Bill Belichick open to changing Patriots offense after Tom Brady's departure

Bill Belichick open to changing Patriots offense after Tom Brady's departure

Bill Belichick knows change is coming. It's inevitable.

Tom Brady is gone. The Patriots offensive system will be altered. Trimmed, no doubt. Tweaked to accentuate the skills of whichever quarterback becomes the next sun around which its plays revolve.

"Over the last two decades," Belichick said in a conference call on Monday, "everything we did, every single decision we made in terms of major planning, was made with the idea of how to make things best for Tom Brady."

No longer. Now this is where things get interesting.

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Not that the last two decades have been a bore by any stretch of the imagination. With one quarterback and one mind-numbingly involved offense — coordinated by three different men: Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels and Bill O'Brien — the Patriots sustained an unprecedented level of success. 

And the breadth of the scheme on that side of the ball figured prominently into all that winning. For every problem there was an answer. For every wonky defensive look thrown their way, Brady and his coordinator could scrap an entire week of preparation, pull out a plan from another week, another year, and plow forward.

So what now?

This is, as Belichick acknowledged, the first time in 20 years the Patriots will go into the season planning for someone other than Brady to take the snaps behind center.

Jimmy Garoppolo was going to be the guy for four weeks while Brady was suspended in 2016. The Patriots had almost an entire regular season to adapt to Matt Cassel's strengths and weaknesses back in 2008.

This is different. Has to be. But that doesn't mean the playbook — that living, breathing thing that has grown and developed over two decades and helped produce six Lombardi trophies — will have a stake driven through its front cover.   

The system is, in theory, amorphous. It's so wide-ranging — you want a 2007 down-the-field attack or a 2001 manage-the-game approach? — that it should be able to handle a stronger arm or a weaker one, a fleet-footed quarterback or an immobile one. 

We haven't seen it implemented by anyone other than Brady over the course of an offseason and into Week 1, but Belichick wants his system to be adaptable.

Just as it was with Cassel. Just as it was supposed to be for four games of Garoppolo. 

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"I don’t really see that changing," Belichick said. "Whoever the quarterback is, we’ll try to make things work smoothly and efficiently for that player and take advantage of his strengths and his skills. Each of us has different skills. Each quarterback has a different skillset, and whatever things that particular player does well, we’ll try to work towards and feature, or at least give him an opportunity to do those.

"And the things that either he doesn’t do well or needs more experience at or whatever the case might be, then we’ll try to minimize or until those things improve, work around them. So, I don’t see it being any different, the process, than what it’s ever been."

The question becomes just how drastic will the alterations be? Cassel, stylistically, wasn't a total 180-degree turn from Brady. Both were tall, pocket passers. Garoppolo was a little shorter and a little more athletic than Brady, but like Brady he had a quick release and could be accurate to all levels of the field.

What if the Patriots drafted Oregon's Justin Herbert in the first round, though? He's a relatively raw passer with great size and athleticism. What if they drafted Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts in the third? He's the most athletic quarterback in this year's class, whose speed and strength is a little reminiscent of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.

How far would Belichick and McDaniels be willing to go? How many pages from the playbook would they be willing to excise and rewrite in order to make it work?

There's a reason why coaches around the league I've spoken to are watching the Patriots intently this offseason. 

They understand that real change is coming.

They know there's no sense in operating the Patriots offense with an old-school dropback passer — trying to recapture whatever they had with Brady — if the new guy doesn't come equipped with a supercomputer between his ears. They know the athletes coming out of the draft at that position are getting better and better every year. 

They know Belichick and McDaniels will be willing to adapt. They just want to see what that looks like.

And judging by the way in which Belichick described the challenge he's facing at that position on Monday, so does he.

Patriots confirm coaching changes, front office promotions for 2020 season

Patriots confirm coaching changes, front office promotions for 2020 season

The puzzle pieces of the New England Patriots' coaching staff and front office have fallen into place.

The Patriots saw turnover in both departments this offseason, as longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia retired while director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort joined the Houston Texans as their director of player personnel.

The club also welcomed some new faces, including former Los Angeles Rams offensive assistant Jedd Fisch (the team's new quarterbacks coach) and ex-Cleveland Browns executive Eliot Wolf.

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So, how have the coaching staff and front office changed since last season? The Patriots have unveiled their 2020 media guide, which confirmed the new roles of several staffers.

Here's a rundown of the notable changes:

- Troy Brown officially is on staff as a running backs and kick returners coach. The former Patriots wide receiver will work with head running backs coach Ivan Fears and special teams assistant Joe Houston.

- Director of pro scouting Dave Ziegler has been promoted to assistant director of player personnel, reporting to director of player personnel Nick Caserio. He'll essentially fill Ossenfort's former role.

- Tyler Hughes, who reportedly joined the team in June, is listed as an "offensive assistant." Hughes most recently was the head coach at Bountiful (Utah) High School.

- Vinnie Sunseri joins the Patriots as a defensive assistant after spending the 2019 season as a graduate assistant for Nick Saban at Alabama. Sunseri had a brief stint in New England as a player during 2016 training camp.

- Wolf's official title is "scouting consultant." He served as Cleveland's assistant general manager in 2018 and 2019 after 14 seasons with the Green Bay Packers.

The Patriots go through personnel changes every year, but 2020 presents a unique challenge: Not only has COVID-19 prevented staff members from meeting in-person, but the club has lost a lengthy list of core veterans to free agency (Tom Brady, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, etc.) and opt-outs (Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon, etc.) this offseason.

Head coach Bill Belichick isn't one to make excuses, though, so expect his staff to be hard at work this week as the Patriots begin on-field training camp work at Gillette Stadium.

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NFL opt-outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL opt-outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL training camps officially began Tuesday, but there were some notable absences.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif became the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020 season last Friday, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, multiple players have followed suit, continuing a trend across all major North American professional sports of players declining to participate in their seasons as COVID-19 persists in the United States.

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The Patriots especially have felt the impact of this trend: Six New England players -- including star linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- already have opted out, the most of any NFL team.

Below is a running list of the players who have opted out of the 2020 NFL season, according to reports or team/player confirmations. The list is sorted alphabetically after the Patriots, with the date of the players' opt-outs in parentheses.

New England Patriots

RB Brandon Bolden (July 28)
OT Marcus Cannon (July 28)
S Patrick Chung (July 28)
LB Dont'a Hightower (July 28)
WR Marqise Lee (August 1)
OG Najee Toran (July 27)
FB Danny Vitale (July 27)
TE Matt LaCosse (August 2)

Arizona Cardinals

OT Marcus Gilbert (August 4)

Baltimore Ravens

OT Andre Smith (July 28)
WR/KR De'Anthony Thomas (July 27)

Buffalo Bills

CB E.J. Gaines (August 2)
DT Star Lotulelei (July 28)

Carolina Panthers

LB Jordan Mack (July 28)
LB Christian Miller (August 3)

Chicago Bears

DT Eddie Goldman (July 28)
S Jordan Lucas (August 3)

Cincinnati Bengals

OT Isaiah Prince (July 31)
DT Josh Tupou (July 31)

Cleveland Browns

DT Andrew Billings (August 4)
OL Drake Dorbeck (July 29)
OL Drew Forbes (July 29)

Dallas Cowboys

CB Maurice Canady (July 27)
WR Stephen Guidry (July 28)
FB Jamize Olawale (Aug. 2)

Denver Broncos

OT JaWuan James (Aug. 3)
DT Kyle Peko (July 28)

Detroit Lions

DT John Atkins (July 29)
WR Geronimo Allison (Aug. 2)

Green Bay Packers

WR Devin Funchess (July 28)

Houston Texans

DT Eddie Vanderdoes (July 28)

Jacksonville Jaguars

EDGE Larentee McCray (August 1)
DL Al Woods (July 31)

Kansas City Chiefs

OG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (July 24)
RB Damien Williams (July 29)

Las Vegas Raiders

CB D.J. Killings (August 3)
DE Jeremiah Valoaga (August 3)

Los Angeles Rams

OT Chandler Brewer (July 31)

Miami Dolphins

WR Allen Hurns (August 4)

Minnesota Vikings

NT Michael Pierce (July 28)

New Orleans Saints

TE Jason Vander Laan (July 28)
TE Cole Wick (July 28)

New York Giants

WR Da'Mari Scott (August 2)
LT Nate Solder (July 29)

New York Jets

OL Leo Koloamatangi (July 28)
LB CJ Mosley (August 1)

Philadelphia Eagles

WR Marquise Goodwin (July 28)

Seattle Seahawks

OG Chance Warmack (July 27)

Tennessee Titans

OL Anthony McKinney (July 28)

Washington Football Team

DT Caleb Brantley (July 27)
LB Josh Harvey-Clemons (August 3)

Free Agents

G Larry Warford (July 28)