Following a disappointing 41-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl VII, the New England Patriots have a lot to address this offseason.
Key players and coaches alike are in questionable positions, with regards to their futures with the team. The team itself has been on a tear for much of the 21st century, but when do the gears finally stop turning? Does this defeat mark the beginning of the end?
For starters, let’s begin with who the Patriots can expect to stick around.
Quarterback Tom Brady – Let’s get this one out of the way. Brady, while visibly frustrated with the team’s defeat in the Super Bowl, was very quick to confirm that he’ll return for another go in 2018. And really, how could one be surprised? If there are any fingers to be pointed to find fault in this loss, you won’t find many directed at Brady, even if he did commit a critical fumble in the game’s closing minutes. Throwing for well over 400 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, Brady once again played a great game at the NFL’s highest stage. Father Time may be undefeated, but Brady continues to elude him, even at the age of 40, and will certainly be around for this season and, barring something unforeseen, should be good to finish this decade in a Patriots uniform.
Head coach Bill Belichick – Again, Belichick’s name is listed here as mere housekeeping. While rumors did initially connect him to the head coach job with the New York Giants, Belichick himself quickly crushed these rumors – as did the Giants when they hired Pat Shurmur to this position. All told, as long as Tom Brady is still around, it’s hard to imagine the hoodie will ever go anywhere anytime soon either. Don’t be fooled by the “controversy” between himself, Brady, and owner Robert Kraft – these reports have been exaggerated, to some extent fabricated, and are not worth paying serious attention to. Make no mistake, Belichick is not going anywhere.
Now, let’s have a look at who won’t be returning to New England next season.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels – Following the acceptance in principle of the Indianapolis Colts’ vacant head coach position, McDaniels will once again be leaving New England for another go at a head coach gig. Having high ambitions before even officially receiving the job, McDaniels’ future was essentially revealed when he informed an overwhelming majority of the current Colts’ assistant coaching staff that he would not be retaining them once he officially arrived, shortly before the Patriots took on the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship. It’s not imminently clear how the Patriots could once again replace McDaniels – offensive assistants Ivan Fears or Chad McShea, runningbacks and wide receivers coaches respectively, could get the call for a big time promotion, or the Patriots could venture for outside help at the position. Of course, whoever does succeed McDaniels will have a wealth of talent to work with – there are few coordinators who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to work with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Dion Lewis amongst others – so this is not a position the Patriots will find themselves bereft of options at, regardless of how they fill the position.
Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia – Much like McDaniels, Matt Patricia agreed to a deal in principle with the Detroit Lions during the postseason and will be taking a shot at his own head coaching gig elsewhere. Like McDaniels, the Patriots have plenty of viable in-house options to replace Patricia with. For years, the team has been high on defensive line coach Brendan Daly’s future, and it seems very likely they will simply task him with the position. Another interesting option not only stems from within the Patriots coaching tree, but also the Bill Belichick family tree – his son, Steve Belichick, the safeties coach, could be a dark horse candidate for the job. That being said, much like the offensive coordinator position, the prospect of filling this position is unlikely to be difficult. However, unlike the offensive coordinator, the incoming defensive coordinator will have their work cut out for them after the team surrendered over 500 yards of total offense and 41 points to the Eagles in the Super Bowl. But even keeping those shortcomings in mind, after Week 6 of the NFL season, the unit proved very potent; they were the second best defense in the NFL in the red zone, allowing only 3.9 points per trip beyond the 20, they surprisingly sacked the opposing QB more times than any other defense in the NFL, and they generated the fourth most turnovers per game, which means there are pieces to work with here, even if the next prediction comes to fruition…..
Malcolm Butler, cornerback – A surprising scratch from the team’s defense in the Super Bowl, Malcolm Butler has been at odds with the team for years now. Following a scrappy battle that resulted in him getting franchise tagged at the end of the 2017 season, the hero of Super Bowl 49 is likely on his way out. Eric Rowe stepped up in Butler’s absence, both in Super Bowl VII and in the two games Butler missed in the regular season, and performed admirably alongside top free agent acquisition Stephon Gilmore. Between Rowe and Gilmore, the Patriots have a wealth of talent in their cornerback tandem, and it would make little sense to break the bank on signing Butler to an extension. He will ultimately have very little trouble finding a job elsewhere, but the dreamy relationship the Patriots and Butler had ever since he made one of the greatest plays in NFL history in Super Bowl 49 will very likely come to an end this offseason.
Ultimately, the takeaway for New England – This team is clearly not going anywhere. Tom Brady will be back, and on that notion, the rest sort of just falls into place. Julian Edelman will return after missing the entirety of 2018 off a nasty ACL tear, and the rest of New England’s offensive core, minus some minor pieces, will return for another shot at the Super Bowl. That alone renders New England the favorite to at least return to the Super Bowl for the third year in a row and fourth year in the last five. With a little retooling to the team’s offensive line and a minor shakeup to the team’s linebacker core and run defense, it would hardly be surprising to see the “blitz for six” finally come to fruition, one year from now.