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.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Jeff Benedict details process of writing 'The Dynasty'

Patriots Talk Podcast: Jeff Benedict details process of writing 'The Dynasty'

There’s one sentiment shared by everyone who’s covered the New England Patriots for the entirety of their dynastic run. Gratitude. 

It might not show up in the day-to-day coverage of reporting on the nitty-gritty of where the team is and where it’s headed. It might not seem like it when we probe and analyze the interpersonal relationships and shine a light on where the agitations are. 

But to have had a front-row seat to history for 20 years? To watch a once-failed head coach, an overlooked quarterback and an idealistic and sometimes naïve owner combine to lift the Patriots from NFL afterthought to the most successful team in the history of America’s most beloved sport? Right place, right time for me. 

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I coulda been born in Saint Augustine, Florida, and spent my career covering the Jaguars. I wasn’t. I got to cover the team I loved first. The team I cried over when it lost in the 1976 playoffs to the Oakland Raiders. I can still remember the sense of accomplishment I felt at the 1997 NFL Draft, the first event I covered in person on the Patriots beat. It was all I wanted to do. 

The Patriots drafted Chris Canty in the first round. It’s gotten better since then. 

When you cover the team this long, you develop a sense of “ownership.” A belief you know the story as well as anyone possibly could. It’s probably not healthy. Really, it’s a barrier to learning. But I’ll admit it lurks. So when it was announced that author Jeff Benedict would have a book called, “The Dynasty” coming out in September, there was a flash of, “I already know the story…” combined with a twinge of “Why’s he writing it? What’s he know that I don’t?"

Well, as it turns out – and as I expected from an author of Benedict’s ability – there’s a lot he knows about the Patriots that I didn’t.

I’m more than 200 pages into the 525-page book. Benedict spoke to 250 different people. He got everyone who matters on the record – Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, Tom Brady, Roger Goodell … the list goes on. I’m learning a lot. 

Benedict, who along with Armen Keteyian wrote the best-selling book, “Tiger Woods,” is a master at digging for details and anecdotes and putting his reader in a fly-on-the-wall position because he’s such a terrific reporter and storyteller. 

”The Dynasty” won’t be released by published Simon and Schuster until September 1. There’s an embargo on the content until then. But I did get to speak with Benedict on “Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk Podcast” about the two-year process of writing this book. 

Patriots Talk Podcast: Benedict explains the process behind upcoming book, "The Dynasty" | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

“To me, we’re talking about the greatest sports dynasty, certainly of this century in America and it’s in the conversation as being the greatest sports dynasty in America ever,” said Benedict. “I did feel a tremendous sense of being overwhelmed, a sense of foreboding because it’s such an epic story. 

“I’m not an insider,” Benedict said. “I know all these guys who have been around this franchise forever. I wasn’t there for any of it. I’ve literally never covered a Patriots game … And here’s an army of men and women who’ve been around the team, so it was sort of this idea of, ‘What can you bring that would actually add value and be different?’ 

“I tried to look at it from the perspective of the one thing I can relate to is, I’m a New Englander to the core. What I do feel is I really understand my audience. And the core audience for this book is people who live in New England and people who have followed this team and are in love with this team.

"It’s not to say I don’t want to write it for people in other parts of the country. I want them to read it too and there’s a great story there even if you’re a Jets fan or a Steelers fan. But the core audience is us who live in New England.”

The start of the book is Kraft-centric. The first 100 pages cover the machinations he went through to purchase the team, keep it in Foxboro and build a stadium, which have been somewhat been taken for granted around here and are laid out in detail by Benedict. I learned a lot.

“I have a wonderful editor,” said Benedict. “My editor gave me the same challenge with this as he did with Tiger Woods and that was, ‘I want the reader to learn something new on every single page of this book.’ So if the book is 500 pages long, that’s at least 500 things you need to find that no one else knew. 

“That’s really hard in the New England market,” Benedict added. “The Patriots are the most beloved team in New England. They’re the kings. They’re covered the most. It’s saturation coverage. So I took the approach that, this is not a book about a person, this is a book about a team, about a franchise.

"I went into it with two central questions that all Patriots fans are interested in. First, how was this dynasty built? How was it made? What distinguishes this team from all of those others is they ran their course in about a decade. And after that, their ship had sailed. This dynasty has doubled the length of any of its predecessors. And the second question is how did they sustain it?”

The book is current. It gets into the departure of Brady, the machinations that led to it and the sentiments of everyone involved. Again, I know the story and what I’ve been told. But nobody told me exactly what was said, where conversations took place and how people reacted. 

Benedict has that in The Dynasty. Which serves as further proof that, in life, you think you know. But often you don’t really know.

Check out the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or on YouTube.

No substitute for Cam Newton's experience as Patriots practices heat up

No substitute for Cam Newton's experience as Patriots practices heat up

So far so good for Cam Newton. 

It's one thing to be praised by new teammates, from Julian Edelman to Isaiah Wynn and Lawrence Guy. It's another to earn some early plaudits from Bill Belichick. But that's exactly what Newton received from his new head coach on Friday morning.

Belichick, of course, is careful not to single out players even when asked specifically about an individual. Therefore, in answering a question about Newton during a WebEx call with reporters, Belichick did not share impressions on Newton alone. But when he did highlight what he's seen from his new quarterback, the sentiments were nothing but positive.

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"We've done a lot of meetings, a lot of walkthroughs," Belichick said. "A lot of information has been transferred to all the players. He's worked very hard, I'd say, as all our players have. We have a hard-working group. Those guys are ready to go and we've put in some long days. They've been very attentive during the process.  

"I'd say all the quarterbacks, at that position, those guys have been locked in, been focused, worked extremely hard. All four of them. When they all get in the huddle, everybody has a lot of confidence in what they're able to do, and the information they have to give the team. Play-calls, adjustments, audibles, protection adjustments, things like that.

"But again, we haven't played anywhere near the speed we're going to be playing at so we'll see how it all comes together at that point. But Cam's a hard-working kid. He really is."

At Patriots practice Friday, Newton will have an opportunity to put on display all the hard work he's put in for years prior to his Foxboro arrival. It's the portion of the summer schedule when Newton's experience level should shine through. And if there is truly a quarterback competition underway at Gillette Stadium, it's when Newton could show off a Secretariat-style final-stretch kick.

Why? After months of slow-playing things, Belichick's offense and defense will have an opportunity to square off for real -- kind of. The two sides still won't be in pads, but Friday will be their first up-tempo practice, Belichick indicated. 

For quarterbacks, that means it's time to put their post-snap diagnostic skills to the test. Up until this point, all they've been able to rep with any consistency are pre-snap reads during light workouts, meetings and walkthroughs. But they haven't performed against buzzing defenses from the pocket, so deciphering where to go with the football after the ball is snapped has been a bit of a blind spot, so to speak.

"To this point," Belichick said, "for all positions, it doesn't really matter which position you're talking about, the pre-snap, line of scrimmage and initial assignment -- we've had an opportunity to go over that extensively. And I feel pretty good about where we are there. What we're missing is things that happen post-snap and the fundamentals and execution of our assignments at a high tempo, with contact, against a quality opponent. 

"Those are the things we haven't done, nobody's been able to do. We'll start that process really (Friday), Sunday and next week with pads is when we'll be able to hit those with some solid experiences for the players and hopefully progression. We're about as far as we can go in terms of walkthroughs and calls, communication and all that. But the speed of the game post-snap and what happens once everybody starts moving, we've seen some of that at a slow pace, I would say to a certain degree, but nothing like what is really gonna happen.

" ... Last night should've been our first preseason game. We haven't even had a full-speed practice yet, let alone in pads."

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Reporters will be able to see for themselves how Newton looks in competitive situations starting Monday. But when the speed of practice picks up Friday, who would you expect to be the greatest beneficiary between Newton and second-year man Jarrett Stidham?

Stidham may have had an advantage early in the offseason compared to Newton. He'd spent a full season with the Patriots, learning in their meetings, impressing in their practices. He understood the language of the Patriots offense. He understood what Josh McDaniels demanded from the position.

And while Newton has had weeks to chip away at a playbook Stidham has had for a year -- a playbook filled with "calculus," Edelman told Newton -- the former MVP has 125 career regular-season games under his belt plus seven playoff contests. (His 131 starts are more than three times that of third-stringer Brian Hoyer.) Newton has seen live NFL defenses. He's broken them down, deceived them, exploited them in real time. 

Newton's post-snap reactions to blitzes, pressures, man and zone coverages will certainly have to be tailored to his new offense. There will be teaching moments for him in that regard. But he's proven over the course of his career that his internal processing speed can ramp up and excel against the game's best. For Stidham, who hasn't been put in a position to take any snaps of consequence, that just hasn't happened yet.

Indeed, 47 days after he signed, Newton may feel more at home than ever as the intensity at Patriots practice heats up.