Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spoke to reporters today for the first time since early January at NFL Owners meetings, followed later in the day by owner Robert Kraft.
Most questions centered around turning the page on 2022 and assessing the team at this point in the offseason. There was also a nice moment of recognition for longtime New England coach Dante Scarnecchia, who recently earned the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Award of Excellence for his contributions to the Patriots’ organization.
Belichick gave plenty of his trademark non-answers for any who missed them the past couple of months, but he and Kraft did offer insights that ranged from interesting to ~very~ interesting.
Here are my biggest takeaways from Monday’s interviews.
Kraft sparks Lamar Jackson to Patriots smoke
Mac Jones has drawn criticism for taking a big step back in his second season. After helping New England reach the Wild Card Round his rookie year, the quarterback was turnover-prone to start 2022 before missing time due to injury and being outplayed by then-rookie Bailey Zappe. Jones cut way down on his mistakes following the team’s mid-season bye, but he couldn’t overcome the subpar coaching, inconsistent protection, and severe lack of playmakers that ultimately sank the team’s chances of returning to the playoffs.
When asked about Jones, Kraft offered support and called himself “a big fan of Mac,” citing last year’s failed coaching experiment on offense as something that held the passer back. The Patriots’ owner also expressed optimism in Jones’ revamped supporting cast, saying Bill O’Brien was at the top of his list and that the coordinator’s return would “work to [Jones’] advantage.”
#Patriots owner Robert Kraft, at the Annual League Meeting: “I thought changes needed to be made (after last season).”
On Mac Jones: “I’m a big fan of Mac. … We experimented with some things last year that didn’t work. We made changed to put him in position to excel.”
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 27, 2023
But less than an hour later, Kraft broke big news regarding a quarterback not on the Patriots.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Meek Mill texted him three or four days ago saying Lamar Jackson wanted to come to New England. Kraft responded that would be Bill Belichick’s decision.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 27, 2023
In an attempt to reclaim the narrative surrounding his situation (and also likely gain leverage), Lamar Jackson tweeted this morning that he requested a trade from the Ravens on March 2nd. Baltimore placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson five days after this request on March 7th, lowering his cap hit from $45.6 million to $32 million and giving him the ability to negotiate his own trade. The Ravens would have five days to match any offer sheet Jackson signs, either retaining the contract or letting Jackson walk in exchange for two 1st round picks.
From an X’s and O’s perspective, acquiring a player like Jackson is a no-brainer when you don’t have a definite answer at quarterback. Mac Jones was a 1st round pick for a reason and can be a Pro Bowl-caliber player with more support. But Jackson is a former MVP who has yet to reach his ceiling. The 26-year-old was also held back in his own right by run-game savant Greg Roman, whose rudimentary passing scheme stunted Jackson’s development as a passer and forced him to carry the team on pure talent at times. Baltimore has also struggled to find consistent production on offense outside of Jackson and tight end Mark Andrews. If you want to build a winning football team and culture, Jackson is a great fit.
Acquiring Jackson wouldn’t be easy from a capital perspective, but signing him to an extension would make the complicated cap implications easier to manage. He also brings the kind of dynamic playmaking that changes how you construct your roster. While Jackson would take up a huge chunk of the cap, having a one-man army in the backfield means you don’t have to spend as big on weapons. Someone with his Jackson’s profile would also make New England a more attractive destination for players looking to win championships and play with a potential Hall of Fame talent.
Comment from Bill Belichick earlier today about acquiring players (via @Patriots youtube)
Much more interesting now that Lamar Jackson's sentiments are out there pic.twitter.com/AL1TZ9Pg2y
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) March 27, 2023
While Belichick was adamant he wouldn’t speak about players non-Patriots players, he continued to be non-committal when asked about Mac Jones, giving the standard “Everyone will get a chance to play” line after stating definitively Jones was the team’s quarterback in OTAs last season. Belichick also said when asked about acquiring players, “We’re not afraid to do whatever we need to do that will help the team. Whatever that is.”
Do with these breadcrumbs what you will.
Belichick flexes resume and preaches patience when asked about offseason thus far
The future Hall of Fame coach essentially flashed his Super Bowl rings when asked why fans should be optimistic about the team’s direction, pointing to “the last 25 years.”
Outside speculation is understandable, particularly with New England coming off 2022’s disastrous offensive coaching situation and inconsistent-to-awful execution on special teams. The Patriots have also handily lost both playoff appearances since Super Bowl LIII while missing the postseason altogether in 2020. Even Kraft, while expressing excitement for this year’s squad, said he was “very disappointed [with] the way our season went” and that he “thought changes had to be made,” while speaking to reporters today.
All that said, Belichick wasn’t wrong when referencing how consistently competitive the team has been during his tenure. Though their recent playoff appearances have been ugly, the Patriots regularly go toe-to-toe with playoff-caliber teams and are rarely blown out, which is more than most organizations can say over just the past few years. The expectation in New England will always be championships, but those don’t come as easily after losing the greatest quarterback of all time. For now, the Patriots need to earn a postseason birth and prove they belong.
Belichick also offered a friendly reminder when asked if the team has done enough this offseason, saying “We don’t have a game for a while. So, we’ll see what happens between now and then.”
First impressions on new additions and re-signings
Belichick was mostly coy when asked about offseason additions, telling reporters he would specifically wait to discuss coaching changes until the spring. Here are some quotes that stood out:
- On Adrian Klemm (unofficially) returning to the Patriots: “I think he’ll do a good job for us. … Smart guy. Really good understanding of some of the more complex things on the offensive line. I think he’s performed well in his coaching positions at various spots.”
- Thoughts on Mike Gesicki as someone who has played against him in the past: “Tough guy to gameplan for. Hard to cover. Look forward to working with Mike. … He’s kind of a unique player. Hope we’ll be able to use him productively.”
- On what Riley Reiff brings: “Been in the league for a long time. Very experienced guy. Played multiple positions. Smart, tough guy. Glad we have him. … We’ll see [if he’ll play right or left tackle]. He’s played both. He’s also played guard.”
- Replied “We’ll see” when asked which side Trent Brown will play on in 2023
Klemm’s knowledge will be invaluable to a unit that lacked a full-time position coach and was forced to learn a new, unfamiliar system. He should straighten things out while helping the group play to their strengths.
Belichick has made similar comments about Gesicki in the past, as the tweener makes personnel and coverage decisions tougher based on the situation. But this was more than the head coach offered when asked about JuJu Smith-Schuster, who he called a “Good player, good guy.” Not an indictment on the player, Belichick is just less familiar with Smith-Schuster since he’s always been an out-of-division opponent.
I did find it interesting that Belichick emphasized Reiff’s versatility, as most (myself included) have penciled him in at right tackle.
Belichick was also asked about some familiar faces from last season’s roster who will be returning.
- On re-signing Jonathan Jones: “That was a big one. … He’s been a great player for us for a long time in a long of different roles. … He epitomizes what we want in a Patriot player.”
- On retaining Cam Achord: “Last year was last year; there were a lot of things that weren’t good enough … Good coach. Led the league in special teams in ’20. I don’t think that’s the problem.”
- On if Matt Patricia will be on the 2023 coaching staff: “I’m not sure. … We’ll talk about staff later on in the spring.”
The praise for Jones is not surprising. His versatility and play on the field have been difference-makers since he was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He is also clearly seen as a leader by the younger faces in New England’s secondary, which should help soften the blow of Devin McCourty’s retirement.
While I understand fans aren’t happy with Achord after two seasons of not-so-great special teams play, players ultimately make the plays. Achord is known as a passionate teacher and clearly has Belichick’s respect. Hopefully, some key returns and additions, including Joe Judge going back to his roots, will make the difference.
Patricia has been connected to the Broncos this offseason, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take time off to recalibrate after being put in a position even Robert Kraft thought was unfair.
Belichick didn’t offer substantial comment about Jerod Mayo’s reported title change, but Robert Kraft gushed about the linebackers coach and former player.
On Jerod Mayo, Robert Kraft said: “Jerod is an individual, I think there is no ceiling on his ability to grow and how competent he is. … I was happy we were able to sit with him and keep him long term. I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen.” https://t.co/Cjiekczzq8
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 27, 2023
Kraft went on to say “He’ll be a head coach… I hope he’s with us,” seemingly confirming speculation that Mayo is the heir apparent to Belichick.