Patriots

Five thoughts on Patriots dodging Josh McDaniels departure

Five thoughts on Patriots dodging Josh McDaniels departure

The Patriots won’t have to worry about replacing one of the most important pieces in the organization this offseason.

That became clear on Sunday when it was learned that the Browns had settled on Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, not Josh McDaniels, to fill their head-coaching vacancy. 

Here are five quick-hitting thoughts on what that means for the Patriots moving forward, starting with what it means for McDaniels’ boss.

BELICHICK KEEPS HIS RIGHT-HAND MAN

We went into detail last week on just how heavily Bill Belichick leans on Josh McDaniels at this point in McDaniels’ career. The 43-year-old is the driver of the Patriots offense from not only a play-calling standpoint but a game-planning perspective as well. That much was clear when Belichick lauded McDaniels for his ability to take the offensive reins in the “Do Your Job III” special produced following Super Bowl LIII.

It was even more clearly spelled out this year as Belichick became the de facto defensive coordinator following the departures of Brian Flores and then later Greg Schiano. With Belichick spending the bulk of his time on the defensive side of things, during the week and on game days, that much more fell to McDaniels. Had McDaniels left for Cleveland, there was no obvious fill-in candidate on the Patriots staff, meaning Belichick could’ve seen his role go from de facto defensive coordinator to de facto offensive coordinator in a matter of months.

Taking that possibility off the table has to be considered a victory for a head coach still facing potential turnover at a number of critical spots — including quarterback — during one of the most critical offseasons in franchise history.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

DOMINOS STILL STANDING

Consider what might’ve happened had McDaniels left New England. He may have taken pro scouting director Dave Ziegler with him as general manager in an offseason when the contracts of both director of player personnel Nick Caserio and college scouting director Monti Ossenfort are set to expire. That would’ve been a significant blow to maintaining some front-office consistency this offseason.

Though unclear, it’s also possible the McDaniels would’ve liked to hire familiar faces from the Patriots staff to go with him to Cleveland; former Patriots staffers Ray Ventrone and Frank Ross went to Indianapolis during the 2018 offseason when McDaniels nearly took that job. Plus, would McDaniels’ departure have impacted the future plans made by veteran assistants Dante Scarnecchia and Ivan Fears?

There still could be plenty of staffing shakeup this offseason, but McDaniels sticking in Foxboro takes the worst-case scenario off the board. 

NOT THE RIGHT FIT

My understanding early on in the head-coaching search process was that if the Browns wanted McDaniels, keeping analytics guru Paul DePodesta might be an impediment to that end. Now that we know it’s Stefanski who will be the next head coach in Cleveland, it’s clear which way owner Jimmy Haslam was leaning. He wanted to roll with DePodesta — who served as a baseball executive for years with the A’s, Dodgers, Padres and Mets — not overhaul his organizational hierarchy.

Stefanski was DePodesta’s choice last offseason, but Haslam went with Freddie Kitchens instead. Now DePodesta’s guy is in, and it seems like he has more pull with ownership than ever. For someone like McDaniels, who has learned at the foot of a head coach with complete roster control, the idea of having to work under both DePodesta and Haslam likely wasn’t all that attractive.

GOOD NEWS FOR ‘STID’

The Patriots currently have just two quarterbacks under contract for 2020: Jarrett Stidham and Cody Kessler. Though both spent a great deal of time with assistant quarterbacks coach Mick Lombardi as they worked to pick up the Patriots offense, having McDaniels around for one more year could pay dividends for a young up-and-comer like Stidham.

The fourth-round pick in 2019 impressed teammates and coaches alike in his first season, and now with a full offseason ahead to continue to grow in the system, he has an opportunity to take several steps in his development as a pro. That might’ve happened whether McDaniels was in town or not, but getting to learn under the same coach, in the same scheme, and having that continuity in both areas would likely lend itself to better results in Year No. 2 than if McDaniels moved to the AFC North.

ROOM FOR STOCK TO RISE

More good news for Stidham: McDaniels has seen positive results developing young quarterbacks not named Tom Brady in the past. Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett all had measures of success as young players in the Patriots system with McDaniels calling the shots. Should Brady play elsewhere in 2020 — Tom E. Curran will have more for you on what McDaniels sticking means for Brady’s future — McDaniels will have an opportunity to help his stock moving forward.

Whether it’s with Stidham or someone else, if McDaniels can have any success with Brady’s successor, if he can prove once again that Patriots offensive efficiency isn’t totally dependent on the greatest quarterback of all time, that would have to help his future head-coaching prospects. Who knows? Some day, maybe a year or two from now, we could be forecasting what it means that McDaniels got a head job in another city.

But for now, thankfully for the Patriots, that conversation can be shelved.

Report: Edelman arrested for vandalism Saturday night

Should Patriots trade for Tua Tagovailoa in 2020 NFL Draft? What recent history shows

Should Patriots trade for Tua Tagovailoa in 2020 NFL Draft? What recent history shows

You have to admit: It's an enticing scenario.

Just weeks after losing Tom Brady to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots swing a trade to land Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The Nick Saban-groomed quarterback becomes a star in New England, and the Brady-less Patriots don't miss a beat. Dynasty intact.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

The Tua-to-New England rumors have picked up steam amid reports that the Miami Dolphins may try to trade up to the No. 1 overall pick to draft LSU's Joe Burrow instead of targeting Tagovailoa.

The Boston Globe's Ben Volin then laid out a scenario in which the Patriots trade up to the Lions' No. 3 pick to select Tagovailoa, sending Detroit some combination of draft picks that includes their first-rounder (No. 23 overall) while potentially adding wide receiver Julian Edelman in the deal.

That'd be a major shakeup, especially if the Patriots move Edelman. So, is it worth spending that much capital to land the quarterback you covet?

Fortunately, there's plenty of recent precedent.

Listen and subscribe to Phil Perry's Next Pats Podcast here: 

Consider this stat: Seven of the 11 quarterbacks taken in the first round since 2017 have been acquired by a team trading up in the draft.

Here are the seven QB and the deals teams swung to land them:

Mitchell Trubisky, No. 2 overall (Bears)
Bears trade their 2017 first-round pick (No. 3; Solomon Thomas), 2017 third-round pick (No. 67) , 2017 fourth-round pick (No. 111) and 2018 third-round pick to San Francisco.

Patrick Mahomes, No. 10 overall (Chiefs)
Chiefs trade their 2017 first-round pick (No. 27; Tre'Davious White), 2017 third-round pick (No. 91) and 2018 first-round pick to Bills.

Deshaun Watson, No. 12 overall (Texans)
Texans trade their 2017 first-round pick (No. 25; Jabril Peppers) and 2018 first-round pick to Browns.

Sam Darnold, No. 3 overall (Jets)
Jets trade their 2018 first-round pick (No. 6; Quenton Nelson), 2018 second-round pick (No. 37), 2018 second-round pick (No. 49) and 2019 second-round pick to Colts.

Josh Allen, No. 7 overall (Bills)
Bills receive a 2018 seventh-round pick and trade their 2018 first-round pick (No. 12; Vita Vea), 2018 second-round pick (No. 53) and 2018 second-round pick to Buccaneers.

Josh Rosen, No. 10 overall (Cardinals)
Cardinals trade their 2018 first-round pick (No. 15; Kolton Miller), 2018 third-round pick and 2018 fifth-round pick to Raiders.

Lamar Jackson, No. 32 overall (Ravens)
Ravens receive a 2018 fourth-round pick and trade their 2018 second-round pick (No. 52), 2018 fourth-round pick (No. 125) and 2019 second-round pick to Eagles.

Rosen was a swing-and-a-miss, and Trubisky has underwhelmed so far. But three of these trades were absolute home runs -- Mahomes, Watson and Jackson -- while Darnold and Allen have the potential to be solid franchise quarterbacks, as well.

The takeaway: These teams had good reason to move up and land the QB of their dreams, and in several cases, they were justified.

Does this mean the Patriots should go all-out for Tua? Not necessarily. Belichick would need to covet Tagovailoa the same way the Chiefs coveted Mahomes, and our Tom E. Curran has reported New England is confident in the QB duo of Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer.

If the Patriots do have a QB atop their draft board, though -- whether that's Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert or Jordan Love -- history suggests a trade-up could be worth it.

Hindsight 2020: What if Patriots had traded Jimmy Garoppolo sooner?

Hindsight 2020: What if Patriots had traded Jimmy Garoppolo sooner?

Moving on from Drew Bledsoe in favor of Tom Brady. Bringing in Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison. Cutting ties with Lawyer Milloy. Taking shots on Randy Moss and Corey Dillon. Drafting Rob Gronkowski, back problems and all.

The Patriots have maintained their level for the better part of the last 20 years in large part because of Bill Belichick's foresight as the team's general manager.

Still, in two decades, as there would be with any personnel czar with that kind of tenure, there are of course moves (or non-moves) that in hindsight prompt us to wonder what might've been.

In this edition of our Hindsight 2020 series, we're focused on the Patriots front office — Belichick's office — to pick out the decision that stands above the rest as the one that could've drastically altered the post-Brady course of the franchise: Not trading Jimmy Garoppolo prior to the 2017 season.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

At the NFL's annual meeting in Phoenix that year, Browns head coach Hue Jackson wasn't evasive. He wasn't playing coy. His team had the No. 1 and 12 overall picks in the draft. The top choice — earmarked for defensive end Myles Garrett — was not up for grabs. No. 12, though? Different story.

"We'll exhaust every opportunity" to find a quarterback, Jackson told a horde of reporters at the AFC coaches breakfast. Though he would not comment on Garoppolo specifically, citing tampering rules, the message was clear: If the Patriots wanted that No. 12 overall selection in exchange for Brady's backup, there was a conversation to be had.

On its face, making that move made sense for both sides. The Browns were desperate for a competent quarterback. They were flush with picks. The Patriots, meanwhile, didn't have a first or a second-rounder that spring. For them, trading Garoppolo with a year left on his contract represented an opportunity to bolster their 2017 rookie haul with a top-15 talent.

The decision wasn't that simple, of course. 

To pull the trigger, the Patriots would have to be willing to bail on Brady's insurance plan for that season — he hadn't missed significant time since 2008, but he was going into his 40-year-old season — as well as his long-term successor.

If Garoppolo remained on the roster, the benefit was that he would provide the Patriots a capable break-glass-in-case-of-emergency passer for a Super Bowl contender. Plus, it gave Belichick and Garoppolo's representatives time to try to finagle a long-term deal to keep Garoppolo in New England for the foreseeable future. 

If they could iron something out contractually, Belichick would be pulling off the near-impossible — something only the Niners and Packers had pulled off in the modern era. Riding into life after a Hall of Fame quarterback almost seamlessly, with a legitimate franchise guy ready to step in.

How likely was it, though, that holding onto Garoppolo for as long as possible would yield the Patriots the maximum possible benefit?

For that to happen, it seems, Brady would have either had to drop off the proverbial "cliff" performance-wise or suffer a serious injury. Again, we have the benefit of hindsight here, but there's an argument to be made that neither seemed imminent at the time. 

Brady was coming off of his fifth Super Bowl win and an MVP-caliber season in 2016. (The MVP went to Matt Ryan, in part, because Brady missed the first four games of that year suspended for Deflategate). Then, at 40, Brady went on to win the award for the third time in his career, and he threw for over 500 yards in a Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. It was unprecedented stuff for a quarterback his age, and yet not at all shocking given his performance the previous year.

Listen and subscribe to Phil Perry's Next Pats Podcast here: 

Garoppolo remained on the sidelines for the first eight weeks of 2017 as Brady played some of the best football of his career. There was no Bledsoevian moment where Garoppolo was able step in because of injury. And there was no reason for him to bite on a long-term contract extension if it meant sitting for another season (or more) behind a guy who at the time was playing better than anyone else on the planet.

We know what happened at that point: At the trade deadline, opting to get something for Garoppolo rather than holding onto him and letting him hit free agency after the season, Belichick dealt his No. 2 to the Niners in exchange for a second-round pick in 2018.

You can point to the team's unwillingness to invest real capital in a young tight end toward the end of Gronkowski's career — how did George Kittle slip to the fifth round in 2017, again? — as a front-office "what if?" 

You can point to any number of swings-and-misses in the draft's first couple of rounds — Dominique Easley, Jordan Richards, Cyrus Jones, Duke Dawson, Aaron Dobson, Ras-I Dowling, Ron Brace — as easy fixes in hindsight.

But deciding to keep Garoppolo prior to the 2017 season is fascinating to revisit precisely because of where the Patriots stand at the moment, without a clear-and-obvious long-term solution at the game's most important position. And because of what happened with that No. 12 overall selection.

The Browns did end up trading their second first-rounder three years ago, you might remember. It landed in Houston. 

That's right. In an alternate universe, a universe in which the Browns and Patriots had been willing and able to work out a deal for Garoppolo, the Patriots are rolling into next season with a seasoned backup oozing with talent, the No. 12 pick in the 2017 draft: Deshaun Watson.