FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. OC search: The Patriots began their offensive coordinator search last week, as coach Bill Belichick held video conferences with candidates including Bill O’Brien (former Patriots quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator and Texans coach), Keenan McCardell (Vikings wide receivers coach), Nick Caley (Patriots tight ends coach), Adrian Klemm (Oregon associate head coach/run game coordinator/offensive line coach) and Shawn Jefferson (Cardinals associate head coach/receivers).
The list of possibilities, and their varied career backgrounds, sparks a thought that Belichick is interviewing for more than just a coordinator.
He also might be looking to fill out other spots on the staff, too, such as the offensive line (e.g., Klemm) and maybe even a passing-game coordinator (e.g., McCardell, Caley, Jefferson).
O’Brien is the only candidate who has called plays, which along with his past history as a quarterbacks coach/coordinator with the Patriots (2009-2011) makes him a leading candidate. Perhaps equally as important is that in an offseason in which 10 different teams are looking for an offensive coordinator, O’Brien views the Patriots as one of the top jobs available, in part because of his Massachusetts roots and family ties.
There is a potential wild card, however. Could the Arizona Cardinals, under first-year general manager and former Patriots director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort, make O’Brien part of their head-coaching search?
Now Ossenfort, a week into his new job, is charged with working alongside owner Michael Bidwill in hiring the Cardinals’ coach to replace Kliff Kingsbury, who was fired. The Cardinals have reportedly spoken with (or plan/hope to speak with) former Colts coach Frank Reich, Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. To this point, O’Brien hasn’t been linked to the job.
If O’Brien ultimately lands in New England, one important aspect for Belichick to consider is having someone who can work under him as a possible OC successor. Because if O’Brien experiences the success the Patriots hope he would, it could quickly put him back in the mix for head-coaching jobs; he won four division titles in Houston and has the highest winning percentage of any coach in Texans history.
As former Patriots assistant Michael Lombardi said on his GM Shuffle podcast, “Bill [Belichick’s] not going to want to say, ‘I want to hire this guy and then I’ll hire this guy.’ He wants somebody that is going to be with him as long as he’s going to stay in it. You don’t want to keep changing systems and coaches.”
2. Coaches return: Patriots assistant coaches are scheduled to return to the office Monday after receiving the last week-and-a-half off. There is still likely some clean-up work from the 2022 season to be done, and then a quick pivot to the upcoming East-West Shrine Bowl and Senior Bowl. Most of the staff is set to work the Shrine Bowl -- there is some chatter in league circles that wide receivers/kick returners coach Troy Brown may fill the head-coaching role at the Las Vegas-based game -- and DL coach DeMarcus Covington is set to serve as defensive coordinator at the Senior Bowl.
3. Patricia’s fit: Where does Matt Patricia fit on Belichick’s staff? Belichick has leaned heavily on Patricia in a variety of roles the past two years -- from general manager-type responsibilities to offensive coordinator without the title in 2023 -- and it’s hard to imagine the coach wouldn’t carve out a 2023 spot for him in some capacity based on Patricia’s intelligence and their history together. Whether Patricia is interested in whatever it may be -- and how the Patriots would compensate him now that Patricia is no longer taking in money from his contract as the former Lions head coach -- remains to be seen.
4. Judge’s fit: There’s a similar question with Joe Judge’s potential role in 2023. After serving as quarterbacks coach this season, the potential hiring of O’Brien would make it unlikely Judge would return to that job. A natural fit would be special teams -- the role he held on three Super Bowl championship teams (2014, 2016, 2018) -- but there’s been nothing to indicate that is happening. Judge has spoken of his great respect for Belichick, and his motivation to return to New England in a pure assistant-coaching role last season after two years as head coach of the Giants, so if that’s what Belichick ultimately decides, I don’t sense Judge would have resistance to it.
5. McCourty’s plan: Longtime safety Devin McCourty said he hasn’t made up his mind on retirement just yet. He has a family vacation planned, and maybe then he’ll make a decision. “I’m not 100 percent sure either way. I know I want to take my time. You do something for 13 years, I don’t want to rush to make a decision,” he said on The Peter King podcast.
6. No possession: The Patriots finished the 2022 season possessing the ball an average of 28:24 per game. That was the lowest total in Belichick’s 23 years as coach and a reflection, in part, of how his plan to streamline the offense backfired. For context, it was two minutes less than last season (30:28) and more than four minutes behind the high seasons of 2007 (32:33) and 2009 (32:55).
7. Flags were flying: The Patriots finished with 104 accepted penalties for 841 yards, their highest penalty total since 2014 and the fifth-highest total of Belichick’s tenure. Opponents had a plus-142-yard advantage in penalties against New England. When Belichick assesses areas he can do a better job, this will presumably be close to the top of the list.
8. Ossenfort’s break: Ossenfort had high compliments for the Patriots, where he spent 15 seasons and worked his way up the personnel department after joining the team in 2003. Former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli gets an assist for Ossenfort’s initial breakthrough, identifying him as a candidate after Ossenfort had interned with the Texans.
Said Ossenfort: “I had an opportunity to interview for a couple jobs around the league and didn’t get them. I was living in my parents’ basement with two undergraduate degrees -- I’m sure they were thrilled -- and was in a bookstore in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with a book in my hand reading what it would take to become an FBI agent. My cellphone rang and it was Scott Pioli, offering me a chance to interview. It was a phone call that changed my life.”
"To the Kraft family, that was a first-hand look at what it means to be a first-class organization ...— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) January 17, 2023
"To Coach Belichick, every day going to work was a master class education of how to build a football roster and winning organization..."
- Monti Ossenfort, new Cardinals GM pic.twitter.com/WPaX9QY64y
9. Snapping details: When the Patriots signed long-snapper Tucker Addington in late December to fill in for injured Joe Cardona, they didn’t just have 2022 in mind. The contract for Addington extended through the 2024 season. Addington will still need to win the job, but with Cardona scheduled for unrestricted free agency, Addington is currently the only snapper under contract for 2023.
10. Did You Know: When Marcus Jones was named the first-team Associated Press All-Pro punt returner, he became the first Patriots rookie to ever earn a first-team All-Pro honor. McCourty, in his 2010 rookie season, was a second-team All-Pro.