February 6, 2023

La Ronge Northerner

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Is the Belichick era nearly over in New England?

For well over a decade, any fan of a team not called the New England Patriots would have been easily forgiven for harbouring an intense dislike for the team that was. Grindingly efficient, and brilliant in a joyless way, the Patriots dominated the NFL in a way that no team has come close to in the modern era. At the heart of that dominance were head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Brady left for a warmer destination in 2020, but Belichick has stuck around – and while the Patriots have had one brief playoff appearance in the intervening three years, the threat that Belichick could get more out of them has haunted fans nonetheless.

Is it now time to start thinking that the Belichick era is winding down – not just in New England, but in the NFL itself? At 70, it’s reasonable enough to expect that this will be his final job in the league, and nobody is rushing to bet in New-Zealand with Bet365 that he’ll head to Tampa for one last caper in tandem with Brady. But it is reasonable to ask if the groundwork is being laid for a handover of power at Foxboro Stadium.

What does Bill O’Brien’s appointment mean for the future?

The Patriots’ offense with Mac Jones under center is a different thing from the offense Tom Brady ran, but that can’t be a knock on Jones or on any offensive coordinator. Like him or not, Brady is the best QB the league has ever seen, and when you remove a piece like that from a jigsaw, it’s not going to look as good from any angle. The appointment of O’Brien, pretty much as high-powered as OCs get, could be seen as a sign that Belichick wants to stick around to repair the shards of the Patriots’ reputation for greatness. Or it might be a stabilising move designed to give whoever succeeds him a valuable lieutenant. It might even be a move to give O’Brien the springboard to the top job.

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Has Belichick been dropping hints?

The process which resulted in O’Brien being appointed saw multiple candidates for the OC job interviewed, including Vikings WRs coach Keenan McCardell and the Patriots’ own TE coach Nick Caley. Sat by Belichick’s side in each interview was inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, not long retired as a player on the Patriots squad. Mayo is the absolute model of a “company guy” and is extremely well regarded by the decision-makers Foxboro – which includes Belichick. His presence at the heart of the most important coaching hire the club has made in some years may be taken as a hint that Mayo is being prepared for the top job.

Should it have already happened?

You don’t lose a talisman like Brady without needing to embark on a rebuild – especially when his departure was preceded by that of Rob Gronkowski and followed by Julian Edelman. And while it would be churlish to say that Belichick should have jumped ship once Brady left, rebuilds like that take years – time that Belichick may not be best-positioned to put in. Giving him a year or so to bed in some replacement pieces was always a reasonable call, but it’s hard to deny the feeling that Belichick has coached his last great team – so is nownot a good time to step aside?