FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Filling OC void: A Bill Belichick story from 30 years ago applies today as it relates to the important question of whom New England’s coach plans to hire as offensive coordinator to succeed Josh McDaniels.
Belichick was interviewing for the Cleveland Browns head-coaching position and shared his philosophy with owner Art Modell, and later repeated something similar 10 years later to Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
“We’ll teach coaches our system, and develop them from within so we don’t have to change philosophies when coaches change. I have my [X’s and O’s] philosophy, that’s what we’re going to do, obviously with modifications. But we weren’t going to change offensive, defensive and special-teams philosophies in personnel every time we make a coaching change. I’ve tried to live by that my entire head-coaching career.”
That’s how Belichick himself, at the 2016 NFL annual meeting, described one of his core principles.
As for what that means for the 2022 Patriots, and the offensive coordinator position, here is one view of the most notable points:
System isn’t changing. This is critical for second-year quarterback Mac Jones. He won’t have to learn a new system as much as hearing a different voice in his helmet.
Opportunity to modify. One smart football personnel mind relayed this as an easy-to-overlook layer. Losing McDaniels isn’t ideal, but it also creates an opportunity for Belichick to potentially streamline an offense that has grown in depth, and possibly make it a more player-friendly scheme.
Playcalling duties. Would Belichick entrust someone who has never done it before? Those familiar with his thinking have doubts, which might be why some of the buzz at the Senior Bowl last week was that the Patriots would be targeting someone from outside the organization with playcalling experience.
Few truly know what Belichick is thinking, with media-based speculation centering on possibilities such as Bill O’Brien, Adam Gase, Joe Judge, Mick Lombardi and Nick Caley, among others.
The only givens: Whoever it is will be running Belichick’s system, and Belichick doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to move on it as he was enjoying some personal time out of the office last week.
2. Feeding pipeline: One benefit of Belichick possibly going outside of the organization for a playcaller with experience is the opportunity to expand his coaching network and open a new pipeline of coaches to develop. For example, when Greg Schiano joined the team briefly in 2019, he brought along Bob Fraser. Or when Matt Patricia returned in 2021, he did so with research/analysis specialist Evan Rothstein. Someone like O’Brien or Gase would likely come with a couple of their own assistants, and that could be ideal to fill in some holes.
3. Billy O’s fit: O’Brien is a proven fit as Patriots offensive coordinator based on his past experience with New England, but other than his Massachusetts roots, I’ve wondered why he would want to return for a second stint. That’s a top job at Alabama, where he is the offensive coordinator, and if he has another productive season in 2022 he’ll continue to be on the NFL head-coaching interview circuit as he was this year with Jacksonville. Likewise, as new Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler noted about Belichick’s forward-thinking approach, surely the Patriots coach has considered that bringing O’Brien back in 2022 might only be a short-term fix and could leave him looking for another OC in 2023.
4. Slate’s plan: If Belichick decides it would benefit the 2022 Patriots to have longtime special teams captain Matthew Slater around, my sense is that it wouldn’t take much arm-twisting for the respected veteran to sign back on for another season. Some close to Slater don’t believe he’s ready to retire.
5. Hall talk: Bills special teams great Steve Tasker (1986-97) has been a nine-time semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with Slater referring to him as the “Godfather” for those whose careers have been defined by contributions in the kicking game. There has been extended debate on Tasker’s chances to be enshrined. Tasker envisions an easier path for Slater — whose 10 Pro Bowl appearances broke his special-teams record of seven — in the future. On the “Great Dane Nation” podcast with Morten Andersen, he said: “I don’t think there’s any question he’ll get in when his time comes. He may not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he’ll be a guy they have to address.”
6. Sony in L.A.: Former Patriots running back Sony Michel is preparing to play in his second Super Bowl, this time as a member of the Rams. The Patriots traded Michel to the Rams in September in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round pick and 2022 sixth-rounder. Even with the benefit of hindsight, it’s a trade the Patriots would make again, as the position was one of the team’s strengths in 2021. As for the Rams, who needed depth after Cam Akers went down, I asked ESPN Rams reporter Lindsey Thiry her perspective and she said the Rams would, too. “He really helped redefine their offense after a three-game losing streak in November, when [coach] Sean McVay had to commit to more running and a more physical brand of football,” she said.
7. Mac at Pro Bowl: Jones looked like he was having fun at the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown this week, teaming with Browns cornerback Denzel Ward and Chargers safety Derwin James to help the AFC win the “Thread the Needle” competition. Jones didn’t fare as well in the “Precision Passing” event, getting rolled by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and then delivered passes in the “Best Catch” competition for his AFC teammates. His attempt to catch a ball led to his elimination in Dodgeball as the NFC won the overall competition. Next up: The game itself, which airs on ABC/ESPN on Sunday (3 p.m. ET), and Jones (as an alternate) joins Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert at quarterback.
8. CFL to NFL: Canadian Football League guard/center Drew Desjarlais (Winnipeg) had no shortage of NFL interest before signing a contract with the Patriots for 2022. New England was one of seven teams he worked out for, and it would have been more had Desjarlais not decided to cut it off at that point. What appealed to the Patriots? Among other things, it is Desjarlais’ physical and nasty play style. Now the question is if he can add his name to the CFL-to-NFL pipeline that includes Cameron Wake, Jeff Garcia, Brandon Browner and Warren Moon, among others.
9. Long time coming: If the Bengals win Super Bowl LVI, they will push the Patriots to third on the all-time “longest wait for a championship” list. The Bengals, looking for their first ever championship, are in their 54th season of existence. The Saints’ 43-year wait (2009) for a championship is No. 1, followed by the Patriots’ 42-year wait (2001).
10. Did you know? According to Elias, the Bengals are the second team in NFL history with multiple walk-off wins in a single postseason, joining the 2001 Patriots.