Last night’s preseason opener represented the next significant opportunity for observers to assess the Patriots’ approach with respect to their offensive play-calling. Over the course of the game, both Matt Patricia and Joe Judge operated as de-facto offensive coordinators, keeping the matter as unclear as it has been throughout the offseason.
That development comes after the team officially unveiled the titles for their coaching staff last month, including offensive assistant/quarterbacks for Judge and senior football advisor/offensive line for Patricia. While each staffer is coming off of a recent (and underwhelming) head coaching gig elsewhere, they have years of experience working on the sidelines under head coach Bill Belichick. Neither of them have offensive play-calling on their resumes, however.
When asked after the game about the decision to split the duties, Belichick said, via PFT’s Mike Florio, “We did a lot of things in this game that are going to be beneficial in the long run, whether it was on the coaching staff, playing time, players that played and so forth. That’s all part of the process.”
With the Patriots electing not to employ an official OC – something they also did in 2010 – the question of who will call plays in the regular season has been an ongoing one through the spring and summer. Patricia was initially considered the favorite for the role, but with both he and Judge being auditioned yesterday, it appears the final decision has yet to be made.
On that topic, Belichick added, “don’t worry about that. We’ll work it out… We’re going through a process.” The outcome of that process will be one worth watching as the preseason continues.
When the Patriots chose N’Keal Harry during the 2019 draft, it was the first time the organization had selected a first-round WR during Bill Belichick‘s reign. Fast forward three years, and the Patriots pawned off Harry for a seventh-round selection.
Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus recently explored Harry’s struggles in New England and what ultimately led to his trade to the Bears. This naturally led to another (and persistent) story of Belichick’s inability to find production from his receiver draft picks. Since Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots have used 19 draft picks on the position. As Kyed notes, only three of those players (Deion Branch, David Givens, and Julian Edelman) started more than 20 games in the NFL. About half of those picks were selected in the fourth round or earlier, and many (like Harry) struggled to ever carve out a role in New England’s offense.
As sources told Kyed, part of this is on the Patriots’ strict offense and their unwillingness to tolerate rookie mistakes:
“Just picking up the system that has been in place for 20 years and the type of routes and adjustments. Sometimes they just need to get the best damn players the ball and not be cute.”
“It borders on impossibility for a guy fresh out of college.”
“New England is a tough place for young players, not just because of the terminology, but it’s because if you mess up, you’re out. They’ll pull you out of the game.”
Now, Harry’s inability to stick in New England can’t be entirely put on the organization; sources also attributed Harry’s failures to a lack of maturity, work ethic, and commitment. Still, looking at Belichick’s list of WR draft picks is a bit damning:
Branch and Edelman were both Super Bowl MVPs. Givens was one of Tom Brady‘s preferred targets for a bit, and Matthew Slater eventually became a ST ace. Otherwise, the team’s best picks at the position are probably Braxton Berrios and Brandon Tate, who both experienced NFL success outside of New England, and/or Malcolm Mitchell and Aaron Dobson, who combined for 1,099 career receiving yards.
Of course, even outside of Belichick’s Super Bowl rings, it’s hard to be too critical. While you could attribute much of the Patriots’ offensive success to Brady, it was still Belichick who brought in a revolving door of receivers via trade (highlighted by Randy Moss and Wes Welker) and free agency (including the likes of Danny Amendola and Brandon Lloyd). He also hit on his tight ends (led by Rob Gronkowski) and pass-catching backs (led by James White). Belichick even got some production from UDFAs, most recently Jakobi Meyers. Sure, he burned plenty of draft picks at the position, but it wasn’t like he completely compromised Brady’s receiving corps.
Brady and offensive coordinator JoshMcDaniels are now out of the picture. It will be intersting to see how a young receiver like second-round rookie Tyquan Thornton will fare alongside quarterback Mac Jones and a revamped offensive coaching staff guided by former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and former special teams coordinator JoeJudge. As Kyed notes, Belichick has mentioned a desire to “streamline” the offense heading into the 2022 campaign, and that potential change in mentality could have an impact on young receivers going forward.
Wednesday, we took a look at how the 2022 offseason changed the HC landscape. While 10 new sideline leaders are in place for 2022, not quite as much turnover transpired on the general manager front. Five new decision-makers, however, have moved to the top of teams’ front office hierarchies over the past six months.
The Bears, Giants, Raiders and Vikings rebooted their entire operations, hiring new HC-GM combos. The Minnesota move bumped out one of the previous top-10 longest-tenured GMs, with 16-year Vikings exec Rick Spielman no longer in power in the Twin Cities. The Steelers’ shakeup took the NFL’s longest-tenured pure GM out of the mix. Kevin Colbert was with the Steelers since 2000, and although he is still expected to remain with the team in a reduced capacity, the 22-year decision-maker stepped down shortly after Ben Roethlisberger wrapped his career.
Twelve teams have now hired a new GM in the past two offseasons, though a bit more staying power exists here compared to the HC ranks. Two GMs (the Cardinals’ Steve Keim and Chargers’ Tom Telesco) have begun their 10th years at the helms of their respective front offices. They have hired three HCs apiece. The Buccaneers’ Jason Licht is closing in on a decade in power in Tampa Bay; Licht will now work with his fourth HC in Todd Bowles. Beyond that, a bit of a gap exists. But a handful of other executives have been in power for at least five seasons.
Here is how long every GM or de facto GM has been in place with his respective franchise:
Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys): April 18, 1989
Mike Brown (Cincinnati Bengals): August 5, 1991
Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000
The NFL experienced a busy offseason on the coaching front. A whopping 10 teams changed coaches during the 2022 offseason, with the Buccaneers’ late-March switch pushing the number into double digits.
Fourteen of the league’s 32 head coaches were hired in the past two offseasons, illustrating the increased pressure the NFL’s sideline leaders face in today’s game. Two of the coaches replaced this year left on their own. Sean Payton vacated his spot in second on the longest-tenured HCs list by stepping down from his 16-year Saints post in February, while Bruce Arians has repeatedly insisted his Bucs exit was about giving his defensive coordinator a chance with a strong roster and not a Tom Brady post-retirement power play.
While Bill Belichick has been the league’s longest-tenured HC for many years, Payton’s exit moved Mike Tomlin up to No. 2. Mike Zimmer‘s firing after nine seasons moved Frank Reich into the top 10. Reich’s HC opportunity only came about because Josh McDaniels spurned the Colts in 2018, but Indianapolis’ backup plan has led the team to two playoff brackets and has signed an extension. Reich’s seat is hotter in 2022, however, after a January collapse. Linked to numerous HC jobs over the past several offseasons, McDaniels finally took another swing after his Broncos tenure ended quickly.
As 2022’s training camps approach, here are the NFL’s longest-tenured HCs:
Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000
About a week and a half ago, we wrote the latest on this situation with some fairly surprising names like head coach Bill Belichick, former special teams coordinator Joe Judge, and former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia being considered for the open offensive play-calling duties left vacant when former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels took the head coaching position in Las Vegas. Jeff Howe of The Athletic was able to provide a bit of an update today that shows things are trending in an unlikely direction.
To recap, since leaving New England to be head coach of the Lions, Patricia has since returned in the role of senior football advisor. All the way back in 2004 and 2005, Patricia was on the offensive side of the ball working with the Patriots’ offensive line. It’s been presumed that he will be, once again, working with the big men on offense this season.
Judge, since leaving to be head coach of the Giants, has also returned, now in the role of offensive assistant. Despite working primarily with special teams during his tenure in New England, he did add wide receivers to his docket in his final year before going to New York. Those in league circles believe that this year he will be working directly with Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, and the other quarterbacks.
Now, Belichick has never officially held play-calling duties. While it’s generally accepted that he’s always had an influence on the Patriots’ offense, McDaniels was always granted free rein to call plays. To his credit, though, in Belichick’s first head coaching job in Cleveland, he was heavily credited for his role in the offensive play-calling, though he claimed it was a group effort.
Howe’s update tells that things are still a bit up in the air but that they’re starting to fall into place. While the three have still been sharing the duties during OTAs, there has been some speculation that, due to Patricia handling run-based sessions and Judge taking charge of pass-based sessions, they may end up with the roles of run-game coordinator and pass-game coordinator, respectively.
For now, though, while no decision has been made, both Patricia and Judge are preparing as if they’ll be given the assignment. Early reports are indicating that “Patricia’s workload this spring has suggested he’s the early favorite to handle” play-calling duties.
Another nugget from Howe’s update suggests that McDaniels’ departure has led to the revamping of an offensive system that’s been notoriously difficult for free agents and rookies to learn. McDaniels was the offensive coordinator for the past 10 years in New England and for three more years in an interval before that. The familiarity and memorization involved with that level of continuity can make things difficult for newcomers from the outside. So the trio of play-calling candidates have been working, not necessarily to change the system, but to simplify the terminology to help ease the learning process.
With former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels departing to take the head coaching gig in Las Vegas, the Patriots will be faced with the task of finding a new play-caller on offense. Well, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN, since the role has not yet been filled, it appears that head coach Bill Belichick, offensive assistant Joe Judge, and former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patriciaare all currently sharing the duties of the role.
That list of names may be bit surprising. Patricia is currently on staff as a senior football advisor, after a rough tenure in his first head coaching job in Detroit. While Patricia is know for his time in New England as a defensive coach, he began with the Patriots as an offensive assistant and, subsequently, assistant offensive line coach. Many believe that, in his return, he will work mainly with the team’s offensive line, once again.
Judge is another branch of the Belichick-coaching tree that has returned after a less-than-stellar stint as the Giants’ head coach. Judge worked with the Patriots’ special teams unit during his first tenure with the team, adding wide receivers to his docket in his final year before going to New York. Listed on the Patriots’ website as an offensive assistant, it’s presumed that Judge will be working directly with Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, and the other quarterbacks.
Finally, the Hoody, himself. Belichick has never officially held play-calling duties. While it’s generally accepted that he’s always had an influence on the Patriots’ offense, McDaniels was always granted free-reign to call plays. Belichick hasn’t even coached with a focus solely on offense since he was the Lions’ receivers coach back in 1977. Besides that role in Detroit, as an assistant, Belichick has always coached defense and special teams. To his credit, though, in Belichick’s first head coaching job in Cleveland, he was heavily credited for his role in the offensive play-calling, though he claimed it was a group effort.
Besides the three named in Reiss’s article, tight ends/fullbacks coach Nick Caley is expected to take on increased responsibility. Troy Brown is in place to coach the wide receivers and kick returners. Ivan Fears and Vinnie Sunseri both share the oversight of the running backs. And Billy Yates holds the position of assistant offensive line coach.
This whole article may end up being a moot point if Belichick and company bring in an offensive coordinator ready to utilize the Patriots’ existing system and call plays in it. For now, though, the role is seemingly vacant, with Belichick taking a village approach to handle the duties.
The first round of the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft has been billed as one of the most unpredictable in recent memory. There is plenty of top talent that will anticipate hearing their names called from picks 1-15 or so, but NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport believes that, past that, first-round picks will be used on players that some teams have third-round grades on, and, ultimately, some players with first-round talent may fall to the third round. This is part of a common analysis that the Draft lacks the top-end talent of most drafts but is much deeper than most with the strength of this Draft being in picks 30-90.
Beyond the regular challenge of guessing who a team might pick or where a player might fall, there is the near certainty that every mock draft on the internet will go down the drain when a team ultimately makes a draft-day trade. When discussing what might go down this Thursday with the Patriots, ESPN’s Mike Reiss is riding the odds.
Since head coach Bill Belichick joined New England in 2000, the Patriots lead the NFL in draft-day trades with 83. The next closest team is the Eagles with 64. Reiss believes that Belichick will stay true to form and strongly attempt to trade down later into the first round, allowing the Patriots to collect more draft capital in that deeper part of the Draft.
Here are a few other rumors concerning how teams in the AFC will be approaching the Draft:
In accordance with the opinions above, Michael David Smith of NBC Sports reported that Chiefs general manager Brett Veach told the media they have 16-18 players on the board with first-round grades. The good news: the Chiefs have two first-round picks. The bad news: those picks are 29th and 30th overall. Veach doesn’t love their chances of having one of those guys fall to them at the end of the first round. The Chiefs could either combine those picks together to try and trade up and nab one of the guys on their board or, more likely, Kansas City will trade down, exchanging those picks for others in the 30-60 range that Veach likes, adding to their current picks at 50th and 62nd.
When the Broncos acquired quarterback Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks, they surrendered their two earliest picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Without those picks, they won’t have an opportunity to draft anybody until the last pick of the second round, which they acquired from the Rams in exchange for outside linebacker Von Miller. General manager George Paton says that if they suffer from the fear of missing out, they’ll just “watch Russell Wilson highlights.” Since the Wilson-trade took their first two picks of the 2023 NFL Draft, as well, ESPN’s Jeff Legwold reports that Paton will certainly be open to fielding trade calls in order to potentially get Denver some more draft picks for next year.
With JoshMcDaniels leaving New England for Las Vegas, the Patriots have a giant hole on their offensive coaching staff. In traditional BillBelichick fashion, it sounds like the organization may be going with an unconventional route when it comes to McDaniels’ replacement(s). While Belichick hasn’t named an official offensive coordinator, the long-time head coach specifically singled out former defensive coordinator MattPatricia and former special teams coach JoeJudge “as those whom he will be relying upon to help replace McDaniels,” per ESPN’s Mike Reiss.
“We’ve had a lot of coaches take multiple responsibilities. I’m not really worried about that,” Belichick said today when asked about the lack of offensive experience for Patricia and Judge. “I think a good coach is a good coach. Matt is a great coach. Joe is a great coach. They’ll help us no matter what position they coach.”
Patricia had a brief stint as offensive line coach with the Patriots in 2005, but he moved to linebackers in 2006 and ended up staying on defense until getting a head coaching gig in Detroit. Similarly, Judge served primarily on special teams during his first seven years with the Patriots, but he took on the role of wide receivers coach in 2019 before leaving to coach the Giants.
When it comes to a lack of offensive coordinator, the Patriots took a similar route with their defense in 2021, with both JerodMayo and SteveBelichick guiding that side of the ball (as Reiss notes, Belichick said today “that he doesn’t believe in titles”). The HC noted that all of Patricia, Judge, tight ends coach NickCaley, and receivers coach Troy Brown will play significant roles in guiding second-year QB Mac Jones and the Patriots offense. However, Belichick was tight lipped when asked who will call plays.
“We won’t be calling any for a while,” Belichick said. “[McDaniels will] be hard to replace, but I feel like we have really good coaches on our staff. … Everybody will have a defined role, like they always do. The offseason is the offseason and once we get on the field coaching players, game-planning and things that, it will all work itself out.”
The Patriots have undergone plenty of change on the sidelines and in the front office recently. In trying to reshape the coaching staff, in particular on the offensive side of the ball, there seems to be a growing chance of Matt Patricia becoming more involved.
The 47-year-old only spent his first two seasons (2004 and 2005) with the Patriots as a member of the offensive staff, and in a minor capacity at that. He is, of course, best known for his six years as the team’s defensive coordinator, which ultimately landed him his first head coaching job in Detroit. That certainly didn’t go according to plan, as the Lions finished last in the NFC North in his two full seasons, and he was fired in November 2020.
Still, Patricia is a trusted lieutenant of Bill Belichick, just like Joe Judge. It was announced last week that the latter is being brought back into the fold, also on the offensive staff. As Reiss notes, however, Judge’s only experience on that side of the ball came during one year as the Patriots’ wide receivers coach in 2019 before his similarly ill-fated stint as head coach of the Giants. Not surprisingly, given their inexperience, neither he nor Patricia have called plays on offense at the NFL level.
After losing not only longtime OC Josh McDaniels to the Raiders, but also a host of valued assistants on the offensive staff, many feel Patricia and Judge could help ease the transition to a new power structure on the sidelines. While Reiss stresses it surely isn’t the primary motivation, he also notes how both of them are still being paid by their former teams after initially signing five-year deals, which reduces the cost of their services for the Patriots.
Whatever changes New England makes, it could of course have a domino effect throughout the staff. As PFF’s Doug Kyed tweets, either Patricia or Belichick himself taking on a workload on offense would likely shift more defensive responsibility to position coaches Steve Belichick or Jerod Mayo. In any event, Reiss writes, Patricia shifting from a quasi-front office role back to purely coaching is a “scenario that bears watching”.
Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three teams — the Dolphins, Giants and Broncos — on Tuesday, alleging racial discrimination, Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN.com reports. The Dolphins’ decision to fire him after three seasons, along with the Giants and Broncos choosing other candidates in 2022 and 2019, respectively, are at the root of this suit, which he filed in New York.
The Dolphins stunned most by firing Flores after back-to-back winning seasons, but the 2019 season — one in which the team was connected to tanking for the 2020 No. 1 overall pick — comes up frequently in Flores’ suit. The since-fired HC alleges Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him an additional $100K for each loss that season and that GM Chris Grier informed Flores that Ross was mad when the team’s wins down the stretch that season compromised its 2020 draft position. The Ross allegations are particularly explosive, and the Dolphins owner came up in another part of this lawsuit as well.
Miami likely fielded the NFL’s worst roster in 2019, having gutted it at the start of a rebuild, but Flores went 5-11 to push the team’s 2020 draft slot down to No. 5. The Dolphins were connected to Tua Tagovailoa for over a year, but they had changed course and wanted Joe Burrow after his record-setting Heisman campaign. Instead, the Bengals landed the LSU superstar and rebuffed the Dolphins’ attempt to trade up from No. 5.
Flores also alleged Ross wanted Flores to recruit a “prominent quarterback” at the end of the 2019 season — before free agency, which would have violated the NFL’s tampering rules. This, per Flores, included a meeting on a yacht before the legal tampering period. When Flores refused to go through with this meeting, he claims he was met with “treated with disdain and held out as someone who was noncompliant and difficult to work with.” The Dolphins cited collaboration issues as part of the reason they fired Flores last month.
The unnamed quarterback is believed to be Tom Brady, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (video link). The Dolphins were linked to Brady, whom Flores spent over a decade with in New England, but were not believed to be among the finalists for the future Hall of Fame passer by the time the tampering period began.
The Giants hired Brian Daboll over Flores, who called his interview process with the team “a sham” meant to comply with the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which mandates teams interview two minority candidates for HC positions. Flores, who spoke with the Giants before they hired GM Joe Schoen and later interviewed with Schoen and Co. in person, cites Bill Belichick texts about his pursuit of the job in his suit. In the messages, Belichick claimed that he had “Buffalo and NYG that you are their guy.” Flores’ former boss later texted his apologies for misunderstanding the situation. The suit claims Flores’ in-person meeting with the Giants came after they had already decided to hire Daboll, via the New York Post.
Flores also alleges members of the Broncos’ interview contingent, including former GM John Elway, arrived for his 2019 HC interview an hour late and hungover. The Broncos ended up hiring Vic Fangio to replace Vance Joseph that year, leading Flores to Miami. Calling Flores’ account “blatantly false,” the Broncos detailed their 2019 interview process with Flores (via the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala, on Twitter). The Dolphins and Giants have also rejected Flores’ claims.
Flores conducted a second interview with the Texans on Monday, and the Saints did go through with their interview Tuesday at the Senior Bowl, ESPN.com’s Mike Triplett tweets. This lawsuit certainly complicates Flores’ chances of landing a job this year. His suit against the NFL aims, among other matters, for the league to increase the number of Black coordinators, incentivize the hiring and retention of Black GMs, HCs and coordinators and provide transparency of the salaries attached to GMs, HCs and coordinators.
“God has gifted me with a special talent to coach the game of football, but the need for change is bigger than my personal goals,” Flores said. “In making the decision to file the class action complaint today, I understand that I may be risking coaching the game that I love and that has done so much for my family and me. My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come.”
The NFL called Flores’ claims meritless in a swiftly released statement. The league changed its Rooney Rule multiple times during Flores’ Miami tenure but currently features just one team employing a Black head coach. Two others — Washington and the Jets — employ minority HCs.
“The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations,” the NFL said in a statement, via Rapoport (on Twitter). “Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time. We will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”