Patriots Rumors

Patriots Notes: Covington, Brown, Wolf

Considering New England’s unconventional approach to their defensive coaching staff in recent years, it was uncertain how much control new defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington would have on Jerod Mayo‘s staff. It sounds like Covington will have full authority over his defense, as the coach revealed to reporters today that he’ll be the defensive play-caller this season (via Karen Guregian of MassLive).

It had been years since Bill Belichick employed a traditional DC, with Mayo and Steve Belichick most recently splitting the unofficial role. The younger Belichick was the one calling defensive plays, but he won’t be sticking around New England after taking the DC job at the University of Washington. Mayo himself could have been a candidate for the defensive play-caller role, but it sounds like he’ll be leaning on his DC during games.

This will be Covington’s first time serving in either of those two roles in the NFL. Following a one-season stint as Eastern Illinois’ DC, he’s served in a variety of roles on New England’s coaching staff.

On the other side of the ball, Troy Brown will be sticking around as the Patriots’ wide receivers coach (via Doug Kyed of the Boston Herald). The long-time Patriots WR transitioned to coaching following his playing career, and he’s guided New England’s wideouts since the 2021 campaign. With Mayo revamping the coaching staff, it was uncertain if Brown would be retained in his current role.

Elsewhere in New England, there’s been a bit of confusion surrounding who’s actually leading the front office. Eliot Wolf is expected to control the 53-man roster for at least the time being, and it sounds like the executive had some extra responsibilities while Mayo filled his coaching staff. The new Patriots head coach told reporters that Wolf participated in all of the coaching interviews this offseason (via Kyed).

The son of Pro Football Hall of Fame executive Ron Wolf, Eliot Wolf spent more than a decade with Green Bay before joining New England’s operation. His experience with the Packers has clearly been reflected on the coaching staff, as the team has brought in ex-Packers assistants like Alex Van Pelt, Ben McAdoo, Jerry Montgomery and Alonzo Highsmith.

Patriots Unlikely To Re-Sign OL Michael Onwenu; Kyle Dugger Franchise Tag In Play

Showing an intriguing skillset at both guard and right tackle, Michael Onwenu is expected to generate extensive interest on the open market. The Patriots have the option of franchise-tagging the former sixth-round pick, but that does not seem like the route the organization will take.

The Pats are expecting Onwenu to depart in free agency, according to ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler, who indicates teams are monitoring this situation ahead of what is expected to be a strong free agency derby. Several teams slot Onwenu as the top free agent O-lineman this year, per Fowler. Onwenu is among a number of young guard starters close to hitting the market; the former sixth-rounder’s RT past stands to bolster his case to become a well-paid player soon after the legal tampering period launches free agency.

[RELATED: 2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates]

Seeing their Riley Reiff-centered right tackle plan produce only a handful of snaps in 2023, the Patriots moved Onwenu back outside. He had spent time at RT as a rookie, before settling in at guard in 2021 and 2022. In 2022, ESPN’s pass block win rate metric placed Onwenu eighth among guards. Pro Football Focus slotted the Michigan alum 29th among tackles last season.

Onwenu, 26, joins a host of guards who are coming off their rookie deals. Robert Hunt, Jonah Jackson, Damien Lewis, Jon Runyan Jr. and Ezra Cleveland are weeks away from free agency status. Tackle, however, looks much thinner. Among players seeking their first payday, Jonah Williams headlines the tackle crop. Onwenu could give a team a solution at multiple spots. While this resume overlaps with the swingman job description, Onwenu is far above that level. His next team will pay him to start at either guard or right tackle.

The Patriots losing Onwenu would deal a blow to an offense already light on talent. Trent Brown is expected to depart, and Cole Strange has not yet justified his first-round status. Brown’s latest Pats contract voided this week, Fowler adds, creating a $2MM dead-money charge. Onwenu has made 56 career starts and is coming into his prime. The Pats are looking likely to need new solutions at left and right tackle. Onwenu extension talks did not progress too far, though that came when Bill Belichick was still running the show. Eliot Wolf is believed to be in charge now, creating a sense of uncertainty due to Belichick having been at the top of the Pats’ decision-making pyramid for so long.

In an antiquated setup, all O-linemen remain under one umbrella when it comes to the franchise tag. This results in guards and centers rarely being tagged. Though, the Patriots bucked this trend when they last unholstered their tag; New England cuffed Joe Thuney in 2020. The O-lineman tag is projected to check in around $19.9MM. The Pats have another player residing as a more realistic tag candidate. They are more likely to keep Kyle Dugger off the market, Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal writes.

A Dugger tag is probably on the table, per ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss, who reminds of the Pats’ run of failures extending highly drafted players in recent years. The team has not extended a homegrown first-, second- or third-round pick since re-signing 2013 third-rounder Duron Harmon in 2017. Dugger qualifies as a candidate to reverse that trend.

Although the safety market basically turned into Jessie Bates and the field last year, teams have been looking into a potential Dugger pursuit for a bit now. It would cost the Pats roughly $16.2MM to tag Dugger. Doing so would buy them time on an extension, as teams have until July 15 to extended tagged players. Jerod Mayo also pointed to the team being more aggressive in free agency recently, Reiss adds. Holding the NFL’s second-most projected cap space (at $69.5MM), the Pats can afford a Dugger tag and have money to spend to address other areas.

Belichick held onto Dugger and Onwenu at the trade deadline, though both were rumored candidates to be moved as the team found itself in the rare position as a potential midseason seller. Dugger played 97% of the Pats’ defensive snaps last season, and with Mayo and DeMarcus Covington sticking around, the former second-round pick offers continuity for a team that just released Adrian Phillips. Dugger played ahead of the veteran in 2023. PFF only ranked Dugger 68th among safeties last season but viewed his 2022 more favorably; the Lenoir-Rhyne alum returned two interceptions for touchdowns that year. Although Dugger has fared better closer to the line of scrimmage, he has nine INTs over the past three seasons.

2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

A valuable tool for teams to keep top free agents off the market, the franchise tag has been in existence since 1993. This week brought the opening of the 2024 tag window. Clubs have until 3pm CT on March 5 to apply tags. As the Giants’ situation showed last year, most of the tag-related business comes near the close of this window. Teams will continue to work toward re-signing their respective tag candidates, thus preventing a lofty franchise tender from hitting their cap sheet.

The legal tampering period opens March 11, with the new league year (and official free agency) starting March 13. Once a player is tagged, he has until July 15 to sign an extension with his respective team. Absent an extension agreement by that date, the player must play the 2023 season on the tag (or go the Le’Veon Bell/Dan Williams/Sean Gilbert route, passing on guaranteed money and skipping the season).

High-profile free agents remain weeks away from hitting the market. As PFR’s tag recipients list shows, a handful of players are prevented from taking their services to free agency each year. This year looks to present a few more tag candidates compared to 2023. With a handful of teams determining if they will need to use the tag to prevent a free agency path, here are the players who figure to be tagged or at least generate conversations about being franchised ahead of the March 5 deadline:

Locks

Josh Allen, OLB (Jaguars)
Projected tag cost: $22.75MM

GM Trent Baalke did not leave much suspense when he addressed Allen’s future last month. The veteran exec said the 2019 first-round pick will be a Jaguar in 2024, indicating the team would use its franchise tag if necessary. The Jaguars do have Calvin Ridley as a free agent, but the team would owe the Falcons a 2024 second-round pick if it extended the wide receiver’s contract before the start of the league year. The second pick sent to Atlanta will only be a third-rounder if Jacksonville lets Ridley hit free agency. It makes more sense for Jacksonville to circle back to Ridley after allowing him to test the market. An Allen tag effectively ensures that will happen.

Timing his sack breakthrough well, Allen registered a Jags-record 17.5 during his contract year. The five-year Jaguar has combined for 55 QB hits over the past two seasons and ranks top 10 in pressures over the past three. The tag regularly keeps top edge rushers from hitting free agency, and the 26-year-old pass rusher — while obviously wanting to be paid what he’s worth — expressed a desire to stay in Jacksonville long term.

The Jags have regularly unholstered their tag during the 2020s, cuffing Yannick Ngakoue in 2020 and then keeping Cam Robinson off the 2021 and ’22 markets. The team kept Evan Engram out of free agency last year. Robinson signed an extension in 2022, and the Jags re-upped Engram last July. The Ngakoue situation could be notable, as the edge rusher became disgruntled with the Jags and was eventually traded to the Vikings that summer. No signs of that level of trouble are brewing with Allen yet.

Jaylon Johnson, CB (Bears)
Projected tag cost: $18.76MM

Johnson is likely to become the first franchise-tagged cornerback since the Rams kept Trumaine Johnson off the 2017 market. The Bears are the most recent team to tag a corner, using the transition tag to cuff Kyle Fuller in 2018. They will almost definitely follow suit with Johnson, who has been rumored to be tagged for several weeks. A Ryan Pace-era draftee, Johnson expressed his desire to stay with the Bears ahead of his contract year. With that platform campaign producing some twists and turns, that price has gone up significantly.

After unsuccessful in-season extension talks, the Bears gave Johnson an 11th-hour opportunity to gauge his trade value. The Bears did not alert teams Johnson, 24, was available until the night before the Oct. 31 deadline. Although the Bills and 49ers engaged in talks about a trade, the Bears held out for a first- or second-round pick. Nothing materialized, which will likely come up during the team’s talks with Johnson. The Bears then extended trade pickup Montez Sweat, leaving Johnson in limbo. But the former second-round pick stuck the landing on an impact season. He is firmly in the Bears’ plans, and the team holds more than $66MM in cap space — plenty to squeeze in a tag onto the payroll.

Pro Football Focus’ top-graded corner in 2023, Johnson displayed a new gear that has made him worthy of a tag. Finishing with four interceptions and allowing just a 50.9 passer rating as the closest defender, the Utah alum soared to second-team All-Pro status. The Bears, who last used the tag on Allen Robinson in 2021, made no secret of their interest in retaining Johnson and will have a few more months to negotiate with him as a result of the tag.

Likely tag recipients

Brian Burns, OLB (Panthers)
Projected tag cost: $22.75MM

The Panthers hiring a new GM and head coach classifies this as just short of a lock, but familiar faces remain. Carolina promoted assistant general manager Dan Morgan to GM and blocked DC Ejiro Evero from departing. Burns has been viewed as a likely tag recipient since last season, after negotiations broke down. The Panthers have not offered a negotiating masterclass here, as Burns has been extension-eligible since the 2022 offseason. Since-fired GM Scott Fitterer had viewed Burns as a re-up candidate for two offseasons, but multiple rounds of trade talks boosted the 2019 first-rounder’s leverage.

In what looks like a mistake, the Panthers passed on a Rams offer that included two first-rounders and a third for Burns at the 2022 trade deadline. Carolina then kept Burns out of 2023 trade talks with Chicago about the No. 1 pick, ultimately sending D.J. Moore to the Windy City for the Bryce Young draft slot. Carolina also kept Burns at the 2023 deadline, as teams looked into the top pass rusher on the NFL’s worst team. Burns also saw his position’s market change via Nick Bosa‘s record-setting extension ($34MM per year). The 49ers’ landmark accord came to pass after Burns had set a $30MM-AAV price point, complicating Morgan’s upcoming assignment.

Burns, 25, has registered at least 7.5 sacks in each of his five seasons. While he has only topped nine in a season once (2022), the two-time Pro Bowler is one of the league’s better edge rushers. Given the Panthers’ history with Burns, it would be borderline shocking to see the team allow the Florida State alum to leave in exchange for merely a third-round compensatory pick.

Burns has said he wants to stay with the Panthers; he is unlikely to have a choice this year. The Panthers last used the tag to keep right tackle Taylor Moton off the market in 2021; the sides agreed to an extension that offseason.

Tee Higgins, WR (Bengals)
Projected tag cost: $20.67MM

Seeing their hopes of capitalizing on the final year of Higgins’ rookie contract dashed due to Joe Burrow‘s season-ending injury, the Bengals look to be giving strong consideration to keeping the Burrow-Higgins-Ja’Marr Chase trio together for one last ride of sorts. The Bengals hold $59.4MM in cap space — fifth-most currently — and structured Burrow’s extension in a way that makes a Higgins tag palatable. Burrow’s deal does not spike into historic cap territory until 2025.

While a future in which Chase and Higgins are signed long term is more difficult to foresee, the Bengals still carry one of the AFC’s best rosters. It is likely Burrow’s top two weapons remain in the fold for at least one more year. Higgins, 25, did not come close to posting a third straight 1,000-yard season. Burrow’s injury had plenty to do with that, though the former second-round pick started slowly. A Bengals 2023 extension offer underwhelmed Higgins, but the Bengals kept him out of trades. A tag will give Cincinnati the option to rent him for 2024. A tag-and-trade transaction is viewed as unlikely, as the Bengals load up again.

How the organization proceeds beyond 2024 will be a key storyline, but the Bengals — who kept Jessie Bates in similar fashion in 2022 — are positioned well to run back perhaps the NFL’s best receiving tandem. While director of player personnel Duke Tobin stopped short of guaranteeing Higgins will be a Bengal in 2024, signs point to it.

Justin Madubuike, DL (Ravens)
Projected tag cost: $20.94MM

Seeing their defensive coordinator depart and once again facing questions at outside linebacker, the Ravens have the option of keeping their top 2023 pass rusher off the market. They are probably going to take that route. Madubuike raised his price considerably during an impact contract year, leading the Ravens with 13 sacks. While Mike Macdonald was able to coax surprising seasons from late additions Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, Madubuike drove Baltimore’s defensive engine and will likely be guaranteed a high salary by signing his franchise tender.

Perennially interested in hoarding compensatory picks, the Ravens have regularly let breakthrough pass rushers walk in free agency. This dates back to the likes of Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee and subsequently included Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon. The Ravens have only been able to replace Judon with stopgap options — from Clowney to Van Noy to Justin Houston — and again must figure out a solution alongside Odafe Oweh on the edge. Madubuike, 26, proved too good to let walk; the former third-round pick will once again be expected to anchor Baltimore’s pass rush in 2024.

Antoine Winfield Jr., S (Buccaneers)
Projected tag cost: $16.22MM

We mentioned Winfield as the Bucs’ most likely tag recipient around the midseason point, and signs now point to that reality coming to pass. The Bucs want to re-sign Baker Mayfield and Mike Evans. The bounce-back quarterback’s tender price would check in at nearly $36MM, and because Evans was attached to a veteran contract, his tag number would come in well north of Higgins’ — at beyond $28MM. As such, the Bucs cuffing Winfield has always made the most sense, and after the second-generation NFL DB’s dominant contract year, it would be stunning to see the team let him walk.

The Bucs have let their recent top free agents test free agency, only to re-sign Shaquil Barrett (2021), Carlton Davis (2022) and Jamel Dean (2023). Winfield may be on a higher plane, having secured first-team All-Pro acclaim last season. Davis and Dean have never made a Pro Bowl; Winfield’s productive and well-regarded 2023 stands to separate him. Winfield, 25, tallied six sacks and three interceptions while forcing an NFL-leading six fumbles. This included a pivotal strip of DJ Chark in the Bucs’ Week 18 win over the Panthers, which clinched them the NFC South title.

Winfield will undoubtedly be eyeing a top-market safety extension. Derwin James established the current standard, $19MM per year, just before the 2022 season. Last year’s safety market did not feature big-ticket prices, for the most part, but the Falcons made Jessie Bates (four years, $64MM) an exception. If Winfield were to reach free agency, he would be expected to eclipse that.

The Bucs, who have used the tag three times in the 2020s, should not be considered likely to let Winfield follow Davis and Dean’s path by speaking with other teams. Tampa Bay has used the tag three times in the 2020s, cuffing Barrett in 2020 and tagging Chris Godwin twice. The team eventually re-signed both, and while the statuses of Mayfield and Evans (and All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs) create a crowded contract queue, the Bucs will certainly be interested in re-upping Winfield.

On tag radar

Saquon Barkley, RB (Giants)
Tag price: $12MM

Barkley has said he wants to finish his career with the Giants, and the team will meet with the Pro Bowl running back’s camp at the Combine. But a recent report indicated the team is highly unlikely to tag the six-year veteran a second time. The Giants should not be ruled out from reversing course and keeping Barkley, given his importance to an otherwise low-octane offense, but it appears they are prepared to move on if the talented RB does not accept their extension offer this time around. A host of talented backs await in free agency, though Barkley would likely be the top prize were he to reach the market.

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Patriots’ Matthew Slater Retires

Matthew Slater‘s NFL tenure has come to an end. The Patriots’ special teams ace announced on Tuesday that he has retired after 16 years with the franchise.

“In 2008, I came here as a young man with hopes and dreams,” his announcement reads in part. “In 2024, I can retire knowing this experience has exceeded any hope or dream I ever had.”

Slater played on one-year contracts in both 2022 and ’23, as the end of his career drew nearer. His final New England pact allowed him to carry on his familiar special teams capacity throughout the season. For the first time in his career, the former fifth-rounder did not see a single offensive snap. Slater was, however, on the field for a personal high 89% of the Patriots’ special teams snaps.

Throughout his run in New England, the UCLA product was one of the league’s best third phase players, something reflected in his accolades. With the exception of the 2018 campaign, Slater was named a Pro Bowler each year from 2011 to 2021. In that span, he also earned a pair of first-team All-Pro nods as well as three second-team honors.

Slater was a key member of New England’s coverage units throughout his career, although he also totaled 35 kick returns. He made 191 tackles across his Patriots tenure, adding another 22 stops in postseason play. The 38-year-old was a member of three Super Bowl-winning squads, another factor which will help his candidacy to join his father Jackie in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In all, Slater will hang up his cleats with 239 games under his belt; that figure ranks second in franchise history to Tom Brady. The former complied just over $30MM in career earnings while garnering a reputation as one of the league’s most highly-respected players. His attention will now turn to his post-playing days.

“I have given all that I possibly can to respect and honor the game,” Slater added. “Though it is time for my relationship with the game to evolve, the love I have for it will last a lifetime.”

AFC East Notes: Dolphins, Bills, Pioli

The dominoes continue to fall in NFL coaching circles and that’s certainly the case in the AFC East. The Dolphins made a trio of adjustments to their 2024 staff with two promotions and an external hire.

We learned about a week and a half ago that, after failing to land Miami’s defensive coordinator position, which went to Anthony Weaver, outside linebackers coach Ryan Slowik was set to remain on the team’s staff for next season in a different capacity. Thanks to Charean Williams of NBC Sports, we now know that Slowik’s new position will be as defensive backs coach and pass game specialist. Williams also informed us that assistant defensive backs coach Mathieu Araujo has earned a promotion, as well. Araujo will serve as cornerbacks coach in 2024.

Additionally, we learned today that University of Montana defensive coordinator Ronnie Bradford will be taking the role of senior special teams assistant with the Dolphins for next season, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Bradford has extensive history as an NFL special teams coach, even serving as special teams coordinator in Denver back in 2005, when both Slowik and head coach Mike McDaniel were low-level staffers for the Broncos.

Here are a few other staff updates from around the AFC East:

  • The Bills made a serious addition to their defensive staff with the recent hiring of Scott Booker as their new nickel coach and senior defensive assistant. Booker spent the last four years as safeties coach for the Titans, mentoring one of the league’s best in Kevin Byard. Thanks to ESPN’s Alaina Getzenberg, we also learned that last year’s midseason hire, DJ Mangas, has earned a promotion in Buffalo. After spending the back half of the season as an offensive assistant, he will serve as an offensive quality control coach in 2024. The former teammate and roommate of offensive coordinator Joe Brady joined the team after Brady’s interim promotion last year.
  • Lastly, we learned that the Patriots had finalized their coaching staff today, but changes are still expected in the front office. Now, we know that New England plans to take their time in making the decisions in the player personnel department, but we did throw out a few names to watch for. Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated believes that former Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli is another name that could be a factor. Pioli held the Patriots vice president of player personnel position for nine years back from 2002-08, essentially helping to set the stage for the team’s eventual dynasty.

Patriots Finalize Coaching Staff

With new head coach Jerod Mayo taking over after over two decades of Bill Belichick at the helm, the Patriots have solidified the entirety of their new coaching staff.

We already knew about the hires of offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, quarterbacks coach T.C. McCartney, running backs coach Taylor Embree, offensive line coach Scott Peters, and senior offensive assistant Ben McAdoo on the offensive side of the ball and defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins, and inside linebackers coach Dont’a Hightower, as well as the retention of cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino and safeties coach Brian Belichick., on the defensive side, but below is the update on the rest of next season’s staff.

We were aware that former Rams assistant special teams coach Jeremy Springer had been going through an interview process, interviewing twice for the special teams coordinator position, but now we know that he will be heading special teams going forward in New England, replacing Cameron Achord in that role. He will be backed up by new special teams assistant coach Tom Quinn and special teams assistant and quality control coach Coby Tippett, after former assistant Joe Houston departed for the University of Florida. Quinn, a former long-time coordinator for the Giants, more recently spent last year on the Titans’ staff. Tippett was a coaching assistant in New England’s 2023 training camp and spent last season coaching cornerbacks at Tufts University.

On the defensive side of the ball, a few familiar faces stuck around and a few more were hired or promoted. The only new names here were defensive coaching assistants and quality control coaches Vinny DePalma and Jamael Lett. DePalma just finished his sixth year of playing linebacker for the Eagles at Boston College. He makes an extremely quick jump from playing in college to his first coaching position in the NFL. Lett most recently spent 2023 as a special teams analyst at the University of North Carolina. He has a litany of experience at other schools like South Alabama, Akron, Samford, Ohio, and Tennessee-Martin, but this will be his first NFL opportunity, as well. Last year, V’Angelo Bentley and Keith Jones held similar roles on the defense as fellows, but neither seems to have been retained.

Most of the new faces here are on the offensive staff. First, with former tight ends coach Will Lawing taking the offensive coordinator job at Boston College, former Saints senior offensive assistant Bob Bicknell will take his place. Bicknell’s extensive experience coaching the wide receiver, offensive line, and tight end positions sets him up well for his new role, though he hasn’t coached tight ends since 2011. Joining Bicknell in coaching receiving targets will be new wide receivers coach Tyler Hughes and assistant wide receivers coach Tiquan Underwood.

Hughes returns to the Patriots after a year as an offensive quality control coach at the University of Washington. Before that he had spent three years as an offensive assistant with New England. Underwood’s first NFL job came as an offensive quality control coach for the Dolphins back in 2019. Since then, he’s been coaching receivers at Rutgers and Pitt. The two replace the last two coaches for the position, Ross Douglas, who will coach the same position at Syracuse, and Troy Brown, who was not retained on the new staff.

Now, we did know that Robert Kugler would be joining the staff in some capacity about ten days ago, but now we have confirmation that he will come into the assistant offensive line coach position, the same one he held with the Panthers last year. This seems to indicate that last year’s assistant offensive line coach, Billy Yates, has not been retained after essentially taking over the position last year. Lastly on offense, the team will add Michael McCarthy to the staff as an offensive coaching assistant and quality control coach. McCarthy used to be an NFL assistant coach with the Browns and Lions but has spent the last five years as offensive line coach at Brown.

Finally, with Mayo’s younger brother, Deron Mayo, being promoted to the head of strength and conditioning, meaning that the former head, Moses Cabrera, will not be returning, the Patriots have hired Brian McDonough to fill his place as assistant strength and conditioning coach. McDonough has been a consultant for the team for over 20 years, but he’ll now accept his first full-time role with New England.

There you have it: the Patriots 2024 coaching staff. The last few years of regression following Tom Brady‘s departure are now the last chapters of a previous book. It will be up to Mayo and company to write the first chapter of a new one in the 2024 NFL season.

OL James Ferentz Retires

James Ferentz saw action in one game with the Patriots during the 2023 campaigns. Rather than attempting to continue his playing career, he will turn his attention to his post-playing days. The veteran offensive lineman announced his retirement on Monday.

Ferentz joined the league as a Texans UDFA in 2014. He did not make his debut until one year later after joining the Broncos, and he made 14 appearances that season. He was an auxiliary member of Denver’s O-line as the team won the Super Bowl, marking an eventful start to Ferentz’s playing days at the NFL level.

The Iowa alum remained in the Mile High City for another campaign, though he again did not see any starts. That changed after he joined the Patriots, as he started a pair of games in 2019. Ferentz logged between 134 and 269 offensive snaps each season from 2019-22, seeing time at center as well as both guard positions.

The 34-year-old served as a de facto coach this past campaign (the final one of his contract) as a veteran member of New England’s offensive front. He has family ties to the coaching ranks since his father Kirk has been Iowa’s head coach since 1999. His brother Brian, meanwhile, has served on the Hawkeyes’ staff for over a decade after a stint on the Patriots’ sidelines. It will be interesting to see if James follows in their footsteps in his post-playing days.

“To the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots organizations, thank you for the combined ten years of my career,” Ferentz’s announcement reads in part. “Thank you Bill O’Brien, Gary Kubiak and Bill Belichick for giving me the opportunity to play pro football when no one else would… A special thank you to the towns of Foxboro and Norfolk, Massachusetts, where my family has luckily called home for the past seven years.”

Ferentz did not play in the regular season in 2019, but he did dress for one game in the Patriots’ Super Bowl run that year. He will thus exit the game as a two-time champion and a veteran of 63 total games between regular and postseason play. He amassed $5.76MM in career earnings.

Patriots To Release DL Lawrence Guy, S Adrian Phillips

Cost-cutting season is in full swing around the NFL. New England is letting go of defensive lineman Lawrence Guy and safety Adrian Phillips, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reports.

Guy had one year remaining on his contract, and none of his $2MM base salary was guaranteed. As a result, today’s move will produce $3MM in cap savings and a dead cap charge of just $500K. Phillips was likewise on an expiring deal with none of the $3MM he was owed in the form of guaranteed money. His release will also save $3MM against the cap in 2024 while incurring $1.18MM in dead money.

Amidst an exodus of other longtime members of the organization in recent years, Guy found himself the longest-tenured member of the franchise heading into the 2023 season. Talks on an extension took place during the summer, but no agreement was reached. The 33-year-old had been a full-time starter in his first six seasons in New England, but his playing time dipped to a Patriots tenure-low of 46% in 2023. Now, he will begin searching for a new opportunity.

Guy remained a steady contributor along the defensive front for the Patriots across his 110 games played with the franchise, recording between one and three sacks and between 46 and 61 tackles from 2017-22. His production took a step back this past season, but the Super Bowl LIII winner could generate a decent market in free agency on a short-term deal.

Phillips inked a $12.75MM extension in 2022, and he played every game over the past two seasons. After receiving eight starts in 2022, however, that figure fell to one this past campaign. The 31-year-old’s 12% defensive snap was the lowest of his career and a far cry from his previous workloads in his three Patriots campaigns. He shifted to a special teams mainstay, something which should help his financial floor on a new contract.

The safety spot could see further turnover in this offseason. Kyle Dugger is a pending free agent, as is versatile defensive back Jalen Mills (who logged over 100 snaps at each safety spot last season). Jabrill Peppers has one year remaining on his contract, so a long-term investment at the position should be expected either through free agency or the draft this offseason.

The Patriots entered today with $66MM in cap space, the fourth-highest figure in the league. These cost-shedding moves will add to that total as the team begins a critical offseason with new personnel in place in the front office and on the sidelines. Both Guy and Phillips, meanwhile, will join the list of veteran defenders available on the free agent market.

Assessing NFL’s OC Landscape

This offseason showed the turnover that can take place at the offensive coordinator position. As a result of several decisions in January and February, the NFL no longer has an OC who has been in his current role for more than two seasons. Various firings and defections now have the 2022 batch of hires stationed as the longest-tenured OCs.

One of the longest-tenured coordinators in NFL history, Pete Carmichael is no longer with the Saints. The team moved on after 15 seasons, a stay that featured part-time play-calling duties. The Browns canned their four-year non-play-calling OC, Alex Van Pelt, while three-year play-callers Arthur Smith and Shane Waldron are relocating this winter. Brian Callahan‘s five-year gig as the Bengals’ non-play-calling OC booked him a top job.

The recent lean toward offense-oriented HCs took a bit of a hit of a hit this offseason, with five of the eight jobs going to defense-oriented leaders. Callahan, Dave Canales and Jim Harbaugh were the only offense-geared candidates hired during this cycle. But half the NFL will go into this season with a new OC. Following the Seahawks’ decision to hire ex-Washington (and, briefly, Alabama) staffer Ryan Grubb, here is how the NFL’s OC landscape looks:

2022 OC hires

  • Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions*
  • Mike Kafka, New York Giants*
  • Wes Phillips, Minnesota Vikings
  • Frank Smith, Miami Dolphins
  • Adam Stenavich, Green Bay Packers
  • Press Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars*

Although this sextet now comprises the senior wing of offensive coordinators, this still marks each’s first gig as an NFL OC. Three of the six received HC interest this offseason.

Johnson’s status back in Detroit has been one of the offseason’s top storylines and a development the Commanders have not taken especially well. The two-year Lions OC was viewed as the frontrunner for the Washington job for weeks this offseason, and when team brass did not receive word about Johnson’s intent to stay in Detroit (thus, waiting until at least 2025 to make his long-expected HC move) until a Commanders contingent was en route to Detroit for a second interview, a back-and-forth about what exactly broke down took place. Johnson should be expected to remain a high-end HC candidate next year, but Dan Campbell will still have his services for 2024.

Kafka interviewed for the Seahawks’ HC job, and the Giants then blocked him from meeting with the NFC West team about its OC position. Rumblings about Kafka and Brian Daboll no longer being on great terms surfaced this year, with the latter yanking away play-calling duties — given to Kafka ahead of the 2022 season — at points in 2023. Taylor may also be on the hot seat with his team. Doug Pederson gave Taylor the call sheet last season, and Trevor Lawrence did not make the leap many expected. After a collapse left the Jaguars out of the playoffs, the team had begun to look into its offensive situation.

2023 OC hires

  • Jim Bob Cooter, Indianapolis Colts
  • Nathaniel Hackett, New York Jets*
  • Mike LaFleur, Los Angeles Rams
  • Joe Lombardi, Denver Broncos
  • Todd Monken, Baltimore Ravens*
  • Matt Nagy, Kansas City Chiefs
  • Drew Petzing, Arizona Cardinals*
  • Brian Schottenheimer, Dallas Cowboys
  • Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans*

Only nine of the 15 OCs hired in 2023 are still with their teams. One (Canales) moved up the ladder, while others were shown the door following that organization canning its head coach. The Eagles were the only team who hired an offensive coordinator last year to fire that staffer (Brian Johnson) after one season. Nick Sirianni fired both his coordinators following a wildly disappointing conclusion.

Hackett may also be drifting into deep water, given what transpired last year in New York. Rumblings of Robert Saleh — who is on the hottest seat among HCs — stripping some of his offensive play-caller’s responsibilities surfaced recently. This marks Hackett’s fourth chance to call plays in the NFL; the second-generation staffer did so for the Bills, Jaguars and Broncos prior to coming to New York. After the 2022 Broncos ranked last in scoring, the ’23 Jets ranked 31st in total offense. Hackett’s relationship with Aaron Rodgers has largely kept him in place, but 2024 may represent a last chance for the embattled coach.

Of this crop, Monken and Slowik were the only ones to receive HC interest. Neither emerged as a frontrunner for a position, though Slowik met with the Commanders twice. The Texans then gave their first-time play-caller a raise to stick around for C.J. Stroud‘s second season. Stroud’s remarkable progress figures to keep Slowik on the HC radar. Monken, who is in his third try as an NFL OC (after gigs in Tampa and Cleveland), just helped Lamar Jackson to his second MVP award. The former national championship-winning OC did not stick the landing — as Jackson struggled against the Chiefs — but he fared well on the whole last season.

Schottenheimer is on his fourth go-round as an OC, while Lombardi is on team No. 3. The latter’s job figures to be more secure, being tied to Sean Payton, compared to what is transpiring in Dallas. With the Cowboys having Mike McCarthy as the rare lame-duck HC, his coordinators probably should not get too comfortable.

2024 OC hires

  • Joe Brady, Buffalo Bills*
  • Liam Coen, Tampa Bay Buccaneers*
  • Ken Dorsey, Cleveland Browns
  • Luke Getsy, Las Vegas Raiders*
  • Ryan Grubb, Seattle Seahawks*
  • Nick Holz, Tennessee Titans
  • Kliff Kingsbury, Washington Commanders*
  • Klint Kubiak, New Orleans Saints*
  • Brad Idzik, Carolina Panthers
  • Kellen Moore, Philadelphia Eagles*
  • Dan Pitcher, Cincinnati Bengals
  • Zac Robinson, Atlanta Falcons*
  • Greg Roman, Los Angeles Chargers*
  • Arthur Smith, Pittsburgh Steelers*
  • Alex Van Pelt, New England Patriots*
  • Shane Waldron, Chicago Bears*

The 49ers do not employ a traditional OC; 16 of the 31 teams that do recently made a change. Most of the teams to add OCs this year, however, did so without employing play-calling coaches. This naturally raises the stakes for this year’s batch of hires.

Retreads became rather popular. Dorsey, Getsy, Moore, Van Pelt and Waldron were all OCs elsewhere (Buffalo, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Seattle) last season. Smith will shift from calling the Falcons’ plays to running the show for the Steelers. Dorsey, Getsy and Van Pelt were fired; Moore and Waldron moved on after the Chargers and Seahawks respectively changed HCs. Moore and Smith will be calling plays for a third team; for Moore, this is three OC jobs in three years.

Coen, Kingsbury and Roman are back after a year away. Kingsbury became a popular name on the OC carousel, having coached Caleb Williams last season. This will be his second crack at an NFL play-calling gig, having been the Cardinals’ conductor throughout his HC tenure. This will be Coen’s first shot at calling plays in the pros; he was Sean McVay‘s non-play-calling assistant in 2022. Likely to become the Chargers’ play-caller, Roman will have a rare fourth chance to call plays in the NFL. He held that responsibility under Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco; following Harbaugh’s explosive 2015 49ers split, Roman moved to Buffalo and Baltimore to work under non-offense-oriented leaders.

Grubb, Holz, Idzik, Pitcher and Robinson represent this year’s first-timer contingent. Grubb has, however, called plays at the college level. Robinson is the latest McVay staffer to move into a play-calling post; he was a Rams assistant for five years. A host of teams had Robinson on their OC radar, but Raheem Morris brought his former L.A. coworker to Atlanta. Pitcher appeared in a few searches as well, but the Bengals made the expected move — after extending him last year — to give him Callahan’s old job.

* = denotes play-calling coordinator

Patriots Gave Bill O’Brien Chance To Stay; Latest On Team’s Coaching Staff

Bill O’Brien‘s second stint with the Patriots ended after one season. The Pats’ 2023 offensive coordinator has since committed to both Ohio State and Boston College, becoming the ACC program’s head coach after initially pledging to be the Buckeyes’ OC.

With O’Brien set to replace Jeff Hafley as Boston College’s HC, he not do so after being booted from the Patriots. The veteran coach said he was given an opportunity to stay on under Jerod Mayo. A number of Bill Belichick assistants are still in place, including Brian Belichick, but O’Brien is now back in the college ranks.

[RELATED: Patriots Promote DeMarcus Covington To DC]

I definitely had an opportunity to stay,” O’Brien said (via WEEI.com’s Mike Kadlick). “I thought it was really important for coach Mayo to hire his own staff. I came and worked for Bill Belichick, and I think it’s really important for Jerod to be able to hire his own staff. The Krafts were great about that, and I really appreciate that. And Ryan Day was awesome about offering me a job, so that’s why I made that decision.”

Robert Kraft played a key role in bringing O’Brien back to Foxborough. A rumor pegged Belichick as remaining interested in keeping Matt Patricia on as the Patriots’ de facto OC. But O’Brien — the Pats’ OC in 2011, closing out a multiyear play-calling stint with the team — brought extensive experience on the offensive side. This led Patricia to Philadelphia. O’Brien committed to Ohio State on Jan. 18. The Packers hired Hafley on Jan. 31. Days later, O’Brien agreed to come back to Boston.

A January report indicated the Pats were not planning to run it back with O’Brien as OC; he would have needed to vie for the job as part of a search. O’Brien took his name out of consideration early. After a thorough search, the Patriots ended up with ex-Browns OC Alex Van Pelt, who has one season of play-calling experience. But Van Pelt represents a new voice in a building still filled with Belichick assistants.

Mayo having only worked for the Patriots led to some concerns about his ability to fill out a staff, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe notes. This helps explain why Eliot Wolf, who is believed to be the team’s new front office boss, was involved in coaching searches and why a few ex-Packers assistants are part of Mayo’s first staff. Wolf was a regular presence in coaching interviews during this hiring period. He and Van Pelt overlapped as Packers staffers from 2012-17.

Ben McAdoo is another ex-Packers assistant who is now with the Patriots. The former Giants HC and Van Pelt worked together in Green Bay from 2012-13, a stay that ended with McAdoo as QBs coach and Van Pelt as running backs coach. After the Giants hired McAdoo as their OC in 2014, Van Pelt — a longtime NFL backup QB — shifted over to become Aaron Rodgers‘ position coach. While McAdoo will now work for Van Pelt, Volin adds he hold the title of senior offensive assistant in New England.

Additionally, the Patriots will split up their linebacking coach role. Dont’a Hightower will coach the team’s outside ‘backers, per Volin. Drew Wilkins is overseeing the ILBs. This will allow Hightower a smoother path into the coaching ranks. The standout Patriot has not held a full-time coaching job previously.

The Pats are also hiring Taylor Embree as their running backs coach, according to the Boston Herald’s Doug Kyed. Embree, 35, spent the past three years coaching the Jets’ running backs. The team dismissed the former Mike LaFleur hire earlier this offseason. The son of Dolphins TEs coach/ex-Colorado HC Jon Embree, Taylor had been a lower-level staffer under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. The Jets gig marked the 35-year-old assistant’s first position coach role in the NFL.

Patriots tight ends coach Will Lawing is on track to follow O’Brien to Boston College, ESPN.com’s Pete Thamel tweets. This is not exactly surprising, as Lawing has worked with O’Brien for more than 10 years. Lawing followed O’Brien to Penn State, the Texans, Alabama and then the Patriots.