Josh McDaniels bolts Colts, Bill Belichick dines with Robert Kraft, Malcolm Butler defends himself

A dramatic series of events on Tuesday could set the stage for the Patriots for years to come.

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Josh McDaniels is returning to Foxboro in 2018. (New England Patriots)

FOXBORO — Buckle up. The Patriots offseason ride has hit some major turbulence.

Here’s what we know as of Tuesday night.

Josh McDaniels backed out of his verbal commitment to become the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts after Patriots owner Robert Kraft sweetened his deal to stay in New England.

What role that will be in 2018 isn’t clear quite yet, and won’t be until Bill Belichick and Kraft come to some sort of understanding.

That understanding may or may not have been reached over dinner Tuesday night after photos of the two at a restaurant table surfaced on Twitter from Barstool’s David Portnoy at a restaurant presumed to be Davio’s in Foxboro.

The Colts issued a statement in which they say they were “surprised and disappointed” at McDaniels backing out on the eve of their press conference to announce him as successor to Chuck Pagano.

For all the conjecture that this was about Robert Kraft sticking it to the Colts, there something much more practical at play here: the Patriots wanting some stability in place. If for whatever reason, Bill Belichick leaves this offseason, the Patriots will need a successor in place to take over. If he leaves after 2018, they will have McDaniels ready and seasoned.

Tom Brady very much figures into this as well. If Brady continues down the road of playing into his mid-40s, he’s not going to want to start over with someone else as offensive coordinator, even if it’s someone on the staff. Kraft and Brady already have the father-son relationship and taking it to its natural progression, there’s no reason to think Kraft wouldn’t want to do whatever he could to keep Brady happy and comfortable in New England.

Don’t forget also that McDaniels might have just had cold feet about an owner known to meddle, a quarterback (Andrew Luck) with a very unsure shoulder diagnosis for 2018 and team that has to rebuild its defense.

Could all of this have changed if the Patriots held on to win Super Bowl LII in Minnesota? Probably. There would be a sense that it’s time to move onto a new chapter for both the Patriots and McDaniels.

The idea that Kraft did this to merely screw with the Colts is short-sighted at best. Kraft has way too much on his plate to simply execute this for vindictive reasons over Deflategate. This is Kraft having a plan in place should a presumptive meeting with Belichick end with the two sides going their own ways.

Before all of this broke Tuesday night, the biggest story of the day came when Malcolm Butler, cornerback non grata, took to Instagram to tell his side of the story. He made it clear in no uncertain terms that he rejected reports that he attended a concert during Super Bowl week, stayed out past curfew or participated in any of the other “ridiculous” activities attributed to him during Super Bowl week. Butler was reported to have been found with marijuana in his possession and got into a shouting match with the coaching staff.

Would he say this (through an agent) to keep his record clean on the coming free agent market? Well, yes. But he and his agent also likely would not make such a strong denial if the team had evidence to the contrary.

What Butler said Tuesday makes it look like Belichick was right about this not being a disciplinary benching but rather a football decision. But given the way the secondary played, it’s just unfathomable that Belichick looked out on the field at the chunks of yardage his secondary was allowing and thought that keeping Jordan Richards, Johnson Bademosi and Eric Rowe in coverage was a better option than Butler.

This looks like for all the world that it was personal on Belichick’s part. It also appears that whatever took place possibly came down in the 90 minutes before kickoff and after inactives came out. This would explain why Butler was in shock and tears during the national anthem and why Eric Rowe didn’t know about his role until the minutes before kickoff.

All we have right now to go on is conjecture. There are no hard and fast answers for anything going on in Foxboro, and it’s likely to stay that way.

It’s a chaotic time for the Patriots. Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride for a while.

 

 

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