.
“You have an itinerary telling you where to be at what time,” Gostkowski said. “You know, ‘Be here at 8 o’clock. Meetings start at 8. Practice at 12.’ Now, you got nothing. You got no itinerary. What do you do?”