Belichick's big decision: NFL execs discuss future of the Patriots

Editor's note: This story was originally published prior to the news on Tuesday night that Josh McDaniels was returning to the Patriots, and not taking the Colts' head coach job, as announced by the team on Tuesday afternoon. Several of the comments from insiders were predicated on McDaniels leaving, which now changes things on Belichick's and the Patriots' future.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Bill Belichick might know what comes next for the New England Patriots after falling just short of collecting a sixth championship Sunday. It could simply be "on to Indianapolis" for the scouting combine, followed by the usual work in free agency and the draft. Or, if the reported palace intrigue is indeed problematic, the band could break up.

A basic question that could trump all is hiding in plain sight. It's a question requiring no connecting of dots or reliance on shadowy sources close to the situation. It's a question any coach in Belichick's situation might ask -- a question whose answer could shape the Patriots for the coming season and beyond.

"You should be asking why in the world Belichick would want to come back after losing two coordinators," a veteran coach from another team said.

That is where this conversation begins, assuming Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia do indeed leave New England to become head coaches, as widely reported.