Fair to blame Belichick for Welker leaving?

Bill Belichick is a difficult coach to play for and rides his players hard. That much is clear, and has been for a long time in New England. In fact, the coach admitted as much after a November 2011 victory over the Eagles.

"I know we demand a lot and this isn't an easy place to play, and I'm not an easy guy to play for, “ Belichick said at the time.

So it’s not surprising to hear Wes Welker say Belichick was tough on him toward the end of his time in New England. What would be surprising, however, is if Belichick’s approach played a role in the receiver’s departure from New England, a convenient narrative that’s gaining steam after Welker’s comments to Sports Illustrated.

If you remember, it was a contract negotiation gone bad that resulted in Welker signing with the Broncos instead of the Patriots, not his hard feelings toward his coach for riding him hard.

In January 2011, our Jackie MacMullan wrote a column on how Belichick was an equal-opportunity critic, using film sessions as an opportunity to humble his players in front of their teammates.

Even Tom Brady isn’t immune to his coach’s sharp tongue. Former players recounted an instance in which Belichick ripped Brady during a film session after he threw an uncharacteristically weak, fluttering pass. After showing the film, Belichick announced he has "seen better passes thrown at Foxborough High School."

"The message was always clear," former Patriots Tedy Bruschi told MacMullan. "No one was off limits. That's why you had to respect it."