Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has enormous shoes to fill at offensive coordinator with the departure of Josh McDaniels to the Las Vegas Raiders as their new head coach.
Whether you were a fan of McDaniels or not, his role in the organization was massive. The former Pats’ offensive coordinator had near-autonomy in the direction of New England’s offense, game-planning, in-game play-calling, and influenced personnel decisions.
Plus, Belichick himself spoke glowingly last season about McDaniels’s football knowledge to the point where even his detractors cannot argue that McDaniels doesn’t knows the game at a high level.
“It’s kind of like Saban when we were in Cleveland,” Belichick said. “Nick knew what every player on the field was doing. He knew what the guard keys were. He knew what the running back was keying. He knew what the nose guard was doing. He knew everybody on the field was doing.”
“Josh is kind of the same way. He knows what all 11 players are doing on offense,” Belichick continued.
After 13 seasons at the helm, the Patriots offense is looking for a new director with a second-year quarterback who is still learning the ins and outs of the professional game.
Make no mistake about it: this is a gigantic decision for Belichick, who cannot approach Mac Jones’s development and a system that needs a fresh perspective with a no-name coordinator.
According to a league source, the Patriots are “thinking big” with their next offensive coordinator, and those around the league believe Alabama OC Bill O’Brien is Belichick’s preferred target.
If Belichick doesn’t get his top choice, league sources expect the Patriots to bring in an experienced offensive play-caller to replace McDaniels.
Furthermore, with the expected retirement of long-time running backs coach Ivan Fears, don’t rule out multiple additions to the offensive staff.
It’ll also be interesting to see what direction Belichick takes the offense in, with McDaniels sticking to his roots with the Pats’ EP system that dates back to the Charlie Weis days. Sure, the scheme has evolved, but its foundation remains the same.
Updating the scheme to incorporate more modern spread (BUF/KC) or wide zone (LAR/SF) systems is a conversation worth having, leading the Pats towards certain candidates.
For example, the front-runner, O’Brien, runs a spread adaptation of New England’s current scheme. Nick Saban said this week that he doesn’t believe O’Brien is trying to leave Alabama, but the allure of returning to the NFL could pull O’Brien out of Tuscaloosa, per a source.
Another potential path for Belichick could be steering towards the Shanahan/McVay trees’ motion and misdirection schemes. If that’s the case, look for former Pats wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea to be in the mix after spending the last two seasons in Cleveland’s system that has similarities to the Shanahan/McVay tree.
Another potential addition to the staff floated to CLNS Media is Mike Groh, the son of former Belichick assistant Al Groh and brother of current Patriots college scouting coordinator Matt Groh. Groh is currently the wide receivers coach for the Colts, but is also a former NFL offensive coordinator (Eagles in 2018-19) and Saban offensive assistant at Alabama.
And although it wouldn’t be our first choice, don’t rule out former Dolphins and Jets head coach Adam Gase, who has a relationship with Belichick.
The Patriots, for Mac Jones and an offense undergoing a significant transition, need to get their next offensive coordinator hire right, and they’re aiming for an experienced play-caller with their next OC.
Without further ado, let’s empty the mailbag as we head towards the conclusion of the 2021 NFL season:
Who are your top 3.
Senior Bowl players who fit the Pats?
Like to draft from that event.
Successful at it, last few years especially.
— Pats6 (@Pats62) February 2, 2022
Yep, a huge week down in Mobile for the Pats’ personnel department, with 49 draftees since 2008 as Senior Bowlers and four out of their last five top picks. Some standouts:
- WR Christian Watson: The Pats met with the 6-foot-5 wideout out of North Dakota State, according to reports out of Mobile, and he’s dazzling down there this week. As Trey Lance’s version of Mike Evans, Watson first got on our radar as Lance’s go-to target a year ago. He has legitimate speed, size, and enough short-area quickness to run the full vertical route tree—an exciting prospect who might land on day two.
- DT Travis Jones: we’ll pump up Jones plenty over the next few months. A 6-4, 326-pound nose tackle, Jones shows excellent play strength and hand power to occupy blocks, press-and-shed single blocks, and clog the middle of the field. His pass rushing ability as a bull rusher and hand fighter is also standing out in 1-on-1s this week. Another solid day two prospect.
- CB Coby Bryant: The Cincinnati product is showing scouts that Ahman Gardner isn’t the only Bearcats corner that will play on Sundays. Bryant is sticky, competitive, and an alpha at the catch point in man coverage. He can also find the ball and leverage routes in zone. Bryant would be a nice day-two pairing with J.C. Jackson.
Better OT prospect for the Patriots offense, Raimann or Penning?
— Howard Stephens (@HowardStephens1) February 2, 2022
If the Patriots were to go offensive tackle with their first pick, Penning or Reimann are the likely targets. However, both potential first-rounders are having up-and-down weeks in Mobile. Reimann has issues with explosive edge rushers beating him to the corner while Penning is having trouble dropping his anchor earlier in the week, but it does look like he rebounded on the last day of practices. With that said, the Senior Bowl isn’t the entire evaluation, and their tape was first-round caliber this past season. I lean towards Penning, a better run blocker while still possessing fluid pass sets.
What do you think about drafting Davis in the first round over a LB? I mean we do have cam who redshirted last year, to be seen if he still has that speed
— #1 Pats Mascot fan (@Acasualpatsfan) February 2, 2022
First of all, I’m not on the linebacker in the first-round train. I’d rather Quay Walker or Chad Muma on day two than either first-round linebacker (Lloyd or Dean). Dean is terrific, but he’s smaller than Kyle Dugger. Lloyd is a run-and-hit zone scheme linebacker.
As far as Davis goes, the fit there is obvious, and I’m all for him in the first round. Davis is physically as dominant as his athletic profile suggests, but he’s significantly more fluid and rangy than you’d expect for 6-6, 340 pounds. He can shoot gaps, move laterally, and two gap or post up against a double team. Davis is a rare athlete and a dominating force. The only real knock on him is conditioning, but they’ll get him on the hills, and that’ll be a quick afterthought. From this perspective, he’d be a home run selection at no. 21.
What %'s would you put on the following coaches coming back to the Patriots this offseason:
— Max Straneva (@MaxStraneva) February 2, 2022
I love the format of this question, so let’s give it a go:
- BOB: 65 percent. My sense is that there’s interest from both parties, but the question is will Belichick give O’Brien the payday and control he wants to pry him out of Alabama?
- Flores: 1 percent. Although we are with Flores in his fight against the NFL, he used Belichick’s text messages without his consent that didn’t exactly paint Belichick in a positive light. Plus, he’s suing the NFL. I think Flores is untouchable right now.
- Judge: 75 percent. Feels a lot like the Matt Patricia situation. Unless Josh McDaniels offers Judge a better deal, Judge returning to help with special teams and offense makes all the sense in the world. I could see him ending up with the Raiders, though.
- Faulk: 35 percent. I love the idea of Faulk returning to the staff as Ivan Fears’ replacement, but Vinnie Sunseri has been here as assistant RBs coach, and you have to avoid a mass exodus. Having an outside hire at OC and an outside replacement for Fears is asking for current staffers to look for promotions elsewhere.
- O’Shea: 15 percent. The only reason it’s so low is that he’s not the top choice and might not even be Belichick’s second choice (don’t sleep on Adam Gase).
Any chance of bringing Brady in at OC?
— Natan_z (@Natanz07433943) February 2, 2022
There's some talk that Wolf (if Zeigler's replacement) is more in a Caserio mold and doesn't challenge Bill much or speak up, whereas Zeigler did.
Is this a concern for you?
— Freedom Dot CA (@freedomdotca) February 2, 2022
My read on the Pats’ front office with Ziegler is different from others. The Patriots changed their approach slightly with the draft process because nobody self-scouts more than Belichick. He knew their drafting wasn’t good enough recently and made a few adjustments. But his first two draft picks were Alabama guys, his next two were from Oklahoma, and then another Michigan linebacker. Ultimately, he drafted players from his college coaching buddies and programs he feels comfortable with as he did in the past few years. Luckily, those players are panning out better this time around. I don’t see a massive change in approach.
Confidence out of 10 Isaiah Wynn returns on a long term deal after next season?
— New England Patriots Fan Page (@grwpats) February 2, 2022
Out of ten, my confidence level is around two or three. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Wynn isn’t on the 2022 roster. My sense is that the Patriots will try to shop Wynn this offseason with the idea of re-signing Trent Brown and drafting a long-term answer at left tackle. They wouldn’t hesitate to move Wynn if they can get some value back in a trade. I don’t see a long-term future for Wynn in New England.
I know you've talked about ways BB can re-build defense, but I wanna revisit– if NE can find a way to both build secondary to return to Cover-1/single-high-heavy AND build up D-Line (Jordan Davis??), they def can continue on w/ their scheme (3-4/2-4-5/3 safeties, etc.), right?
— Brent Schwartz (@BrentSchwartzz) February 2, 2022
Yes, correct. The Patriots aren’t becoming a lighter, faster, zone-heavy scheme. I’ll believe that when I see it. My guess is they’ll add another body on the defensive line, keep Bentley as the MIKE while filling the WILL role with a more athletic player (Uche, McGrone, draft pick), and load up with corners in the secondary. I don’t want to hear that it can’t work in today’s NFL. If they make the right personnel upgrades, it has, and it will.
Are there any players on their rookie contracts that you think could still be useful players that haven’t emerged yet? Can they figure out a way to utilize Uche (if he can figure out how to avoid constant nagging injuries)?
— Dave (@ChefdDds89) February 2, 2022
I’m still a believer in Uche. He had a great camp and start to the season in 2021 but keeps getting hurt. If he can stay on the field, he can put it all together. The best thing for Uche and the team is to develop him as an off-ball linebacker who can rush on the line in passing situations like Hightower in his prime. That should be everyone’s goal heading into next season.
Should the patriots let aghalor go and get two receivers via draft and free agency ?
— Vishal (@saivishlocked) February 2, 2022
Due to his dead cap hit, the cap savings by releasing Agholor is only $3.9 million. Although they could upgrade at the X spot, the money it frees up will not move the needle much. Agholor is only due $9.88 million in cash, which means that’ll roughly be his cap hit for a team acquiring him in a trade. If the Pats have another solution at outside receiver, I wouldn’t rule out a trade market for Agholor. Other teams with more vertical passing schemes might view him as good value.
Long extension for Jakobi, what kind of money would it take?
— Timbets (@Timbets) February 2, 2022
I’m not expecting the Patriots to approach Meyers about a long-term extension at this time. The second-round tender on his RFA year is excellent value at $3.98 million. Plus, his role could be reduced by either Kendrick Bourne or a more explosive Z/slot receiver via the draft.