The Patriots are faced with a lot of difficult decisions and obstacles that could alter their level of success for years to come.
Just days after the turn of the new year, the Patriots lost in the wildcard round of the 2019 playoffs to the Tennessee Titans 20-13. This game not only was the end of their season, but people are wondering if this is the end of the Patriots’ dynasty. People have begun to speculate whether Tom Brady will sign with another team as he is set to enter free agency for the first time in his career, or will he decide to retire. Josh McDaniels is lined up for job interviews all around the league and is a top target for any team in the market for a new head coach. Other players on the team may be flirting with the idea of retirement or even signing with other teams. So there is a lot of potentially moving pieces this offseason and this offseason could very well determine the fate of the Patriots for the 2020 decade, for better or for worse.
Worst case scenario, the Patriots start a complete rebuild. This is highly unlikely, but is still within the realm of possibilities. So what would “entering a rebuild” really mean for the Pats? For starters, Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady would both leave the team, essentially meaning that the team has to build an entire new offense from scratch. Julian Edelman would not necessarily have to retire, but as he continues to age into his mid 30’s it’s hard to imagine he’d have many years left, especially if he’s not playing with Brady. As it currently stands, the Patriots have the 23rd pick in the draft and would likely have to draft a quarterback or pick one up in free agency. Developing a quarterback takes years, especially without an offensive scheme in place. The lack of quarterback experience trickles down and interrupts the development of guys like N’Keal Harry and Phillip Dorsett and New England is still left without a true number one receiver for years to come. The rebuild of the offense takes 3-4 years to figure out before things begin to work out, but by that time the elite defense that they had this year has dwindled away and has regressed to being average to above average, but not a defense that can carry the team to Super Bowl contention, and the process repeats.
Best case scenario, Brady and McDaniels decide that they cannot let their legacy in New England end with a wildcard round loss to Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans. They both stay in New England and Bill Belichick cashes in all his chips and spends every dime of cap space on putting weapons around Brady in hopes for one more Super Bowl run. Before the 2020 season, Belichick and McDaniels decide who will be Brady’s successor and spend every available minute working with him and getting him familiar with the system in place. The defense stays together in attempts to recreate the historic season they had this year and Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick continue to progress in their roles as defensive coaches under Bill and the defense replicates the season it had this year. The Patriots make one last Super Bowl run in the Brady/Belichick era that ends with Roger Goodell handing Tom Brady his seventh Super Bowl trophy and Brady subsequently retires. Shortly after, Belichick retires as head coach but holds his position as general manager of the team, and Josh McDaniels takes over as head coach. Brady’s successor at quarterback develops into an adequate game-manager quarterback who will benefit from the surplus of weapons around him and the elite defense that’s still in place and takes a giant step in his first year as a starter. He becomes the focal point of the offense and McDaniels and Belichick build around him.
Realistically, it will be somewhere in the middle. For starters, I believe either Brady or McDaniels will leave the Patriots, but not both. I do think the defense will stay intact outside of a few pieces like Patrick Chung and the McCourty brothers as they continue to age, but fortunately the Patriots have a very deep secondary. I do not believe the Patriots will have a definitive answer as. to who will be Brady’s successor this offseason, but I do expect them to bring in another quarterback to compete with Stidham to at least be the bridge quarterback between Brady and their next franchise guy. I believe Mayo and Steve Belichick’s roles as defensive coaches will continue to grow as Bill Belichick continues to age. They worked very well together and should be able to continue to do so. I believe that the team has one more real chance at a Super Bowl run before they start to regress their reign will truly be over.
The season only ended two days ago and nobody has made any decisions yet, so there is no telling what happens in the future. But this offseason is the most important offseason in the last decade for the Patriots and very well could set them on a path of continued success or a path headed towards a complete rebuild. It is possible to sustain success with rebuilding. If anybody knows how to do it, it’s the Patriots. The question is; can they do it without Tom Brady locked in for the foreseeable future?