The Patriots embarked on the 2023 season with realistic expectations of success. They barely missed the playoffs in 2022, largely due to a dysfunctional offense at the hands of Matt Patricia. The defense was good, as always. With changes to the offensive staff and minimal changes to personnel, it was fair to assume a moderate improvement by the offense would result in a respectable season, and possibly even a playoff berth.
What has transpired instead has rocked the New England area to its foundation. Arguably the best coach in the history of the game is on the hot seat. A once-promising young quarterback is a disaster. The calendar hasn’t yet turned to December, and the focus of the New England fanbase is completely on the draft. What was once an unthinkable exercise is now a reality.
The rest of the schedule shakes out well if you are on board the tank train. If not, things are probably going to feel worse and worse. Looking ahead, the Patriots could arguably win one or two more games this season. They are two games clear of the Bears and Giants at the fourth and fifth overall picks.
The Bears, by way of the Panthers, have the first pick. The Cardinals sit at two. Both teams could go for a new quarterback, leaving the Pats with an easy selection of Marvin Harrison Jr. at three. Harrison Jr. is the best overall prospect to come into the draft in recent memory. Selecting him would not mean immediate improvement next year, as the team would still be searching for their QB of the future.
If the Pats stay at three, it’s possible one of the teams ahead of them convinces themselves they already have their quarterback on the roster in either Justin Fields or Kyler Murray. In that case, Harrison Jr. would go before the Pats, but that scenario lets one of the top QB prospects slide to three.
It would then be up to chance who the Pats get between UNC’s Drake Maye and USC’s Caleb Williams. There has been a recent movement for LSU’s Jayden Daniels to the top of some draft boards, but for the majority of this season it’s been a two-horse race between Williams and Maye for the top pick.
The aforementioned scenarios only matter if the Patriots stay at three, which isn’t a guarantee by any stretch. The Pats have a realistic chance of losing out and jumping to the first or second overall picks. A higher pick means a guaranteed shot at one of the top QBs in the draft this year.
Or, perhaps the Pats get a bounty from a team in the top ten to move up and get to restart their rebuild with multiple firsts in hand for the next couple of years. However, who will be making these decisions is another wrinkle to this story.
Bill Belichick the GM has severely handcuffed Bill Belichick the coach. The defense is still playing incredibly well, despite injuries to many of their marquee players. The offense is incapable of any sustained success due to a lack of talent across the board. The scheme is sound enough, but the situational play calling leaves much to be desired.
If Belichick were to stay on as head coach, it would be with the hopes of a GM in place and perhaps a new offensive coordinator. Belichick’s acceptance of these conditions seems unlikely at best.
The more realistic option is a clean start. Owner Robert Kraft is not one to make rash decisions, but with the regression of the Patriots over the last few years, it has become apparent that now is the time to make some changes. If the Patriots land at the top of the draft, an outcome becoming more and more plausible, it only makes sense to allow a new regime to make their pick for coach and quarterback. A clean break.
Belichick has earned the right to a consensual breakup. However, letting him just leave is a disservice to the team-building process and the fanbase. Belichick will be a valuable commodity if he becomes available, despite his struggles this season. The Saints were able to get a first and second-round pick from the Broncos when they traded Sean Payton there this offseason.
Sean Payton has 145 fewer regular-season wins, 22 fewer post-season wins, ten fewer division titles, ten fewer championship game appearances, eight fewer Super Bowl appearances, and five fewer titles than Belichick. In short, a first and second should be the absolute floor for Belichick in a trade package. The list of interested teams should include everyone outside of Kansas City, Philadelphia, Miami, and Baltimore.
The Patriots are headed for an offseason of change for multiple coaches and marquee players. Fans are yearning for a contender in a city that expects winning. The team has the ammunition to load up in the draft and free agency. Who will be making those decisions is yet to be determined, but this offseason will determine the next five-to-ten years of football in the Northeast. Fingers crossed, it goes better than the initial post-Brady plan.