Patriots Mailbag: Could Josh McDaniels, Tom Brady Team Up In Vegas?

Plus: Why Bill O'Brien would be an ideal replacement


As New England prepares to be pummeled by a weekend nor’easter, let’s shovel our way through this week’s batch of Patriots questions.

What are the odds that McDaniels could leave for another team if they have an OC position open up?Tampa Bay for example if Leftwich gets the Jax job and Brady commits to one more year if Tampa can get someone familiar to come in?
This question came in before the latest round of reports strongly linking Josh McDaniels (and director of player personnel Dave Ziegler) to the Las Vegas Raiders. McDaniels reportedly will interview for the Raiders’ head-coaching vacancy on Saturday, and NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport called him “a top candidate.”

No, I cannot see McDaniels leaving New England for a coordinator role elsewhere. But the second part of your question raises a fascinating possibility: What if McDaniels takes over the top job in Vegas — and then brings Tom Brady in to be his quarterback?

The logistics here would be a bit tricky since Brady still is under contract with the Buccaneers, but there’s been speculation that the QB’s will-he-won’t-he retirement dance is actually his way of getting out of Tampa Bay and latching on with a different team. (Whether there’s any validity to that speculation remains to be seen.) The Raiders also can cut or trade current quarterback Derek Carr with no financial penalty, as doing so would wipe his entire $19.8 million salary off their books.

It’s easy to see Brady jumping at the chance to team back up with his old friend McDaniels, and though Las Vegas’ roster isn’t as talented as the one the Bucs have fielded these last two years, it features an elite tight end in Darren Waller and a standout, Patriots-style slot receiver in Hunter Renfrow. And he’d probably be able to convince Rob Gronkowski — an impending free agent who surely would enjoy living in Vegas — to join him.

Obviously, a lot of dominoes would need to fall for this to happen, but imagine how wildly entertaining a division with Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers), Brady (Raiders) and Aaron Rodgers (Denver Broncos) would be.

Oh, and the Patriots play the Raiders in Las Vegas next season.

Does the past experience and results from BOB leading the offense, in addition to his experience with the Alabama offense, actually make him the preferable OC going forward?
I think the most preferable situation for Mac Jones and the Patriots’ offense would be McDaniels staying put. He did a good job with Jones this season, and continuity is important for a young quarterback. (Ziegler, who’d be leaving with McDaniels for the Raiders, also would be a significant loss on the personnel side.)

But I do think Bill O’Brien would be the best possible McDaniels replacement and could even bring some new elements to New England that might help Jones elevate his game in Year 2. O’Brien stunk as a general manager in Houston, but he’s a talented coach who oversaw some seriously explosive offenses during his three seasons as the Patriots’ play-caller (2009 to 2011).

He also has a bit of history with Jones, as the QB helped teach him Alabama’s offense after O’Brien arrived in his current role as Crimson Tide OC last January.

For more on a potential O’Brien return, click here.

When is the last WR/TE who made figured out the O and made an immediate contribution? It seems few and far in between.
I’d say Kendrick Bourne made a pretty big contribution this season, despite acknowledging New England’s offense was challenging to pick up at first. His first year in Foxboro was the most productive of his career, with the Patriots unlocking areas of his game that hadn’t previously been explored. Tight end Hunter Henry also was one of the NFL’s top red-zone weapons in Year 1 with the Patriots, even if his catch and yardage totals lagged behind his earlier marks.

In previous seasons, you can point to Brandin Cooks (2017), Chris Hogan (2016), Brandon LaFell (2014) and Brandon Lloyd (2012) as veteran wideouts who signed with New England and were instant contributors. It’s definitely possible, and it happens rather frequently.

It is true, though, that the Patriots’ system can be difficult for newcomers to grasp — even experienced ones — which is worth considering when discussing potential offseason additions.

What does the backfield look like next season?

Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are a rock-solid 1-2 punch, and both are under contract for next season. I expect them to carry the load again in 2022. The sub back spot, though, is a bit of a mystery at this point.

Will the Patriots look to bring back James White, who looked like their best offensive player before suffering a season-ending hip injury in Week 3? As a 30-year-old who’s coming off major surgery, he’d likely be affordable, but it’s unclear where he’s at health-wise.

Brandon Bolden did an admirable job of filling in for White this season, but New England probably wants someone with a higher offensive ceiling in that role. (Bolden also will be a free agent.) Is there any hope for J.J. Taylor, who hardly played this season? That’s unclear.

If White doesn’t return, I’d expect the Patriots to go the free agency or draft route to add a new pass-catching back. It’ll also be interesting to see whether Stevenson, who has receiving chops, takes on a larger role in the passing game in his second pro season.

What is the disconnect between Onwenu’s PFF grade and what the eye test shows/his ability to beat out Ferentz? By PFF grade he’s a top lineman in the league. Make it make sense

It was Ted Karras, not James Ferentz, that wound up snatching the starting left guard spot from Mike Onwenu, but your point stands. Pro Football Focus LOVED Onwenu this season, grading him as the NFL’s fourth-best guard. Yet the Patriots came to believe that Karras was a better option at left guard and Trent Brown was a better option at right tackle. Onwenu spent most of the second half of the season as a jumbo tight end, occasionally subbing in for Karras. It’s odd for team opinion and analytics to diverge that sharply.

That said, I agree with the Patriots’ decision to keep Karras in the starting lineup, and with their choice to play Brown over Onwenu once the former recovered from his calf injury. Their O-line just functioned better with Karras, a steady veteran who enjoyed a strong season after riding the bench for the first four games.

I’m very interested, though, to see what the Patriots’ long-term plan for Ownenu is. They were insistent on playing him at left guard early this season before finally relenting in October, but he’s been more effective, in my view, as a right tackle. With Brown and Karras both set to hit free agency, where the Patriots intend to play Onwenu will have a strong influence on their offseason moves.

On a related note, I wrote Thursday about how left tackle Isaiah Wynn and right guard Shaq Mason could be trade candidates as New England looks to free up salary cap space.

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