Now that the confetti’s been swept up in both Atlanta and Boston, focus for the Patriots turns fully to 2019.
There are complications caused by playing into February. “High-class problems” related to draft prep, free agency, contract extensions and restructures. And now there’s been an exodus of assistant coaches.
But one thing the Patriots won’t be dealing with, according to a source, is infighting.
“There is zero drama right now,” I was told. “It’s a big departure from last year and this one will really be normal relative to the challenges a team faces in the offseason.”
Normal but amplified.
Because it’s not just a time crunch the Patriots encounter after having played in the Super Bowl, there’s also the pressure to improve a team that – while it won the final game on the final weekend – has areas to address.
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Filling out the coaching staff is a high priority. Any time an assistant leaves for a head coaching gig as Brian Flores has, he’s going to bring some lieutenants with him. It’s a chance for advancement. And, realistically, the chance for advancement in New England right now isn’t great.
The Patriots operate with one of the NFL’s smallest coaching staffs. Bill Belichick isn’t going anywhere in the immediate future, nor is Josh McDaniels. So for Chad O’Shea and Jerry Schuplinski – wide receivers coach and assistant quarterbacks coach for the Patriots – both are bumping up as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Same with Josh Boyer who will be the defensive passing game coordinator and cornerbacks coach for Flores. He was cornerbacks coach in New England.
The eye-opening departure was Brendan Daly, defensive line coach. He made a lateral move to go to the Kansas City Chiefs where he’ll coach under newly hired Chiefs DC Steve Spagnuolo. Daly was on Spagnuolo’s staff in St. Louis earlier this decade. Daly’s wife also has ties to the Kansas City area so it’s a good fit.
A number of people asked me on social media if Daly was miffed at Schiano being named defensive coordinator. I don’t know if he is but the hiring of Schiano, 52, certainly would block Daly’s chance for advancement. Not that it gets any easier for him in Kansas City since he’ll also be behind a newly-hired defensive coordinator in Spagnuolo.
But Schiano was defensive coordinator at Ohio State for the past three seasons and a head coach at both Tampa and Rutgers. He’s coached all three levels of the defense while Daly doesn’t have experience with the linebackers and secondary.
Belichick’s baby is defensive line and corners so it stands to reason he’ll allocate extra time to whichever assistant coaches are installed at those spots to get them up and running.
Meanwhile, that Belichick and Robert Kraft convinced Josh McDaniels to stay with the team a year ago looks bigger and bigger in hindsight.
After negotiating the first four games with an understocked offense, he began to morph the team around the running game. When injuries hit the running backs, he reinvented the ground attack and incorporated Josh Gordon more. When Gordon was suspended, the team went back to the ground and – thanks to good health as well – outsmarted, out-maneuvered and out-toughed every playoff opponent.
Even though O’Shea and Schuplinski were outstanding assistants, the continuity on the staff with McDaniels, running backs coach Ivan Fears – who I’m embarrassed to note I haven’t credited enough – and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia makes it a little bit of a plug-and-coach situation with whoever Belichick elevates to the assistant roles that were vacated.
Also keep this in mind: had McDaniels gone to Indianapolis, he likely would have brought special teams coach Joe Judge with him as well. So the staff turnover – presuming Flores still got this Miami job – would have been that much more complete.
Aside from the assigning of coaches, there’s still a ton of turnover to come on the roster. Players like Rob Gronkowski and the McCourty twins are contemplating retirement. Trey Flowers is a free agent. There are fat cap hits to examine. There are contracts to extend and free agents to say goodbye to.
But the positive tenor around the team that took root after the December 16 loss to the Steelers is still there. After that defeat, the team looked itself in the mirror and talked about how it had to change its approach on the field and its mindset off of it.
It had to embrace the change instead of being afraid of it and wishing they were what they thought they would be or what they used to be. And the mental switch made a difference.
Speaking with people before the Super Bowl and since, that’s the sense I’m getting about this offseason. A little less focus on the end of things. A high level of optimism about the beginning of something else. An optimism that, a year ago, seemed impossible has taken root and it was nowhere more apparent than in this clip where Belichick embraces Tom Brady and Julian Edelman and says, “And we’ll be back too.”
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