While the current state of the Patriots certainly isn’t ideal, Sunday’s outcome against Washington was yet another reminder of just how bad things have gotten here in New England.
After years of relatively smooth sailing and otherwise steady seas, Robert Kraft now finds his franchise in extremely rough waters at the midway point of this 2023 season. The big question now is going to involve one word when it comes to his role in where things currently stand with eight weeks still left to play.
At 2-7, Bill Belichick is coming off what is arguably one of the most disappointing losses of the season. Having just lost to Washington in a game that was considered to potentially be the matchup they needed to avoid their third multi-game losing streak of the season, the Patriots instead repeated the same ongoing pattern.
They got off to a slow start, fell behind by 10 points, and then, after managing to make a few plays to get back in front, they couldn’t do enough to hold the lead and win the game.
The result was another loss, and it comes ahead of what might be the most crucial week of the season given the precedent set by other teams who have had head coaches in a similar position.
Bad teams headed to Europe with the bye week to follow are no strangers to parting ways with their head coaches in the midst of a bad season. That’s been something we’ve seen in recent years, and it’s hard not to imagine where Kraft’s head is right now when it comes to looking at this situation.
“I’m going to control what I can control and get ready for the Colts,” Belichick told reporters on Tuesday when asked if he was coaching for his job this Sunday.
For him, it’s business as usual, which to an extent is about all he can do given where they are right now.
Obviously, barring a miracle, this season is essentially a lost cause. Should New England manage to win in Germany Sunday against the Colts, they still face a tough road to close things out. After the bye, it’s the Giants, Chargers, Steelers, Chiefs, Broncos, Bills, and Jets over the final seven weeks. The odds of a 6-1 finish over that stretch certainly seems unlikely, especially when they struggle to do the most basic things on the offensive side of the football.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
The next thing everyone is wondering is whether or not Kraft will let things simply play out, or if he’ll make a midseason coaching change. He’s likely no stranger to where fans are right now when it comes to their frustration with the current state of the franchise.
The empty seats at Gillette Stadium this past weekend were one glaring example of that. The fans who did come out voiced their displeasure throughout Sunday’s contest, booing loudly at various points of this one. To make matters worse, Sunday’s game played out in familiar fashion after a game-ending turnover, with fans watching the Patriots get back into the game, only to see their lead evaporate against a club they should have been good enough to beat.
Instead, they again headed for the exits frustrated, having seen New England lose its seventh game of the year barely halfway through the season.
Fans will probably still show up over their final two remaining home games, with both the Chargers and Chiefs each having the attraction of franchise quarterbacks and talented offensive players to draw their interest, something the Patriots could only dream of having at this point.
The latter contest is also set for an 8:15pm kickoff on December 18th which, if that remains, would put New England front and center in a nationally televised game in its current state.
That’s certainly less than ideal, and who knows just how bad things might be by then.
For Kraft, he’s got a difficult decision to make, albeit he’s been at this long enough to know everything is cyclical. They were just in the postseason two years ago, and a series of both bad decisions and bad luck have certainly kept them from taking a step forward.
Based on where things are headed, his franchise could be on the verge of a top 5 pick next April, with the opportunity to draft an impact player who could potentially change the trajectory of his franchise for years to come. Whether it’s a quarterback or a game-changing receiver they bring into this group is likely the only decision left to be made, along with whether or not Matt Groh is further empowered in the personnel department when it comes to selecting players on that side of the football.
If Kraft stands pat, he already has a coach who knows how to win in January. If he makes a move, that’s when things become tricky.
Mayo is the right man to lead the team if Kraft moves on from Belichick. (PHOTO:Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Earlier this offseason, the club made a decision to ensure Jerod Mayo stayed in the fold, which seemingly sets him up as the club’s current head coach of the future. That move certainly makes sense given Mayo’s standing among the players and coaches, with the former Patriot certainly commanding the respect of the people and players around him.
People will argue he’s defensive-minded, but as a young coach with no real ties, the door is likely wide open to bring in another young offensive mind to compliment him, creating a new foundation for the club to move forward with.
In fact, bringing in someone from outside absolutely works in their favor. Mayo lacks the networking or relationships around the league when it comes to luring offensive free agents. Bringing in someone from another team alongside him provides a new connection that can be leveraged, making the Patriots a more attractive landing spot for younger players.
However, some are skeptical when it comes to Mayo being the right guy to replace Belichick. One report by Ben Volin of the Boston Globe suggests the team has an interest in fellow former Patriot Mike Vrabel, who has been the head coach in Tennessee with the Titans.
How much sense that makes is the hard part. Adding Vrabel doesn’t feel like the best choice, given that it would likely cost them a high-round pick to get him, along with several other factors. For a club that needs all the currency it can get to try and continue building its nucleus, they can’t really afford to give any of that away at this point, especially a high-round pick, when they seemingly have a capable name already in-house.
This isn’t the same as 2000 when Belichick was hired. Back then, the club already had a fair amount of talent on both sides of the football, along with a franchise quarterback in Drew Bledsoe. Giving up a first-round pick for Belichick was definitely a risk at the time, but it was worth it, given that it seemed like the building blocks were in place, and Kraft clearly felt like they were already close when it came to becoming contenders again.
Obviously, he was right. Albeit, Tom Brady ended up being the missing piece in place of Bledsoe, with the rest of the roster being what they needed to build around as they ran off three championships in four seasons, and the rest is, well, history.
(PHOTO:Christopher Hanewinckel – USA TODAY Sports)
Meanwhile, Vrabel has put together a pretty good resume since getting into coaching, with the Titans continually among the last teams left standing in recent years. Still, he’s been inconsistent himself despite having an offense with a fair amount of talent.
It just doesn’t feel like a price worth paying. Not for a franchise that doesn’t have the luxury of a loaded roster and has so many other needs to get them back into contention.
As a result, the likelihood of Kraft moving on from Mayo in favor of Vrabel feels unlikely. Especially knowing how much of a priority he made of keeping him after Belichick was fully prepared to let him interview for a head coaching job elsewhere and possibly lose him this past offseason.
For now, the path may be just to let things play out and accept the inevitability of what lies ahead. Kraft likely will make changes at some point, with the glaring difference between his club offensively against the likes of other top teams in the AFC potentially being a motivating factor when that time comes.
With a solid roster, he already knows what Belichick can do when they’ve had the right players. Now the only question will be whether another loss Sunday might be a moment for change, or whether or not he’ll stay the course and wait until the offseason to lay new groundwork, whatever that ultimately looks like heading into 2024.
Either way, Kraft likely has a plan in mind. At 71, it’s no secret that life after Belichick is definitely coming sooner than later, and it’s just a matter of when. Should a change be made, sticking to the original plan seems to make the most sense.
For now, that will probably remain the key topic of conversation as the season painfully grinds forward, especially should the losses continue to mount over the final two months of what’s definitely been a frustrating 2023 season.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Jerod Mayo Mike Vrabel Robert Kraft