Josh McDaniels' return might extend Bill Belichick's coaching window

Josh McDaniels staying on as New England's offensive coordinator should remove some burden from coach Bill Belichick's shoulders. AP Photo/Winslow Townson

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When Josh McDaniels reversed course to return to the New England Patriots on Tuesday, one of the first questions it sparked was: How much longer does Bill Belichick plan to coach?

Belichick turns 66 in April, he’s committed to be back in 2018, and it seems fair to say he’s “year-to-year” after that.

Some believe McDaniels’ return could accelerate Belichick’s eventual retirement, but here’s an alternative theory: It actually might prolong his stay on the sideline because it reduces what would have been a major strain.

This was shaping up to be one of Belichick’s most challenging years because he was going to have to replace McDaniels, his offensive coordinator; defensive coordinator Matt Patricia; and maybe even special teams coach Joe Judge, whose contract is expiring.

McDaniels’ return takes a major headache away from Belichick, as the Patriots didn't have a clear in-house candidate to replace the offensive coordinator. It probably would have meant Belichick devoting more time to that side of the ball like he did in 2005, when Charlie Weis departed and McDaniels was being eased into the playcalling role.

McDaniels coming back in 2018 and into the future simplifies things for Belichick, allowing the freedom that is ideal for him to oversee the entire team, or chip in more on defense under a new coordinator (likely Brian Flores).

Meanwhile, another trickle-down effect of McDaniels’ return is the odds of Judge’s return as special teams coach have increased. Over the past 24 hours or so, there has been positive momentum building that Judge will be back with the Patriots in 2018 (although, as we saw with McDaniels and the Colts, nothing is official until it’s signed).

If that’s the way it unfolds, the turnover that was projected for two key spots on the Patriots' staff will not have come to fruition.

That’d be a huge coup for Belichick, who has also been relishing one other aspect of things: having his sons, Stephen (safeties coach) and Brian (coaching assistant), on staff. Leading up to the Super Bowl, when asked about coaching alongside his sons, he said: “Special, unlike any other, really. It's obviously great to have Steve, but also Brian, too. It's special."

Whenever Belichick decides to retire, he’d be stepping away from that, which figures to be a notable part of his decision-making process.

So maybe it’s two to three years. Maybe it’s four to five. Or even longer.

If anything, McDaniels’ return might extend the window rather than shorten it.