Josh McDaniels' return helps Bill Belichick with plans for Patriots' staff

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. McDaniels' return: The past few days turned out to be significant for what Bill Belichick's coaching staff will look like in 2021 and how possible additions might fit to strengthen the group.

When the Eagles hired Nick Sirianni as their coach, it paved the way for two Patriots assistants who interviewed for the job -- offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo -- to return to the club, and the entire staff can now potentially return intact.

Mayo, 34, was viewed as more of a long shot in Philadelphia, but McDaniels was not. And if McDaniels ended up as the Eagles' coach, it would have created a void for Belichick without seemingly having a clear-cut internal successor to promote (maybe tight ends coach Nick Caley or wide receivers coach Mick Lombardi?).

Instead, Belichick now can proceed with McDaniels by his side at a time when the organization has a pressing quarterback question to answer. Tapping McDaniels' expertise in that area will be critical, as he is one of the best quarterback coaches in the NFL.

Belichick can now consider other additions to the coaching staff while projecting into the future. Feeding that pipeline is important, and here's one example: Initial indications are veteran running backs Ivan Fears is sticking around for another season, giving his assistant, Troy Brown, another year to learn before possibly elevating to a position coach role.

Also, the return of Matt Patricia as an assistant to the Patriots' coaching staff helps fill out the picture. Patricia's knowledge of the Patriots’' system and the type of players Belichick looks for in terms of scheme and program fit -- coupled with his meticulous X's and O's preparation -- can only be viewed as a positive.

At a time when NFL free agency is two months away, and 2021 NFL draft preparation has yet to kick into high gear, solidifying the coaching staff is an immediate item on Belichick's agenda. And that's why the past few days have been good to him.

2. Senior Bowl primer: This is a notable week for Belichick and the Patriots' personnel staff from a scouting standpoint, with Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Alabama. An early playoff exit in 2019 gave Belichick, McDaniels & Co., a chance to attend (they ended up picking Senior Bowl players Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings with their top three picks), and the schedule is open this year, as well, after being eliminated from the playoffs in December. Alabama's Mac Jones is the top quarterback there, with Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins an example of a big-play target who figures to pique interest because he opted out of the 2020 season, and this is the first chance to see him on the field since the 2019 season.

3. On Stafford: With news that the Detroit Lions and quarterback Matthew Stafford have mutually agreed to part ways, with Detroit expected to start exploring trade options as early as this week, how strongly will the Patriots express interest? The Patriots figure to explore all avenues at the position this offseason, so it would be surprising if they don't at least inquire to see what the market bears. Some might say Patricia's presence on staff makes it unlikely because of Stafford's experience playing under him in Detroit, and while only Stafford can answer that question, my thought is Belichick would be the ultimate trump card if he truly believes Stafford is the right fit. Another intriguing possibility is if Stafford's availability piques the San Francisco 49ers' interest, in turn, possibly making Jimmy Garoppolo available to Belichick as a trickle-down effect.

4. Edelman checks in: Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman was a guest on the "Pardon My Take" podcast this week, which marked his first on-the-record interview since a procedure on his knee in late October that landed him on injured reserve. Some interview nuggets:

  • On retirement: "We're not there yet."

  • On his knee: "I had to go in and get some stuff taken out. I don't think any time you go into your knee it's a good thing. ... I'm getting there, man. It was a rough year when it came to my physicality and how I felt."

  • On Tom Brady: "It's like a marriage where you grew apart but still love each other. ... It's awesome seeing Tommy and Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] doing well -- making big plays. It's obviously definitely weird. It is what it is."

5. Gilmore's injury timing: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore was among a small group of players reporting to Gillette Stadium this past week, as he is in the early stages of rehabbing a torn quad suffered in a Week 15 loss to Miami. Gilmore's presence at the stadium reflects his commitment to recovering, as well as to the Patriots, even as the sides seem to be heading toward an inflection point with his contract. Gilmore is to earn a base salary of $7 million in 2021, a result of the club taking $5 million of his 2021 base salary and advancing it to Gilmore in 2020. It's hard to imagine the four-time Pro Bowler playing for $7 million this season, well below the market for a player of his caliber. The timing of his injury/rehab, in which a full recovery might not come until a month or so into free agency, might delay a resolution until deeper into the offseason.

6. Draft nugget: Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, viewed as the top prospect at the position and a potential target for the Patriots at No. 15, totaled 12 receiving touchdowns this season. That is the second highest total in SEC history, behind Vanderbilt's Allama Matthews, who had 14 in 1982. Matthews went on to play wide receiver in the NFL, but Pitts (6-foot-5, 246 pounds) is expected to remain at tight end in the NFL.

7. House money: Brady is still big news in New England, and one of the questions asked on one local sports radio program last week was, "If Brady's Buccaneers don't advance to the Super Bowl, is their season still a success?" There was good banter with varied opinions on the topic, from former Patriots linebacker and ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi, among others. My opinion: Regardless of what unfolds Sunday, it's a decisive success, as the alternative would have been stories about how "dream teams" never work.

8. Wendell's influence: How the Buffalo Bills' offensive line performs in Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs will play a role in Buffalo's chances to advance to the 8Super Bowl for the first time in 27 years, and former New England offensive lineman Ryan Wendell (2008-15) is concluding his second year as an assistant O-line coach. He crossed over with Bills offensive coordinator and former Patriots assistant Brian Daboll for two years in New England, and Daboll praised Wendell's work alongside O-line coach Bobby Johnson.

9. Levy a gem: While chipping in with some Bills coverage this week, it was a pleasure to catch up with longtime Buffalo coach Marv Levy, who at 95, says he still walks an hour each day and lifts weights. Levy also emails, as his former special teamer Steve Tasker said he recently received one after sending Levy a holiday card. May we all be blessed to live like Levy at 95.

10. Did You Know: Belichick has won at least one game in 50 different stadiums (includes postseason), with Las Vegas' Allegiant Stadium and Minnesota's U.S. Bank Stadium the lone venues where he has yet to post a win. The earliest the Patriots could play a game in Las Vegas is in the playoffs next season, or in 2022 if the teams finish in the same spot in their division standings in '21. The Patriots are to play in Minnesota in 2022, per the NFL's rotating schedule formula.