AFC East Reporter
The New England Patriots and Bill Belichick are in an information-free phase of their potential breakup. It’s unclear what exactly is happening behind the curtain as owner Robert Kraft decides how to handle Belichick’s future following the team’s 4-13 season.
I can’t help but wonder if Kraft is quietly shopping Belichick on the trade market. (This is a hunch, not a report.) Maybe Kraft is still deliberating, but if he’s not, he would have made it clear — by making a statement or leaking to the media — that Belichick is coming back. And we haven’t seen that.
Oddly, Belichick is not an easy coach to trade. He might be worth a first-round pick, and if so, he probably wouldn’t even want to go to a team without a first-round pick. And if it’s not a first-round pick, then there’s the complication of the greatest coach of all time getting traded for a second-round pick just one offseason after Sean Payton went for a first and second (with a third-rounder coming back to Denver). That might embarrass Belichick.
Then there’s this complication: Belichick’s demands — financial (massive contract) and organizational (coach and GM roles) — won’t match with many teams. What if Belichick struggles to find a team that wants what he’s selling, particularly in the wake of a rough few seasons in New England after Tom Brady’s departure?
We’ll soon find out. But in the meantime, here are some options that might be available to Belichick — if he hits the trade or open market.
Is the Bill Belichick-Patriots era coming to an end soon?
Selling point: Personnel. Despite some inexplicable personnel usage by former coach Arthur Smith (from first-round picks Bijan Robinson, Drake London and Kyle Pitts), Atlanta finished 7-10 and had a shot at the playoffs until the last day of the regular season. Imagine if the Falcons had simply played their best players in the most important situations. Even though Belichick makes some counterintuitive moves, he doesn’t hold his best players off the field for no reason. (Well, OK, there was the Malcolm Butler thing. But other than that!) Maybe with Belichick and a better quarterback — Kirk Cousins, perhaps — this team can make a Super Bowl run.
What Belichick has said: “Pitts is a really talented player. He’s very long, has excellent hands, has good quickness to get off the line, good quickness at the top of his route. He has a huge catch radius, has made some spectacular one-handed catches where the defenders are kind of grabbing at his other arm, he can only get one hand on the ball, and he still hauls it in. … He makes plays with the ball on either side of him that most receivers just can’t make. Somewhere between a Julio Jones and a Tony Gonzalez, but he’s a big, strong guy, too, like Gonzalez was.”
Why he’d go: The Falcons’ big, young offensive skill players probably wouldn’t even be the thing that draws Belichick the most. It would be their defensive front seven, which included overachievers like David Onyemata and Kaden Elliss. The secondary includes stalwart defenders like Jessie Bates and A.J. Terrell. Their pending free-agent class doesn’t include many of their impact players. And they have the eighth overall pick to go with a whopping $38 million in cap space to put finishing touches on this roster. It seems like a rare blend of talent and flexibility for Belichick.
Why he’d say no: I don’t know if he would. More than any other job, this one makes sense for Belichick. But for the sake of argument, let’s consider the unknown at quarterback. Maybe Belichick doesn’t like the QBs that he’ll have available to him in free agency and at No. 8 in the draft. Maybe he feels like he needs to go to a team with an NFL-ready quarterback.
Los Angeles Chargers
Selling point: Justin Herbert, who ranks right up there among the quarterbacks with the most raw talent. He just hasn’t quite figured out the whole winning thing. And while Belichick had a rough season in 2023, he does have the second-most wins in league history. It could be a great combination.
What Belichick has said: “Herbert can do everything you need a quarterback to do. He’s very athletic, can make all the throws. … Herbert creates some plays on his own when there really isn’t anything there. He pulls something out with a scramble or an extended play, or throwing into tight coverage. There aren’t too many guys who can get in there, but he can.”
Why he’d go: The Chargers look ready-made for success on offense, which has proven to be Belichick’s blind spot since the departure of Brady. So maybe Belichick thinks that, if he can piece things together on defense, L.A. would be a good landing spot.
Why he’d say no: Salary cap and ownership. The Spanos family doesn’t have the strongest reputation among owners. And Belichick is mindful of who he works for. Ownership was a big part of why he left New York years ago. But the salary cap might just be a bigger issue than that. L.A. is $34.4 million over the cap. So while the roster looks ready-made, Belichick might have to dissemble some of the pieces upon arrival.
Julian Edelman on Bill Belichick’s fit with Chargers
Selling point: Salary-cap space and the No. 2 overall pick. If Belichick wants to build something, the Commanders are the perfect team for a project.
What Belichick has said: “Defensively, they cause a lot of problems — negative plays, tackles for loss, really good in the low red area, goal line. Offensively, [Sam] Howell has been impressive, spreads the ball around, gets it to everybody, quick release. … Obviously, [Terry] McLaurin is a great player, but the tight ends, the running backs, [Jahan] Dotson, [Curtis] Samuel, the receivers — he uses all of them.”
Why he’d go: Belichick has a specific vision for his teams. And he might not want to inherit another coach’s vision. The Chargers have pieces in place — too many, in fact (from a salary cap standpoint). But in Washington, Belichick could draft a QB in the first round and use his ample salary cap space to rebuild the team on both sides of the ball.
Why he’d say no: Too big of a project. Maybe Belichick looks at the Commanders and thinks: I need just 14 wins to tie the record for most wins all time. I’d like a Super Bowl, too. And this team will take way too long to get there. Maybe Belichick doesn’t have the energy or career longevity to truly rebuild an organization.
Selling point: Low stress. It’s possible that Belichick takes a look at the coaching openings and realizes that none is right for him. He can sign with a TV network and sit tight until the right coaching opportunity presents itself.
What they have said: “I think Bill Belichick would be very fascinating as an analyst,” FOX Sports analyst Greg Olsen told The Athletic. “Everyone knows about his press conferences, and we’ve seen the memes and laughed. He’s probably one of [my] favorite production meetings I ever had. I remember we had the Patriots my first year with FOX. I was like, ‘It’s Bill Belichick, make sure you don’t ask stupid questions.’ He couldn’t have been more engaging. He couldn’t have been more patient. He couldn’t have spent more time and been more interesting and thoughtful. I could have talked to him for three hours and not run out of things that I was interested in.”
Why he’d go: Belichick’s demands are substantial. If he wants what he had in New England, he’ll need to find a team that wants him to be coach and GM. That comes with a huge price tag. And on Belichick’s end, he has seen his disciples fail in other locations. He needs the right gig to succeed. So if he joined the media, he could do a different kind of coaching — educating and enlightening the average fan. And he could make a boatload of money doing it.
Why he’d say no: He’s 71 and in reach of the all-time wins record. And maybe he just wants to coach, no matter how good or bad the openings look.
Nick picks best landing spot for Bill Belichick
Selling point: The whole roster. The Cowboys are among the most talented teams in the NFL. It’s that simple. Belichick would be lucky to get a team this good. (Just to be clear, we all know the Cowboys still have a coach, Mike McCarthy. Belichick landing in Dallas is predicated upon the thought that the Cowboys might get bounced in the first round of the playoffs, leading to McCarthy’s firing.)
What Belichick has said: “Jerry [Jones], Stephen [Jones] put together a great organization. … They obviously have some great players down there, eight guys in the Pro Bowl last year, most in the league. That’s kind of been their history, always had a lot of very good, high-profile players, going back about as far as you want to go back – maybe not until 1960, but not too long after that. They’ve got a lot of firepower.”
Why he’d go: Dak Prescott’s career resembles, in some ways, Tom Brady’s. Every team passed on both QBs multiple times. But they emerged from a mediocre draft profile to elite pocket-passing abilities and processing power. I think Belichick probably respects Prescott’s game. But even if Prescott looks average to Belichick, the supporting cast on offense should be enough to satisfy him, particularly with CeeDee Lamb lighting up the NFL this year. But most importantly, the Cowboys defense is a unit that Belichick would surely love to coach. The cornerbacks are terrific, between DaRon Bland and Trevon Diggs. And Micah Parsons! Belichick wouldn’t go so far as to compare the guy to Lawrence Taylor, but Parsons is a player Belichick respects enormously.
Why he’d say no: Jerry Jones. Who’d be the GM? Jones is essentially the general manager of his team, and he’s the only owner who operates like that. Will McClay is their personnel chief, and is one of the best-respected talent evaluators in the game. I’m not sure if Jones and Belichick could agree on how decision-making would work. But if this job becomes available and if Jones is interested, I do think that the talent might be tempting enough for Belichick to make some concessions on power. After all, he likely just needs two seasons at his next destination to pass Don Shula. And a team like the Cowboys looks like the right vehicle for Super Bowl contention in 2024.
Should teams be lining up for Bill Belichick?
Selling point: The cornerbacks. Belichick’s favorite position to coach might just be cornerback. And the Seahawks’ tandem could be one of the best in the NFL next year.
What Belichick has said: The Patriots haven’t played the Seahawks since the Russell Wilson era so Belichick has not spoken at length about the current team.
Why he’d go: It wouldn’t be the first time Belichick followed in Pete Carroll’s footsteps. And Belichick would inherit a roster that — if you squint — is probably 75 percent of the way to contending for a Super Bowl. The offense is in good shape to support Geno Smith for another year at QB, if that’s the way the Seahawks want to go. And the secondary has incredible young talent, including Tariq Woolen and Devon Witherspoon.
Will Seattle replace Geno Smith in the NFL Draft?
Why he’d say no: The defense is stacked with Carroll’s twitchy athletes, and I’m not sure that’s the type of player Belichick loves. The team doesn’t seem to have a QB plan past Smith. And finally, the Seahawks have just $5 million in salary cap space, which will likely interfere with Belichick bringing in His Guys. Even with some big-time talent, this is a roster that could be on the verge of collapse in 2024. If that’s how Belichick sees it, he doesn’t want to be the coach who ends up being the fall guy for a team destined to fail.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Selling point: Maybe they’re the only team that would hire him?
What Belichick has said: “[Baker Mayfield is] a talented player, he’s athletic. … He can certainly make all the throws. He’s a tough kid. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. Those are all dangerous qualities.”
Why he’d go: There are some really good and important pieces on Tampa’s roster, starting on the offensive line. Belichick absolutely loves safeties like Antoine Winfield and linebackers like Devin White. Though they are pending free agents, they are pieces Belichick might retain and build his defense around. And if there were any GM that Belichick might work with, it could be Jason Licht, who got his first executive job with the Patriots back in 2002.
Why he’d say no: The Brady parallels. Not only are the Buccaneers a team in flux, but a move to Tampa would draw obvious comparisons to Brady’s tenure there. And if Brady could win there and Belichick couldn’t, then the comparisons would grow even more damning. Now, if that’s not enough to deter Belichick, then maybe the quarterback uncertainty will be. Mayfield has been good, but I don’t think that’s who Belichick would keep around. (That quote above isn’t exactly fawning.) So the coach would have to spend his offseason figuring out whether he wants Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins or another (potentially washed-up) option on the carousel. There’s a reason why this team is last on my list. It is, by far, the least likely.
Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna.
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