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.
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.