Bill Belichick-Patriots Separation Likely To Take Weeks To Finalize

The expectation around the NFL still points to the Patriots having a non-Bill Belichick HC for the first time since 1999, but Robert Kraft has kept his cards close to the vest. A process that likely will involve trade talks is not expected to be finalized especially soon.

Kraft has kept Belichick in the dark about his future, according to the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin, who indicates the two are scheduled to meet Monday. While owner-HC meetings the day after the regular season ends drove the term “Black Monday” into existence in the NFL, Volin adds the expectation will be for Kraft and Belichick to meet multiple times over the ensuing several weeks before finality arrives.

Belichick has sufficient credentials to avoid a Black Monday ouster, and the Patriots have long been expected to be aiming at avoiding an outright firing. It may come to that, as it is possible Belichick will not want to accept any additional power stripped — like a GM coming in to work alongside him — and would seek to be fired in order to be part of the coaching carousel on time. A drawn-out divorce would affect Belichick’s ability to land with another team. HC-needy teams can begin interviewing candidates on other staffs after the divisional round.

Kraft’s silence could point to demands from Belichick, Volin offers, in an attempt to salvage the situation. Kraft has famously intervened on multiple occasions in recent years, most notably in the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, and the longtime owner solidified Jerod Mayo‘s place on Belichick’s staff with an extension this past offseason. Belichick giving into more demands from Kraft would not be ideal for the 24-year Patriots HC, but if there is not a strong market for his services, that would seemingly be an option the future Hall of Famer considers.

As of late December, Belichick wanted to stay in New England and was not planning to resign. Doing so would be a costly move with another season of top-tier coaching money on the table in the event he stays on for a 25th season or is fired. The longer he remains in limbo with the Patriots, the longer other teams move on to other HC candidates.

Mayo resides the front of the line to replace Belichick, per’s Albert Breer, who notes the extension he signed this offseason — after a conversation with Kraft led to the linebackers coach turning down a chance to interview for the Panthers’ HC job — parallels Belichick’s in running through 2024. A former Patriots linebacker who has been on Belichick’s staff for five seasons, Mayo would become the NFL’s second-youngest active HC if hired; at 37, Mayo is two months younger than Sean McVay.

Kraft’s intervention with Mayo does point to the longtime Boston-area resident being a serious candidate, and going in that direction would be rather interesting. It would ensure continuity but also keep the Belichick pipeline flowing, just without Belichick. On that note, Volin adds a Brian Flores return has also generated some buzz. Flores made his mark as a Belichick assistant for over a decade, finishing that 11-year run as the de facto defensive coordinator for a Patriots team that held the Rams without a touchdown in Super Bowl LIII. Flores, 42, is finishing up his first season as the Vikings’ DC.

With Flores and Mike Vrabel being on the radar — Volin still lists the Titans’ HC as the Pats “home run” hire, though it would take a notable trade package to pry him from the Titans — signs point to Kraft preferring someone familiar with the Patriot Way rather than a true outsider. An overhaul would make sense given the shadow Belichick casts, but a transition to a current or former assistant would be smoother. As for Vrabel, he reaffirmed his commitment to the Titans. But the Patriots are believed to be monitoring that situation, which has involved rumors of discord between Vrabel and rookie GM Ran Carthon.

Flores returning to Foxborough would also be interesting due to his discrimination lawsuit including a text from Belichick believing Flores would be the Giants’ HC hire in 2022. Belichick later said he misunderstood the situation, as another of his former assistants — Brian Daboll — became New York’s hire. Flores also backed out of the Cardinals’ interview process last year. The lawsuit has not impeded the former Dolphins HC’s career, and it would not surprise to see multiple teams reach out about their HC vacancy this coming offseason.

A Mayo promotion or Flores return would assuredly also come with Kraft hiring either a true GM or someone with similar responsibilities. It also is worth wondering if another organization would give Belichick GM power. While the Panthers and perhaps another NFC South team have interest in the NFL sideline staple, his recent run as the Pats’ de facto GM is largely responsible for their swoon. GM power — be it with the Pats or another team, possibly the Chargers — will be part of this equation, but the drama here looks likely to last for a bit.

View Comments (34)