It’s probably safe to say that for anyone hoping that Bill Belichick’s collapse continues, the future may not look as bright as people might think.
Local sports radio appears to be the biggest group leading that charge, with various personalities seemingly cheering for the demise of Belichick and Mac Jones more so than others.
This falls under the guise of “be careful what you wish for”, because what may be coming might not be as positive as what people may be hoping.
Many believe that removing Belichick and Jones from the equation will instantly make this team better, going so far as to expect improvement as early as next season.
That may seem like a good idea in theory, given where they appear to be. But this Patriots team certainly feels a little different.
The number one issue right now, and it’s been discussed quite a bit here locally, is the fact that this is a team that’s pretty devoid of talent on the offensive side of the football. One of the biggest names being floated right now as a trade option is Kendrick Bourne who outside of Demario Douglas, is currently their best receiver and, honestly the only real chip as an offensive skill player with any real value.
Dealing him would leave this team with just DeVante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster, along with Douglas, Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte, and Jaylen Reagor.
Smith-Schuster and Parker have combined for 27 catches for 222 yards and zero touchdowns so far in 2023. For a guy who only recently started getting involved in the offense, Bourne already has 28 catches for 307 yards and two touchdowns by himself.
When you factor in that one of those players is as inconsistent and non-clutch as it gets (Parker) while the other is damaged goods (Smith-Schuster), you’re left with really one guy who has kind of proven he can play (Douglas). From there, one is fast yet has been injured (Thornton), while one is still questionable (Boutte), and the other is a journeyman who you wouldn’t have even known played last week had the stat sheet not listed his 14 snaps (Reagor).
Many people will point to the incredible amount of money the Patriots will have to spend next offseason, but you may want to slow your roll there. You can have all the money in the world, but there would be a new set of problems that they would be facing. If the club fires Belichick and deals Jones, you now no longer have much incentive for players to come here unless New England grossly overpays them.
Some will argue that notion is foolish and that it ultimately comes down to money anyway, and there’s certainly some truth to that. But any time a player moves to another team, the number one goal is feeling like the coach can help them be successful. They also usually want to make sure they’re not heading somewhere that might put them in a bad situation.
Right now, one of those boxes would be checked, given Belichick’s history. He remains a steadying presence for any veteran player, and sitting in front of him during any free agent visit, explaining whatever plan they would theoretically have in place next March, would likely hold more weight than if it was someone else in that chair.
Without him, that becomes more complicated.
After all, things have already changed here the over last few years in that regard. Prior to the departure of Tom Brady following the 2019 season, the New England Patriots were a potential destination for free agents and coaches alike. The idea of working with both Belichick and Brady was also a massive draw for players, especially in March. Some of them were even willing to take less just for an opportunity at a title, with several of them being rewarded for that faith.
Once Brady left, things absolutely shifted. The Patriots were seemingly no longer as attractive as a destination, albeit Belichick remained a draw for some who he interacted at various times throughout his career, or from others who had talked to players about the type of program the future Hall of Fame coach ran hew in New England. Several have said their meeting with him eliminated any doubt they had and ended up being the deal-breaker.
Obviously, what happens at quarterback will likely be a key question moving forward. As we’ve already seen, that factors into any offensive skill position player’s decision in free agency.
When the club added Cam Newton, a relatively well-known name ahead of training camp in 2020, he won over the locker room and the coaches, which is the main reason he survived that season and was brought back the following offseason.
Newton was also a relative draw ahead of that 2021 season for players like Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Jonnu Smith, and Hunter Henry, who were all signed that offseason.
(PHOTO:Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)
Instead, obviously, Jones emerged as the starter after being drafted that April, outperforming Newton during that training camp. The club then went on to win 10 games and got back to the postseason for the first time in two years, which had everyone feeling pretty optimistic moving forward.
Unfortunately, last year happened, and it’s pretty well documented that people weren’t happy with the decision as it pertained to replacing Josh McDaniels, who left for Las Vegas the previous offseason.
Meanwhile, as bad as last year had been, Jones remained a player who had said and done the right things, and he’s clearly well-liked. He also played a role in Ezekiel Elliott’s decision to come here as a free agent, along with having command of the locker room. So far, he’s managed to keep that support, albeit that will only last if he can build on last week’s performance, minus any further turnovers heading into the rest of the season.
Granted, his job won’t be easy. As we’ve seen, the departure of their primary-everything-target in Jakobi Meyers, who left for Vegas last offseason, has been brutal. That removed their most productive player both in terms of total receiving yards, and the fact he had been their leading third-down receiver for the last two seasons.
The fact McDaniels saw the value the rest of the front office, Belichick included, seemingly didn’t, sent the wrong message. To make matters worse, the decision to sign Smith-Schuster has blown up badly, and the Patriots are clearly still reeling from it.
Sitting at 1-5, the belief is the Patriots may become sellers in the coming days ahead of the trade deadline. That may put Bourne or Henry among players a potential team in contention who might draw interest. However, Bourne is someone they should be hesitant to part with, since it would just leave them with yet one more need heading into the future.
Bourne is one of the few quality weapons the Patriots have. (PHOTO:Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Extending him appears to be the wiser choice given how little they have but at the same time, the players have probably heard the whispers. There’s likely enough concern about the future where someone like Bourne might already be leery about committing to this team beyond this season while seeing how it all plays out.
With Jones’ own future still in doubt, most offensive players will likely begin also basing their own decisions on what happens there, especially given the relationship Jones is said to have with most of them. After that, the future of the coaching staff is the next question, as is the direction of the franchise.
But moving on from both Belichick and Jones would likely put the rest of the NFL in a “wait and see” mode with the Patriots. Most top-flight players are usually looking for both money and an opportunity to win, and usually don’t want to be part of a rebuild. The Patriots might try to meet one of those needs, but anyone who feels like money will solve those issues when it comes to attracting players may end up being sorely disappointed.
Again, for those cheering on his departure, losing Belichick is going to have an impact that will likely have reverberations bigger than you might think.
As it currently stands, on any given Sunday – the two blowout disasters aside – even as we saw against the Raiders, you can usually at least go into most games feeling like anything is possible.
With Belichick gone, that changes. People continue undervaluing his coaching, which it’s probably safe to say is ridiculous considering the only consensus people can agree on is that the roster building is their number one issue right now.
Obviously, he’s responsible for that. But at the same time, players have confidence in what they’re being told, especially when it comes to Belichick on the defensive side of the ball.
Generally, if they do what they’re supposed to, they’ll have a shot at winning. Unlike other teams in this situation, you’ve yet to hear anyone on that side of the football ever claim to have been unprepared.
New England’s defense remains their one bright spot. (PHOTO:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)
Looking at how things have played out, that’s continued to hold true. Take away the offensive turnovers that have been costly in four of the six games, and they’ve been in every one of them. Remove those from the equation, and perhaps we’re not even having this conversation.
In fact, for all the talk of their current issues, it’s been on defense where things have essentially been business as usual. Even despite having lost both Christian Gonzalez and Matthew Judon, they’ve still been solid, just slightly less dominant.
Clearly, the offense is where their problems are and Belichick essentially gave himself and everyone else on that side of the ball very little to work with.
That may be what ultimately sinks him, especially if they don’t see another victory until November, or possibly later. If that happens, it won’t be pretty.
There’s no magic wand, and it won’t be a quick fix. That’s bad for everybody, and this team will likely spend a couple of seasons being even more uninteresting than people already feel it currently is. The main reason anyone seems to be dialed in right now appears to be for the sake of watching both Belichick and Jones burn, with the Patriots obviously having fallen off the grid to the point it’s unlikely they’ll be a threat to anyone other than themselves in 2023.
Trade away what little talent they have left and take Belichick out of the picture, and the result could very well end up being a couple years of cellar-dwelling in hopes of eventually becoming relevant.
For sports radio, and local sports media, that could be devastating. If the club falls off the map by mid October, that leads to 2+ months of people becoming disinterested. That means poor ratings, not a lot of article clicks, and very few people paying attention until the ensuing March when they try again to get it right.
That’s going to have a bigger impact than many of these people think. The literal cheerleading that has been going on for Belichick to be kicked to the curb is mind-numbing, especially when it doesn’t feel like any of that is being taken into account. Especially for a medium where both parent companies (Audacy and Beasely Broadcast Group) are in tough shape. Audacy (WEEI) was delisted from the stock exchange months ago after plummeting to nothing, and Beasley (98.5 The Sports Hub) has since also dipped below $1 ($0.78 at the time of this piece).
The one person who has been vocal on Belichick’s impact and has recognized how much the Patriots becoming the team in this region has benefited him – and has said he’s not happy about this story – has been NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran.
Curran’s gone on to credit Belichick on more than one occasion for his own ascension from his time as a reporter for the Providence Journal, to becoming one of the most influential people locally on television when it comes to sports and the Patriots. His reporting, along with Phil Perry, remains fairly balanced, even if people haven’t always agreed with some of those opinions.
But for the rest of the market, rooting for Belichick’s departure, should it come to fruition, is going to sting. It’s going to change everything, and it’s certainly hard not to be nervous about the fact extended mediocrity is extremely realistic.
The preferred outcome would be giving him time to turn it around, and then pass the torch to Jerod Mayo (if that’s ultimately how it goes), providing some continuity (instead of chaos by firing him) when he eventually walks away.
(PHOTO: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)
Maybe something changes and he and Kraft talk about a new philosophy in roster building. Maybe they join the trend of other teams and expand their scouting and analytics. Maybe they start being more aggressive in landing impact players and do what other teams have done with other young quarterbacks by propping them up with better talent.
Obviously, the status quo can’t continue. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a mess right now and they’re so devoid of talent that it’s likely going to take some time to dig themselves out of it. But for those rooting for Belichick to be gone, the recovery isn’t going to happen as quickly as many seem to believe. In fact, it may potentially be several years of watching them spin their wheels before this team becomes relevant again.
Given the patience people have already shown, that’s likely not going to go well.
Belichick was wise enough to bring back Bill O’Brien this past offseason to stabilize his offense. Maybe it’s possible the same might happen above him when it comes to personnel. Because at the end of the day, with enough talent, he certainly remains among the best in the league when it comes to X’s and O’s.
Perhaps the compromise would be allowing someone else to handle things on the offensive side of the football personnel-wise, while Belichick continuing to evaluate their defensive personnel. Essentially a situation where should Bill and that person decide they need an offensive tackle or a wide receiver, he entrusts that person to go find those players without being involved. If Robert Kraft could negotiate that change, that in and of itself would potentially be a solution.
If that can happen, that would certainly be the best option. And those who want him gone should cross their fingers it works out. Because, with enough talent, he remains the right guy to help this team do what everyone would prefer they do, which is win football games and not screw it up in January, if they’re able to get back there.
Otherwise, the alternative would possibly see everyone having to prepare to embark on what will likely be a turbulent future if/when the two sides do eventually part ways.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary