The New England Patriots have been far and away the best NFL franchise in the 21st century, appearing in nine Super Bowls and winning six of them. However, the dominance of the Patriots has ground to a halt since Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay. In the first two years after Brady left for Tampa, the Pats have gone 7-9 and 10-7, although the 10-7 rewarded them with a butt-kicking from the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round.
So what has gone wrong with the Pats since Brady left? Is Bill Belichick a bad coach? Is Brady leaving the start of the Patriots’ downward spiral? Questions like this have been asked at times since Brady has left, but there is one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb that not only led Brady to leave, but has put the Patriots in a not-so-great position talentwise.
That one big thing is the NFL Draft, specifically the Patriots ability, or lack thereof, to draft players that actually end up being good players, especially in the early rounds.
The NFL Draft, or any league’s draft, can sometimes be described as teams reaching into a bag of beans, hoping to find a magic one. The higher the pick, the better chance at getting a magic bean. The Patriots seem to have trouble finding those magic beans.
In the last 6 NFL Drafts, the Pats have missed out on a boatload of talent. Now, you can’t expect every pick to be a good player, but you would think that they would have done a lot better than they have done. I did a redraft of the Pats’ last 6 NFL drafts (2017-2022), and looked at all the talent they missed on. You can check out that full redraft here.
Here is what a depth chart of a team compiled from these six drafts would look like.
That’s a lot of talent right there the Pats missed out on. And sure, other teams missed on it too, but the Pats have seemingly missed on all of their draft picks recently. Out of all their first round picks in the last six years, the only ones one the roster are Isaiah Wynn, Mac Jones, and Cole Strange. That’s a QB and two offensive lineman.
If you add in the second round picks that are still on the team, you have Joejuan Williams, Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Christian Barmore, and Tyquan Thornton. So, a corner who isn’t good enough to play, a good safety, a half-decent linebacker, a good defensive tackle, and a receiver who may or may not be good, but has only played in one NFL game so far.
Some of the blame for the bad drafting can be placed on Bill Belichick, who plays a big part in who the Patriots draft, especially considering that the Pats have the smallest draft room in the league. Belichick is the de facto GM, as he calls most of the shots in New England. You would think that would work well, because Belichick knows what the team needs and can go out and get what they need. However, it normally doesn’t work for whatever reason, and a prime example of that is Bill O’Brien with the Texans.
Belichick doesn’t deserve all the blame for things that go wrong, as he does a very good job late in the draft, especially when it comes to finding guys who can help the team. Examples of late round draft picks or undrafted free agents that have panned out for Belichick in recent years include Rhamondre Stevenson (4th round), Ja’Whaun Bentley (5th round pick), Jake Bailey (5th round), Michael Onwenu (6th round), and J.C. Jackson (UDFA). And Belichick seems to have found something in 2022 4th round pick Jack Jones.
The draft isn’t the end-all be-all, and Belichick is clearly a good coach on the field, as the 2020 Patriots had ZERO business going 7-9 with Cam Newton starting at QB. You could even argue that last year’s Pats should have been worse than 10-7. We all know Belichick is a great coach. That’s not up for debate. What is up for debate though is the coaching staff surrounding him.
Heading into this year, the Pats didn’t have an offensive coordinator. Matt Patricia, who is calling the plays, was a defensive coordinator for the Pats. Not offense. Defense. Defensive coordinator.
The QB coach and offensive assistant, Joe Judge, was the special teams coordinator with the Pats. Obviously, both guys got head coaching experience with the Lions and Giants, and I’d guess that they are good coaches to have, but they shouldn’t be running the offense.
The Pats haven’t had a defensive coordinator since Matt Patricia left for the Lions head coaching job in 2017. However, in 2018, Brian Flores was the clear de facto defensive coordinator. Since Flores has left for Miami, there has been no clear person in charge of the defense. Except there is.
It’s Steve Belichick, who has pretty much assumed defensive play calling duties since Flores left. Jerod Mayo is a great source on the sideline, especially for the linebackers, but it seems like Steve Belichick is the lead man on the defensive coaching staff. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it leads to one final thing that brings up lots of questions.
Belichick is in his 23rd year with the team, tying him with Chuck Noll for the fifth longest head coaching tenure in NFL history and third longest in the Super Bowl era. The longest tenure ever is 29 years from Tom Landry with the Dallas Cowboys. And Belichick is 70 years old. He isn’t going to coach forever, and the coaches with the longest tenures normally have some teams on the back end that aren’t great.
In Tom Landry’s last seven years with the Cowboys, he went 54-50. In Don Shula’s last ten years with the Dolphins, he went 79-70. In Chuck Noll’s last eight years with the Steelers, he went 60-67. All three legendary coaches at the end of their tenures were around .500. If Belichick’s end is near, the last two years could prove to be the start of that downfall, with Belichick leading the Pats to a record of 19-19 from the start of the 2020-21 season through the Pats’ first 5 games of the 2022-23 season.
With that, who will be the next head coach of the New England Patriots?
Most people probably haven’t thought of this much, but I have, and I have some fear here. And that’s because I believe that the next head coach of the New England Patriots will be Steve Belichick. Why Steve Belichick?
He is essentially the defensive coordinator of the team. Matt Patricia will probably find another head coaching job in the next couple of years. Joe Judge isn’t the guy, plus he could get job offers elsewhere too. And all the other coaches on the staff are lower on the totem pole. Also add in that the Pats don’t hire from the outside, and that they don’t have a GM in place to make that decision, meaning either Robert Kraft will name Steve Belichick as the next coach, or when Bill Belichick leaves, he will directly influence his son assuming head coaching duties.
This doesn’t mean that Steve Belichick couldn’t be a good coach, but the Pats can’t just make him the de facto GM like his dad has been. The Pats would have to bring people into the front office and add to the coaching staff. And the league is only shifting further towards offense. Why wouldn’t you try to go out and get a capable offensive minded coach, especially if Steve Belichick is essentially your defensive coordinator?
Those are questions that should have simple answers, but they don’t, which makes me worry a bit about the Patriots’ future. With no coordinators on their coaching staff, they can’t just promote a coordinator.
Lastly, Robert Kraft as an owner, is pretty much a fan of the team. Is he going to be able to make the decisions to move on from Belichick and not name Steve Belichick the head coach, practically in honor of Bill Belichick? I don’t know if he can. And will he even be alive when it’s time for that decision to happen? A head coaching change for the Patriots is coming in the near future. What could they do to decide the next 10-20 years of the franchise.
Let’s hope they don’t screw it up.