The New England Patriots have apparently broken NFL rules once again.
ESPN reported late Wednesday that the NFL has stripped Bill Belichick of two days of voluntary organized team activities, beginning with Thursday’s practice. The Patriots also were originally scheduled to hold OTA practices on May 30-31, June 2, 5-6, and 8-9.
NFL Strips New England Patriots of Two OTA Practices
The exact nature of the team’s violation was not immediately clear. However, the NFL has strict rules regarding what is allowed during the offseason conditioning program.
Per the NFL’s website, the offseason program consists of three phases, beginning with two weeks of meetings, strength and conditioning, and physical rehab in April.
Phase 2, which recently ended, is three weeks of “individual or group instruction and drills, as well as ‘perfect play drills,’ and drills and plays with offensive players lining up across from offensive players and defensive players lining up across from defensive players, conducted at a walk-through pace. No live contact or team offense vs. team defense drills are permitted.”
Only during Phase 3, which began this week, can teams hold no more than 10 days of organized team practice activity, known commonly as OTAs. No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permitted, per the NFL.
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Phase 3 culminates with the team’s full-team minicamp, which is the only mandatory part of the entire program.
Given the timeline of the NFL’s decision, one could speculate that the Patriots did more in Phases 1 or 2 than what was permitted. Neither the team nor the league had announced any punishment as of late Wednesday. ESPN reported that the Patriots had no immediate comment.
The NFL is quite serious about these rules. The Patriots are at least the fifth team since 2021 to be punished for spring football violations. The others: the Bears, Jaguars, 49ers, and Cowboys.
New England Patriots’ History of Rule Breaking
Wednesday’s revelation is the latest data point in the organization’s fraught relationship with NFL rules.
In 2008, the NFL fined Belichick a half-million dollars and stripped the Patriots of a first-round draft pick after an investigation revealed that they had secretly, repeatedly, and improperly videotaped opposing coaches’ signals during games.
A few years later, the NFL dropped the hammer on the Patriots again, as Tom Brady was found to have deliberately deflated footballs used in games to banned levels for his own advantage. The scandal resulted in two more lost draft picks, a four-game suspension for Brady, and a fine of $1 million.
The Patriots, at the time, had concerns with the findings of both inquiries, but the rule-breaking has no doubt fueled the perception that the Patriots are line-steppers.
Before his death, Dolphins great Dan Shula — the winningest coach in NFL history — famously called Belichick “Beli-cheat.”
Belichick enters the 2023 season 30 wins behind Shula’s career regular-season wins record (347).