This coaching carousel’s music has stopped with Bill Belichick and Mike Vrabel on the outside looking in. While Vrabel’s prospects of returning to the league figure to remain strong, Belichick’s age — and the developments during this year’s hiring period — inject uncertainty into his prospects of landing another NFL HC job.
No coach in Belichick’s age range has landed a job, with Bruce Arians (66) being the oldest HC hire. Belichick’s age (72 in April) was naturally a factor for the Falcons, who interviewed him twice. But a degree of territory protecting appears to have transpired as well.
Arthur Blank indeed wanted to hire Belichick this year, SI.com’s Albert Breer notes, adding that some around the longtime Falcons owner swayed him. Belichick loomed as the early favorite, but after the team expanded its search (including Vrabel and Jim Harbaugh) following his second interview, it signaled a different candidate would be hired. The Falcons hired Raheem Morris, whom ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter notes has a five-year contract.
Morris remained popular with Falcons players, though the bulk of the cogs from his season as interim coach are gone. Had Belichick been hired by the Falcons, CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones notes an organizational “groundshake” — on both the football and business sides — would have taken place. Staffers being concerned about losing their jobs or seeing their roles change dramatically is understandable, and this appears to be a key part of why Belichick is not currently assembling a staff in Atlanta.
Blank and Falcons CEO Rich McKay ran the team’s coaching search, with a team announcement indicating GM Terry Fontenot would provide input. This would suggest a vulnerability regarding the fourth-year GM’s status, but McKay assured following the Arthur Smith firing that was not the case. The Morris hire effectively keeps Fontenot in good standing, and although the Falcons have said the GM will now report to ownership — with McKay being kicked to the business side — The Athletic’s Jeff Howe indicates the latter does not have a good relationship with Belichick (subscription required).
A Belichick arrival would have undoubtedly meant a reduced Fontenot and potentially affected McKay’s, though given the latter’s 21-year tenure with the Falcons, Blank should not have been expected to dismiss his former GM to appease Belichick. Blank remains loyal to McKay, per Yahoo.com’s Charles Robinson, who adds McKay’s longstanding relationship with Morris — whom he hired as a quality control assistant in Tampa during his run as Buccaneers GM — played a role in the Rams DC being hired.
Although a coach with Belichick’s credentials being shut out during this year’s cycle points to front office staffers being concerned about job security, it is also believed certain demands from the six-time Super Bowl-winning HC were set to ensue. Belichick and Blank are not believed to have discussed who would hold final say on personnel matters, but Robinson adds the coaching icon believed had he taken the job the Atlanta football ops would need to run through him. Shortly before the Belichick-Patriots separation, the 24-year New England HC expressed a willingness to relinquish some authority to stay. It does not appear that entailed a true commitment to change.
Had Robert Kraft believed Belichick would have been more open to changes — from his front office to philosophy to roster construction — Howe adds the owner would have been more inclined to keep him onboard for the 2024 season. Belichick’s Patriots contract ran through 2024, but Kraft followed through with a long-rumored plan to move on. The contract he authorized for Jerod Mayo in 2023 led to the assistant being quickly promoted.
The post-Tom Brady years in New England have also played an obvious role in Belichick’s extended status as a coaching free agent. Belichick’s handling of his quarterback position following Brady’s 2020 exit has also impacted teams’ view of him, Howe adds, with Mac Jones‘ swoon serving as the crux of this concern. Belichick crafted a bizarre plan to shift Matt Patricia to the offensive side, where he called plays in 2022.
This season brought a significant downturn for Jones, who finished behind only Ja’Marr Chase in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. Jones’ regression continued, under a third OC in three years (Bill O’Brien), and his NFL future is suddenly cloudy. Belichick demoted Jones to his third-string quarterback in Week 18, with ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss indicating poor scout-team work leading up to that contest prompted the departing HC to make that move. This marked the final chapter in a steadily deteriorating relationship between Belichick and the passer he chose 15th overall three years ago.
Belichick’s comments regarding Jones — before his 2023 freefall — have also confused some execs around the league, Howe adds. Had Belichick kept his Patriots job, ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano offers that he would have been expected to target a veteran quarterback this offseason. Belichick’s only Patriot-years season with a veteran option featured Cam Newton in 2020; the diminished MVP became a one-and-done in New England. Newton’s limitations in 2020 led to the Jones investment. It will now be on Mayo, and however the Patriots go about restructuring their front office, to solve this latest QB problem.
Belichick the coach continued to churn out stingy defenses, even without key pieces this season, but his GM work left the Patriots with one of the NFL’s worst rosters. Belichick’s personnel acumen previously equipped the Brady-led teams with a number of undervalued gems, aiding the Super Bowl runs. But the near-50-year NFL staffer’s standing has undeniably fallen. Only the Falcons and Commanders are believed to have spoken with Belichick about their HC jobs.
The Eagles and Cowboys, however, may be teams to monitor for the 2025 cycle — one that could conceivably be Belichick’s last chance to land another HC job. Both teams considered Belichick last month, but each NFC East power retained its embattled coach.
The Eagles retained Nick Sirianni, but had the Super Bowl HC not agreed to certain demands regarding his coordinators, the Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard indicated during an appearance on 98.5’s Felger and Mazz (h/t Bleacher Report) a Belichick-to-Philly path is believed to have been viable for 2024. The Eagles likely joined the Falcons in making backchannel contact pertaining to a potential Belichick pursuit, Bedard notes. Unlike Doug Pederson in 2021, Sirianni did fire coordinators. It is safe to place Sirianni, his 3-for-3 rate at leading the Eagles to the playoffs, on a hot seat.
Bedard noted the Eagles were “very interested” in Belichick, pointing to this connection remaining a storyline should Sirianni struggle to reassert himself this season. The Eagles would almost definitely not hand final personnel say to Belichick, given Howie Roseman‘s track record (the 2015 Chip Kelly-driven demotion notwithstanding). That would make this fit interesting, but were Belichick to spend his first season away from the NFL since 1974, it stands to reason he would go into the 2025 hiring period with reduced requests regarding the personnel side.
Jerry Jones also made headlines by saying he could work with Belichick, saying (via Yahoo’s Jori Epstein) there is “no doubt” he could coexist with the towering sideline presence. Jones openly saying he’d be fine with another (more accomplished) coach than is own is telling, but Mike McCarthy remains in place for a fifth season. The Cowboys are not extending McCarthy’s contract, making him the rare lame-duck HC in the modern NFL. This will naturally keep Belichick on the Dallas radar. How Belichick would navigate a setup in which ownership runs the personnel would be interesting, though Jones did cede more power to Belichick mentor Bill Parcells during the latter’s four-year stay in the 2000s.
As for this season, Jonathan Jones points to Belichick taking a TV job as the most likely 2024 path. The 29-year HC veteran was planning to be selective about a third HC destination, with Jones adding the goal will remain for personnel power to be involved in a 2025 pursuit. The clock is ticking on that front, with only four coaches in NFL history coaching a game beyond age 71.
Although Belichick’s football knowledge will obviously far surpass anyone he attempts to work with moving forward, the Patriots’ post-Brady years — along with potential consequences for in-house staffers on HC-needy teams — have him in the penalty box for now. With no retirement plans, Belichick’s potential re-emergence in 2025 will be a major NFL storyline over the next several months.