How will the Patriots’ offense fare without an offensive coordinator?
This would be something to keep an eye on even if New England had gone with a more conventional replacement for Josh McDaniels. After all, Bill Belichick’s ascent up the coaching ladder would characterize him as a defensive-minded coach. The presence of a strong, stable coordinator on the opposite side of the ball, therefore, should not be underestimated. The effect of McDaniels’ first departure from New England in 2009 was somewhat mitigated by Bill O’Brien stepping in as the de factooffensive coordinator.
As for this year, a substantial portion of the traditional OC responsibilities will be divided up between Matt Patricia and Joe Judge.
Let’s pretend for one moment that either assistant inspired an iota of confidence or possessed a mere semblance of a track record of success on offense (heck, or any other phase of the game). We would still be wondering who will call the plays how long it will take for the reinvented offense to gel into a cohesive unit; or if said hypothetical semblance of a track record of success would be enough to allow Mac Jones to pick up where he left off in his growth] last year, if not take a leap forward; or, likewise, how the sacred bond between quarterback and play caller–which entails an astonishing degree of mutual clairvoyance in order to allow any quarterback to be successful, let alone a second-year franchise QB.
But that track record of success does not exist. The names of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge have become synonymous with failed head coaching tenures and desperate retreads on staff.
This time, Bill Belichick does not have a Bill O’Brien on his side to ease the transition. This is more akin to the only other time Belichick attempted to lead a team without an offensive coordinator: from 1991-1993 as coach of the Cleveland Browns.
In 1994, Belichick named an offensive coordinator. The Browns finished with an 11-5 record and won their first playoff game since Belichick arrived–and against Bill Parcells’ Patriots, no less. It was the lone bright spot in what was otherwise a failed tenure.
The reports out of Patriots training camp were dubious at best. It is not merely a situation to monitor, but already cause for concern if you’re a Patriots fan accustomed to the unprecedented stability you’ve enjoyed for over two decades.
Do or die year in Indy?
For a franchise that has largely been perceived as having their arrow pointing up for most of Frank Reich’s tenure, it still feels like they’re reeling in the long aftermath of Andrew Luck’s retirement. Reich enters year 5 as Colts head coach with his fifth different opening day starter at quarterback within that same time span.
At this time last year, Colts personnel were reporting to training camp with boundless optimism about Carson Wentz’s ability to take Frank Reich’s offense to the next level. We all know how that went; the good news is that this year the Colts can turn the page as they begin training camp with boundless optimism about Matt Ryan’s ability to take Frank Reich’s offense to the next level.
Ok, so Carson Wentz isn’t exactly Matt Ryan. But the fact of the matter is that a quarterback carousel is no recipe for success for any head coach. Believing that he’d accepted the Colts head coaching job with a steady franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck, Frank Reich has instead shuffled from Luck to Jacoby Brissett to Phillip Rivers to Carson Wentz to Matt Ryan.
Even though the last two Super Bowl winners were teams with newly acquired quarterbacks, history suggests that these are outliers. Frank Reich and the Colts are in very capable hands with Matt Ryan, but at what point do they invest in a long term solution? It is difficult to watch the contagious youthful energy of Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes on the field and wonder what could be if Colts had a similar type of player to lead them while their championship window remains open. One more disappointing year may be all it takes for Jim Irsay to want to make a change.
Speaking of making a head coaching change…
The number of rookie head coaches is too damn high.
In an era in which every team’s success is handcuffed to the prosperity of its salary cap, wouldn’t it make sense to invest in the one area whose continuity is completely independent of it?
From 2019 – 2021, the NFL saw a total of 20 head coaching changes across 17 teams. Over that same three-year span, first-year head coaches amassed a cumulative record of 125-186-1, good for a win percentage of .378.
Add the upcoming year to the picture and we have a whopping 30 (30!) head coaching changes across 20 teams. Only 12 have managed to retain their hand-picked coach who survived their own interview process; meanwhile, 10 teams have fired two different regimes.
Ten teams are taking on that risk this year, with six of them entering the year with a first-time head coach and only two of the remaining four (Lovie Smith and Doug Pederson) have posted a winning record across their previous stints. Granted, we would probably expect teams with first-year head coaches to struggle to evaluate a .500 or better season as a success: after all, they’re coming off a season in which they were bad enough to make a coaching change anyway.
Whereas continuity was once a foregone prerequisite for NFL success, it may very well be an advantage in an era when the so-called “microwave society” with all its woes in delaying gratification has permeated into professional sports. Championship teams get more coverage than ever because there are more media than ever to cover them and talk about them. But in their haste to even the playing field with each new CBA that passes, perhaps some owners have forgotten the crucial elements that make a champion.
Have you ever clicked “skip ad” a few times on a YouTube video and then gotten irrationally upset at the ad you’re not able to skip? League owners have introduced the ads, and now they are experiencing the NFL franchise version of that. We love to praise franchises like the Pittsburgh Steelers for their historically patient approach (and, coincidentally, for being a beacon of sustained long-term success). Yet, despite this, many (less competent) organizations settle for the solace that a convenient scapegoat may bring.
Rookie wide receivers have big shoes to fill.
It wasn’t long ago that wide receiver was not necessarily viewed as a premium position outside of fantasy leagues. It also wasn’t long ago that a balanced offense meant a true 50-50 pass-run split. Naturally, more passing has caused the importance of the wide receiver position as a whole to be magnified—along with a rapid increase in up-and-coming wide receiver talent all the way down to the youth level.
Much has been made about the numbers blockbuster trade made this year involving wide receivers. In each of these cases, the team that dealt away their WR will aim to replace some of their former star’s production with a rookie.
Green Bay Packers
Christian Watson/Romeo Daubs
Kansas City Chiefs
Other notable wide receiver departures include Allen Robinson, who left Chicago to sign with the Rams, and Juju Smith-Shuster, who signed a 1-year deal with the Chiefs. How will they fare when they are called upon to offset the missing production of their predecessors, and will this set a precedent for how teams decide to handle having a star wide receiver due for a contract extension?
According to Football Outsiders, the deficit left behind on the team trading away a star wide receiver outweighs the advantage gained by the team acquiring the same player. Keep an eye on how players like Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers fare without their top pass catching target from years past.
Brady’s (spoiled?) retirement tour
This has nothing to do with Brady’s absence from training camp for personal reasons. We’ve operated under the past several years with the assumption that it may very well be the goat’s last year; now that he “retired” and “unretired” shortly thereafter, every game will be something of a spectacle. It’s a season that could potentially go off the rails if the situation around Tom Brady continues to deteriorate.
February 1 ➝ Tom Brady announces his retirement. Incidentally, Adam Schefter’s public approval rating was at an all-time low.
March 13 ➝ Brady walks back his retirement enterprise a la Grampa Simpson walking in and out in one succinct GIF loop. He did cross “make national media talk about me during the week leading up to a Super Bowl I’m not even playing in” off his bucket list, however.
March 30 ➝ Bruce Arians steps down as head coach and names Todd Bowles as his successor. Bowles’ record as a head coach in the NFL is 26-41, but this is decidedly the best situation he has been in as he attempts to improve on that record.
February 27 ➝ Starting left guard Ali Marpet announces retirement. Rookie Luke Goedeke is expected to be the starter for 2022.
March 18 ➝ Former starting right guard Alex Cappa signs four year/$35 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Buccaneers traded for Shaq Mason a few days later to help offset this loss. This is the only change on the offensive line that the team appeared to have a solid plan for.
June 22 ➝ Tight end Rob Gronkowski announces his retirement. We’ve already heard rumblings that he’s as committed to retirement as Kim Kardashian is to marriage. But these are only rumors, and one of Brady’s most reliable weapons leaves behind a below-average tight end group in the meantime.
July 28 ➝ Starting center Ryan Jensen suffers severe knee injury during training camp practice. On September 1, the Buccaneers placed him on non-season ending injured reserve. Jenson’s best case scenario appears to be a return in early December; however, according to ProFootballDoc, the injury is likely to be season ending.
August 22 ➝ Guard Aaron Stinnie, who started in Super Bowl LV and was the favorite to win the starting left guard spot vacated by Ali Marpet, tears ACL and MCL during a preseason matchup against the Tennessee Titans. Stinnie was placed on season-ending injured reserve two days later. We know Brady’s biggest weakness is interior pressure; it is safe to think that even he views this injury as a suboptimal development.
August 28 ➝ In light of the dubious circumstances before Brady’s leave of absence from training camp, Brady gives his first public remarks about it: “We all have really unique challenges to our life. I’m 45 years old, man. There’s a lot of sh*t going on. Just gotta try to figure out life the best you can.”
Well, thanks for clearing that up.
Now that we essentially know this will be it for Tom Brady, every week will be a spectacle. There will be more questions about it and more stories written on it than ever before. The brief retirement hiatus he went on will inevitably alter the public perception: whereas before the hiatus he may have easily made his retirement plans ambiguous, that is no longer the case. Even for Brady, he is being asked to overcome a lot of adversities that may be modest in isolation, but far more consequential altogether.
Perhaps this will be a second end of sorts for the Brady-Belichick duo.
Santiago Leon is the Founder and CEO of the Sports Cast. He covers NFL, NBA, and world soccer. He’s also founder of sleon productions, which he specializes in technology and serves clients with solutions to make their business grow.