Patriots

Why Josh McDaniels is back and what it means for the Patriots

Why Josh McDaniels is back and what it means for the Patriots

Josh McDaniels is “content” with how things went in Cleveland, a source tells me.

Though disappointed that he didn't get to interview for the Giants and Panthers before those openings were filled earlier in the week, McDaniels was not going to leap to the Browns before he looked long and hard at the setup. And when he did look, his vision didn’t mesh with Cleveland’s.

As we reported last week, McDaniels went into Cleveland with eyes wide open. It was important to him that the Browns express an understanding of why they’d been unsuccessful under owner Jimmy Haslam and that they were willing to yield to some new ideas.

That didn’t happen.

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Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository reported in a column published Sunday that McDaniels went in with definitive plans for remaking the Browns.

Would the Browns show a willingness to applaud his detailed presentation on the sweeping makeover that would be needed for him to want the job? This is where the trouble with his candidacy came to a head.

The Browns were as detailed with him as to the parts of their system they wanted to keep, or expand, as he was with them as to necessary changes.

In the end, both came to a similar conclusion: It wasn’t a great fit.

The Browns want to hang on to some of the ideas they still think can work. McDaniels had quite different ideas.

Kevin Stefanski, the 37-year-old offensive coordinator for the Vikings, got the job. He was more amenable, Doerschuk wrote, to the Browns' requests, especially the weighty role of Paul DePodesta, Chief Strategy Officer, according to Doerschuk.

(Stefanski) made it clear he was willing to yield to certain DePodesta standards, such as an analytics person with a headset and access to the coaching staff on game days, in addition to certain Haslam likes, such as hours-long, Monday-after, owner-coach meetings.

Stefanski interviewed with the Browns last year. McDaniels didn’t. That, reportedly, gave him a leg up in that the Browns were comfortable with him. Also, this is Stefanski’s first head coaching gig.

He has more willingness to eat a poop sandwich with no bread than McDaniels does at this point. And giving free rein to DePodesta and owner Jimmy Haslam to add a dash of this or a splash of that at the end of the week is precisely that. Some people can’t help themselves.

Browns fans are pissed. They wanted McDaniels. And he wanted the chance to go back to Ohio, stand on the Browns sideline and guide a franchise he grew up following.

But the gap between how the two sides saw it coming together made it easier to walk away.

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Indications McDaniels wasn’t getting the job began coming Friday night when two of the assistants he was targeting for his coordinator positions — Brandon Staley and Kevin O’Connell — were reported to be closing in on positions with the Broncos and Rams respectively.

Once the Vikings played — and lost — the Browns were clear to go get their guy.

McDaniels' consolation prize, of course, ain’t bad. He comes back to the Patriots where he’s the NFL’s most highly-paid assistant coach. He continues his role working for an organization where he’s been a part of six Super Bowls and ridden in the front seat between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on the road to six Super Bowls.

But it’s even better for New England because McDaniels means stability. With Joe Judge — who was moonlighting as wide receivers coach along with his special teams duties in 2019 — leaving for the Giants, there’s an opening with the Patriots raw wideouts, a group in desperate need of improvement.

Adding a vacancy at coordinator/quarterbacks coach (a duty McDaniels also handles) would have been an issue. And it’s not like Bill Belichick could just leap to do that. He was largely the defensive coordinator in 2019 after Brian Flores went to Miami and Greg Schiano backed out of the DC job.

The offense was McDaniels’ job more than ever last year. Belichick’s role in weekly offensive preparation was diminished in 2019 because of his defensive responsibilities. Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio assumed some of those. Otherwise, it was McDaniels’ show.

If McDaniels left AND Brady had gone, that meant a full-on offensive rebuild.

Which brings us to whether or not McDaniels’ return makes it more or less likely Brady returns. It really doesn’t.

McDaniels has been here the past eight seasons. The contractual stalemate and the team’s preference to go “year-to-year” with Brady were not McDaniels’ decisions. The personnel decisions/misses that left the team scrambling for wideouts the past two years and without a tight end of note in 2019 were not McDaniels’ decisions.

Meanwhile, we’ve gotten indications over the past six months that Brady’s input — which has never been comparable to other elite quarterbacks around the league — is even less sought now. Publicly, he’s made a number of “Don’t ask me, I just work here”-type comments.

A sampling of quotes:

“The reality is I don't make any personnel decisions. I don't decide to sign players, I don't decide to trade them, I don't decide to release them, I don't decide to draft them. I don't get asked. I show up and I do my job. I'm an employee like everyone else.”

“The best teammates are the ones I have to think about the least. I don't want to expend my mental energy on things that aren't really my job.”

“I just expect to play (in preseason games), and if he (Bill Belichick) says, 'You're not playing,' then I'm not playing. I think there's a lot of things that factor into his decisions, but I'm not involved in any of those, so I just show up and practice. That's been my role, that's been my job, so I'm trying to show up and do a good job.”

“One thing we talk about here is just doing our jobs. I mean, I can do what I can do. Every player can do what they can do. I can’t do anything for anyone else; they can’t do anything for me. So a lot of it is just trust and trying to communicate trust and communication.”

Brady and McDaniels have had a long, successful and respectful partnership. There’s a bond and affection between the two that’s indelible. The same bond between Brady and Belichick exists.

But for Brady, just “running it back” in 2020 with or without verbal assurances it’s going to be vastly different in a number of ways this year may not be that compelling for him.

And for the Patriots, re-signing a 43-year-old quarterback who’s made it clear he’s a bit weary of the team’s approach has to give them pause too.

There was talk after news broke that McDaniels didn’t get the Browns job that Brady would be more likely to return. But that choice isn’t solely Brady’s to make.

Tedy Bruschi gives his prediction on where Tom Brady will play next season

Tedy Bruschi gives his prediction on where Tom Brady will play next season

It's hard to fathom Tom Brady playing for an NFL team not named the New England Patriots, but it's a possibility with the 42-year-old quarterback's contract expiring in March.

Brady and the Patriots could come to an agreement on a new deal before that point, but he does have the ability for the first time in his career to test the open market as an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

One of Brady's former teammates, Tedy Bruschi, was asked to predict on Wednesday's episode of "NFL Live" on ESPN where the six-time Super Bowl champion will play in the 2020 season. The former Patriots linebacker and current ESPN NFL analyst predicted Brady will return to Foxboro.

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Check out his take in the video below.

For what it's worth, DraftKings has pegged the Patriots as -335 betting favorites to be the team Brady plays for in Week 1 next season.

Many other players, both active and retired, have weighed in on Brady's future.

Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu hopes Brady takes his talents to the NFC. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward also is hoping Brady leaves the Patriots because "he's terrorized the AFC enough." But perhaps the most interesting take on Brady's future came from San Francisco 49ers legend Joe Montana. The Hall of Fame quarterback's advice for Brady was to not leave the Patriots. He stressed that transitioning to a new team is not an easy task.

Tom Brady reacts to Dante Scarnecchia's retirement

Steelers star has the least surprising take on Tom Brady's free agency

Steelers star has the least surprising take on Tom Brady's free agency

Ask anyone associated with the New England Patriots, and they'll tell you Tom Brady should stay put.

Ask any Patriots opponent, and they'll tell you Brady should leave -- and never come back.

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward joined 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Zolak & Bertrand" from Radio Row in Miami on Wednesday and was asked where he thinks Brady may sign in free agency this offseason.

His answer shouldn't surprise you.

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"I hope not with New England anymore," Heyward said. " ... Let the NFC deal with him for a while. That'd be nice. He's terrorized the AFC enough."

Heyward would know. Brady's Patriots trounced his Steelers 33-3 in Week 1 of the 2019 season and have beaten Pittsburgh in six of their last seven meetings, including playoffs.

New England also has reached the Super Bowl in four of the previous six seasons and made the AFC Championship Game in eight of the last nine seasons, annually crushing the postseason dreams of AFC rivals like the Steelers, who won 10 or more games in four straight seasons from 2014 to 2017 but never reached the Super Bowl in that span.

So, you can see why Heyward (and Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu) would appreciate Brady getting out of his hair.

Unfortunately for the AFC, that doesn't look likely: The Patriots are the odds-on favorite to re-sign the 42-year-old QB in free agency, followed by three AFC teams: the Los Angeles Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans.

But Heyward still appreciates Brady's greatness, even if the 20-year veteran doesn't grant his wish.

"I think he understands the game at a different level," Heyward said of Brady. He knows when to hit you with pace. He knows when to make you feel uncomfortable, and he's gonna exploit you."

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