ORLANDO - Describing himself as "thrilled'' to retain offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Sunday that in-depth conversations with McDaniels immediately after the Super Bowl led to his assistant's surprising decision to reverse course and not accept the Indianapolis head coaching job, even after the Colts had announced his hiring.
"We got back from Minnesota and I had an opportunity to talk to Josh, and we were able to work some things out, so I'm thrilled that he's still with us,'' said Belichick Sunday at the NFL's annual meeting, in his first interview with Boston-area media since the team's loss in Super Bowl LII.
"Once that game ended I think that really gave Josh and I a chance sit down and talk more directly about the situation, as opposed to (before), 'Well, we really want to talk about the (Super Bowl) to try and compete in that game.' Before the game we had minimal discussions, but they were much deeper and longer and more in depth and more constructive immediately after the game.''
In his nearly 15-minute session with reporters, Belichick did not shed any real light on two of the stories that have so far dominated much of the Patriots' offseason: The reasons behind his Super Bowl benching of since departed cornerback Malcolm Butler, and whether he knows any more about the future intentions of star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who reportedly is considering retirement.
Asked about Butler in light of the player signing with Tennessee in free agency and acknowledging that he might not have been "locked in and focused 100 percent'' in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, Belichick professed respect for Butler and wished him well.
"I have a lot of respect for Malcolm,'' Belichick said. "From the day he got here in rookie mini camp four years ago, he's always competed as hard as he could. He was always a great competitor on the field, and I totally respect that. I'm not going to get into last year. I talked to Malcolm. I wish him well in Tennessee.''
Asked if he has communicated recently with Gronkowski, Belichick declined to say. "I'm not going to speak for anybody else,'' he said. "Conversations I have with the players, I keep those private between myself and the player. I don't speak to anybody else.''
On another player-related front, Belichick was asked about quarterback Tom Brady alluding to a feeling of being conflicted about his career in the finale of the "Tom vs. Time'' documentary he took part in. The Patriots coach responded by highlighting his direct line of communication with his 40-year-old quarterback.
"I've had direct conversations with Tom, many times obviously through a long period of time,'' Belichick said. "I'll rely on those conversations that I have with him directly rather than something else. Tom and I have always had a good line of communication. We've always been able to talk directly to each other. I don't see that changing. So I'll rely on those instead of anything else.''
Other topics Belichick touched upon included:
* His team's results in free agency:
"In free agency, we had some players come, we had some players go. The way it always is with free agency. We wish players well that moved on, and we're happy to acquire the ones we acquired in free agency or the three trades we made. It's obviously an exciting time of the year in team-building.''
* His coaching staff:
"Of course we wish (former Patriots defensive coordinator) Matt (Patricia) well in Detroit. We'll have some further staff announcements as we go through the spring. We're still working through a few things here. Other than Bubba Ventrone going to Indianapolis (to become the Colts special teams coach) a lot more has stayed the same than has changed.''
* Whether McDaniels, who did not attend the combine, is purposely keeping a low profile after turning the Colts' head coaching position down, and whether his job description remains unchanged?
"Absolutely. He's working extremely hard (on the Pro Day circuit). It's good. We're covering our tracks. If you can't find him, that's a good thing.''
* His take on the NFL's proposal to change the controversial catch rule:
"We all talk about it a lot. It's tough one. Those are bang-bang plays. I think we want to all try to find something that's simple, that we can all understand, we can all agree on, that we can all look at the play and say, 'Okay, is it or isn't it (a catch)?' How do we do that?
"We had a little bit of discussion on it this afternoon, but I"m sure it'll be a lot deeper than that. We'll see how it goes. Maybe someone will propose an amendment or a clarification or something to it that will help it become better. If we can do anything to make that better, make the game better, I'm for it, we're all for it. We've just got to find out what that is.''