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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The way the New England Patriots’ season ended made it clear what coach Bill Belichick’s No. 1 priority should be when he looks forward to 2022.
It is defense with a capital D.
It will certainly come, but from a purely timing point of view, something else is looming: offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel’s future and his integrated role in the development of second-year quarterback Mac Jones.
There are currently eight vacant head coach positions in the NFL, and the Las Vegas Raiders’ opening is the most important to see if McDaniels, 45, eventually travels. “Tell” will be who the Raiders hire as their general manager.
If it’s the Patriots’ director of gaming staff, Dave Ziegler, who interviewed in Las Vegas on Friday, the odds of a McDaniels departure are likely to rise. Sources have told ESPN that McDaniels has passed on to interested teams that finding someone he knows well on the staff side is a top priority, and he brought Ziegler – an alumni from John Carroll University – into the NFL in 2010 with Denver. Broncos.
Belichick had previously given McDaniels one of the highest compliments, comparing him to his longtime friend Nick Saban in terms of his understanding of what each player does on the field. And in his season-ending video conference, Belichick noted the unpredictability of what lies ahead with his staff.
“We have a lot of good coaches. It’s not surprising that other teams would be interested in talking to them or other staff,” he said. “If there’s an opportunity for someone who’s at a high level that we can not provide here, I understand they’ll have to consider it. So we’ll see what happens at that.”
At the same time, it is not the case that McDaniels is aggressively pursuing an exit from New England.
He made it clear how much he enjoyed working with Jones and other newcomers when he said in December: “This year’s team has given a lot of new energy. The ability to really flow into them and create a foundation for many of them in our offense and our culture here in New England – and then watching them adopt it, adapt to it and really grow and learn how to fit into the larger piece of the puzzle – has really been a great experience for us all .”
In November, Jones said: “Josh is a great coach and he’s been close to me ever since I came here. He wants me to be the best player I can be … and he’s done great. work to put me in a position to lead the offense. “
Building on this foundation in 2022 – and possibly giving Jones a dynamic No. 1 reception opportunity, as the Cincinnati Bengals did for Joe Burrow with Ja’Marr Chase this season – would be a coup for Belichick and help him dedicate attention to the defense at the same time as the special team units are restored to their once dominant position.
Among the bright spots for the Patriots’ offense in 2021, with rookie Jones at the helm, was scoring touchdowns on the opening drive more frequently than any team except two in the NFL. They were also number 11 in the red zone based on touchdown percentage (39 TDs in 63 trips) and fifth in explosive rushing games (65 rushes on 10 yards or more).
A McDaniel’s departure could potentially hamper future growth, especially because there may not be a single successor to the staff.
Tight-ends coach Nick Caley and receiver coach Mick Lombardi are among those in the pipeline. Lombardi’s thoroughness and intelligence were highlighted by McDaniels this season, who said that Lombardi “sees the game very much in the same way as myself in terms of passing play.”
In a reflection of that, Lombardi, according to McDaniels, was responsible for preparing the attack for the red zone as part of the game plans this season.
Former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who is set to enter his second season in Alabama, could become a target if McDaniels leaves. But would that be anything O’Brien entertains at all?
Not exaggerating things to say next week, or how long it takes the Raiders to complete their GM / head coach decisions, has an extra level of significance for the Patriots.