* As the United States celebrates Inauguration Day, NBC Sports Boston is looking ahead to the four-year terms for our local teams. What should the plan be? We asked our insiders to weigh in on the outlook for the Celtics, Patriots, Bruins, and Red Sox.
When the Boston Celtics inked Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to long-term rookie extensions, they essentially elected the duo to the role of shamrock President and VP for at least one four-year term. What the team accomplishes during that time hinges almost solely on how that pair continues to develop and lead in their new high-profile roles.
Oh sure, there’s questions about their cabinet. Is Marcus Smart entrenched as Secretary of Defense? Will veteran addition Kemba Walker stick around after his current term ends? Is Robert Williams the long-term answer as Secretary of Interior? (Attorney) General Manager Danny Ainge must continue to find complementary pieces to put around the Jays, including maximizing a $28.5 million trade exception over the next nine months to give Boston to best chance at raising a banner. Coach Brad Stevens must figure out how to get talent-laden teams over the conference finals hump that has snagged the Celtics three times during the last four-year term.
Every decision the Celtics make over the next four years should be through the lens of how it impacts the Tatum/Brown tandem. Ainge should put a priority on players that not only accentuate their talents but are guys the pair yearn to play alongside. Does the idea of prying Bradley Beal or Donovan Mitchell sound impossible at the moment? Sure. But if those are the sort of superstars who would most excite the Jays to see in green, then the team must investigate any opportunity should they become available.
This team could look a lot different come the next election. Only Tatum is under contract for the 2024-25 season. The East is more daunting this season, but the long-term outlook is murkier. Tatum and Brown’s ascension seemingly ensures the Celtics will be in the mix but windows can close in a hurry.
Boston cannot ease in with its new administration; the clock is already ticking.
— Chris Forsberg
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The four-year plan to get the Patriots back to a Super Bowl is one that will require taking on a little risk. OK, a lot of risk. But Bill Belichick is no stranger to making those kinds of leaps, and he understands as well as anyone what's required to win football games in today's NFL.
To start? Get busy in 2021.
Add two pass-catchers in free agency. The first? A versatile inside-out threat in the middle of his prime who can threaten all levels of the field: Chris Godwin. He could be tagged by the Bucs, but they have a receiver room that runs six deep and they've committed real money to Mike Evans. They may swallow hard and let Godwin test the free-agent waters, at which point the Patriots should pounce. The second? Tight end Jonnu Smith, who might not be the people-mover the Patriots had in Rob Gronkowski for nearly a decade, but as a "move" option there are few better in the league. He's a maneuverable chess piece and an immediate upgrade to a room in dire need.
Next, go get the quarterback and draft North Dakota State's Trey Lance. You want to talk about risk? Here's a player with one full season as a starter under his belt. And even in that tremendous statistical year, he did not necessarily prove himself to be the college game's most accurate quarterback. But his physical skills -- his arm talent and his athleticism in the open field -- make him a tantalizing addition at No. 15 overall. It might not look pretty in Year 1, but with good coaching and the right pieces around him, he could be the NFL's next star at the position. It's more about traits at that spot than ever before, and he has 'em.
From there, Belichick will have four full seasons to build up and around Lance on a cheap rookie deal. Having a quarterback making that kind of money is a cheat code given the league's salary cap structure, allowing front offices to buy high-end talent while the signal-caller at the center of the operation is working at a discounted rate. We've seen teams have success with this type of plan for a while now: The Seahawks did it with Russell Wilson; the Rams did it with Jared Goff; the Chiefs are doing it now with Patrick Mahomes; the Bills are on a similar track with Josh Allen.
The Patriots may need a little help to get this thing off the ground. The Jets may have to pass up an arm to stick with Sam Darnold, as they're indicating they might. The Eagles may have to bypass drafting a quarterback in order to fix Carson Wentz. The Lions may have to roll with Matthew Stafford and hold off on plucking their next face of the franchise from the college ranks. The Panthers, Broncos and Giants may have to continue on with their underwhelming starters and draft different positions when they're on the clock.
But if things go well for Belichick in late April, he could have a gifted quarterback fall into his lap. And at that point, if money is spent wisely elsewhere, if the quarterback gets the coaching he needs to develop, their four-year plan could quickly turn into a four-year window to make a run at a Super Bowl.
— Phil Perry
The Bruins are a team in transition. Zdeno Chara is gone, pending free agent David Krejci could be gone after this season and the future of Tuukka Rask (also UFA at season's end) is unclear.
Here's the Bruins' issue, though: Teams in transition ideally hand the keys from one group to another. The Bruins don't have that other group.
The Athletic recently ranked the 31 prospect groups across the NHL. The Bruins ranked last. Center Jack Studnicka ideally can become a middle-sixer to soften Krejci's eventual departure, whenever that is. One of the Bruins' few decent prospects is a goalie in Jeremy Swayman, so perhaps he can be Boston's goalie of the future.
The Bruins must start drafting better, though. Depending on what happens with Rask and Krejci, the B's might have money to play with in free agency, but that's best done when a young, inexpensive group is supplemented with talented, more expensive veterans. Part of why signing Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard in free agency worked so well was because Boston had youngsters like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Phil Kessel, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic either in the NHL or on the way.
Bergeron is 35 now, meaning Boston's core will eventually transition to being David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and an also aging Brad Marchand. There are no sure-fire stars on the way, which is worrisome. How Don Sweeney handles the next couple of drafts will play a major role in whether the B's can stay a Cup contender on his watch.
— DJ Bean
BOSTON RED SOX
Today, my fellow Americans, we embark on a project that may feel hopeless, but holds the promise for a brighter tomorrow.
Well, maybe not TOMORROW tomorrow, but some distant tomorrow that is merely one in a thousand points of light: We will build back the Red Sox, and we will build them back better, because that slogan totally isn't awkward or uninspiring!
Four years should be enough for the Red Sox to look at the free agent market and decide, we can do better than Matt Andriese! We can do better than Martin Perez! We can make a bigger offseason splash than Hunter Renfroe or Renfrow or whichever one doesn't play football! Yes we can!
We will be players again for big-time free agents! We will trade prospects like so many baseball cards in the spokes of a Huffy! (Ask your parents). We will throw all our openers in the trash! We won't platoon at seven positions! We will build a bridge to the 21st century that completely bypasses Tampa Bay!
It's time to change our fortunes in that ballpark near Beerworks and return to the days of a kindler, gentler Red Sox Nation! We will build a franchise that keeps Mookie Betts and trades Andrew Benintendi and doesn't sit on its hands while the game's best free agents skip the country for . . . I need to sit down . . . FREAKING CANADA.
This era of American League carnage will end. Mark my words. God bless Chaim Bloom, and God bless the Red Sox!
— John Tomase