One of the things that has stood out over the last three Patriots training camps has been the unmistakable presence of Matthew Judon. Unquestionably the best Patriots player since Tom Brady made the Irish Exit in 2020, Judon's practice habits have been notable for the infectious, crowd-favorite energy he brings. But also for the fact he spends all camp in a long sleeve hoodie, regardless of the weather. On days where middle aged sportswriters are sitting in the shade pit-staining their Vineyard Vines golf shirts, Judon goes full speed in gear that would keep you warm while camping under the stars on Hoth. Seriously, I couldn't run a 40 in his kit without needing an ice bath afterwards. Or a hearse. But he typically takes two dozen pass rush reps under the Saharan sun.
So it's been even more notable to see him this week in camp, dressed the same, interacting with the crowd the same:
Doing everything except practicing. And since this is the Patriots we're talking about, people are going to their default setting. Jumping on their Jump to Conclusions mats and landing on the square which is always crowded, the one marked "Disgruntled Player Hates Working for Bill Belichick."
To be fair, it's not the craziest moment in team history to assume a player is unhappy with his contract. GM Bill has drawn a hard line on Lawrence Guy. And that generated about 100 hours of Boston sports radio leading up to camp. Though Guy reported as always and is not saying jack squat about it:
And as former podcast guest Phil Perry points out, the deal Judon signed in 2021 isn't on par with his performance:
But still. He's the highest paid player on the roster, both in terms of base salary ($11 million) and cap hit ($18.1 million). So you can understand why both sides would say the other is getting the better of the deal.
Certainly Disgruntled Belichick Hater Emeritus Asante Samuel isn't about to let the situation go to waste without getting a shot in:
If only Samuel had taken advantage of that bad throw by Eli Manning in The Super Bowl That Shall Not Be Named Part I, we'd have seven banners and dresser draws filled with "19-0" merchandise. But that's my cross to bear.
Anyway, the point of all of this is to say that, if Judon actually is trying to force the Pats hand in his contract talks, then he's conducting the strangest hold out in the history of pro sports. I mean, name another athlete who ever showed up to the practice field every day, yukked it up with the fans, hung out on the sidelines, but refused to participate. I remember during Josh McDaniels disastrous reign in Denver there were highlights of Brandon Marshall halfassing his way through drills, intentionally dropping balls and "running" at a slow walking pace like a kid trying to get out of gym class. But what I don't remember is the Broncos giving Marshall one of their coveted post-practice press availabilities, which the Patriots did with Judon:
This would be unprecedented. Especially with a franchise that keeps the tightest grip on players and coaches interacting with the press since the Soviet Olympic team. If Guy and Judon were truly as miserable and oppressed as it's being portrayed, they wouldn't be put within shouting-through-a-bullhorn distance of the practice field microphone. It would be like Bob Iger at Disney giving a press conference and saying, "Now let's hear from Bryan Cranston and Ron Pearlman to talk about how pissed off they are at the movie studios."
Maybe I've got this all wrong. After all, one of the biggest social norms of our time is Quiet Quitting. Maybe Judon and Guy are playing their negotiating cards so well that the entire Pats organization - from GM Bill to HC Bill to the PR Department, have no choice but to let them do whatever they want, say whatever they want, and practice or not practice however they want. Or …
Or the whole thing is yet another ridiculous, exaggerated, overstated, non-troversy, created to give us all something to freak out about in what has otherwise been an uneventful camp. History and Occam's Razor says it's the latter. And once again, that's what I'm going with.