Patriots Mailbag: Thoughts On Tom Brady’s Farewell, Pats’ OC Search

Plus: Questions for Mac Jones in Year 2


February 4, 2022

Wrapping up an unexpectedly eventful week of New England Patriots news by answering your mailbag questions:

Zack, what is your take on Brady not mentioning Pat?s nation in his retirement release?
I have two thoughts on this: 1) Yeah, it was kind of weird and definitely surprising for Brady not to include any mention of the Patriots in his initial retirement announcement, but 2) this became way, way, way too big of a story. It was the single biggest story in New England sports this week — not Brady’s retirement itself, but the contents of his retirement announcement.

A large portion of the fanbase was miffed at the legendary quarterback for stiffing them, and a seemingly equally large subsect argued the opposing side, pointing to the glowing letter Brady penned to New England after he left in 2020 and the nine-part docuseries chronicling his Patriots career he just produced. Then Brady did mention the Patriots in a brief message on his Instagram story — a decidedly lower-level shoutout in the hierarchy of social media — and people argued about that. It was exhausting, honestly.

I don’t know why Brady left the Patriots out of his post. Maybe he just wanted to give the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their shine and didn’t realize much of New England would react the way it did. Or maybe it was a subtle “bleep you” to the Patriots, as radio analyst Scott Zolak called it. Leading the post with a photo from the Bucs’ win at Gillette Stadium certainly felt intentional. But in my mind, this wasn’t the kind of story that needed to be intricately dissected for days on end.

I was glad when I saw Brady and Bill Belichick call each other the greatest of all time in their respective professions, and when Brady posted a career retrospective Thursday that featured plenty of Patriots highlights. Hopefully, everyone now can finally move on.

As for what comes next, it does sound likely that Brady and the Patriots will reunite for some sort of ceremony/event/commemoration at some point, but nothing had been planned as of earlier this week. Exactly what form that will take remains to be seen.

Can the patriots hire O’Brien without going through the interview process or is OC position subject to Rooney rule?

They cannot. Following a 2020 adjustment to the Rooney Rule, teams are not allowed to hire new coordinators (offensive, defensive or special teams) without first interviewing at least one external minority candidate.

It’s possible the Patriots would be able to circumvent that requirement by hiring Bill O’Brien as quarterbacks coach and giving him play-calling responsibilities, since the Rooney Rule does not include position coach hirings, but O’Brien might not be interested in that setup.

As I and many others have written in recent weeks, I believe O’Brien is the best candidate for Josh McDaniels’ vacated offensive coordinator job. He has experience leading successful, tight end-heavy offenses in New England, has a prior relationship with Mac Jones and can bring with him elements of Alabama’s offense — which he coordinated this season — that could help Jones reach new heights as a passer in his second pro season.

NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that O’Brien and the Patriots have “mutual interest.” He’s both the obvious choice and the ideal one.

Do you think that Mac is going to struggle without McDaniels, or that maybe he doesnt make a great “Sophomore Leap” with all the changes in the offense?
That’s probably the most important question facing the Patriots this offseason, other than “How do they fix the defense?” They absolutely cannot miss on this offensive coordinator hire, which is part of why a proven commodity like O’Brien is so appealing. I wouldn’t trust this vital stage of Jones’ development to an inexperienced OC like, say, Nick Caley, who’s probably the Patriots’ top internal option for the job.

They need someone who’s done this before, and preferably someone with a history of working closely with QBs. Jones, of course, also must do his part to master whatever new offense that coordinator brings.

Beyond the staff changes — with Josh McDaniels and Bo Hardegree both leaving for the Las Vegas Raiders, the Patriots are down their OC/quarterbacks coach and their assistant QBs coach — the Patriots also should be looking to improve Jones’ receiving corps.

Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne are good players coming off strong seasons, but that group lacked a true game-changer in 2021. Without one — whether it’s an always-open slot or a big-play threat on the outside — Jones won’t be able to reach his potential as a passer. Just look at the impact Ja’Marr Chase had on Joe Burrow in Cincinnati this season. Or the fact that the final eight teams standing in this year’s NFL playoffs all featured at least one top-end wideout:

Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins
Los Angeles Rams: Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr.
Kansas City Chiefs: Tyreek Hill (plus tight end Travis Kelce)
San Francisco 49ers: Deebo Samuel (plus tight end George Kittle)
Green Bay Packers: Davante Adams
Buffalo Bills: Stefon Diggs
Tennessee Titans: A.J. Brown
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin (plus tight end Rob Gronkowski)

Finding Jones the right coordinator and getting him some more help both should be offseason priorities.

Any word on Jerod Mayo and his coaching status for next season? Has he had interest elsewhere as a DC?
At this point, it does not look like Mayo will land a head-coaching gig this offseason. He was rumored as a potential candidate in Houston, but he never received an official interview request, and the Texans reportedly have their list of finalists.

McDaniels could look to hire Mayo as his defensive coordinator in Las Vegas, which would be a promotion for the former Patriots linebacker. But so far, there have been no reporters liking him to that job.

It seems inevitable that Mayo will get a head-coaching job in the near future. But the odds of him sticking around New England for at least one more season now appear high.

Should we be cringing that Matt Jones is going to play dodgeball at the Pro Bowl competition? In lieu of running back Edwards blowing his knee out playing volleyball and ending his career.

I’ll be honest, that’s the first image that flashed through my mind when I saw the photos of Mac Jones taking part in a pre-Pro Bowl dodgeball game.

But dodgeball is a much safer activity than the one that wrecked Robert Edwards’ promising career in 1999. His was beach flag football, not volleyball — San Francisco 49ers cornerback R.W. McQuarters landed on him as they went up for a contested catch — and the NFL did away with that Pro Bowl week event the following year.

Jones’ dodgeball match and other skills competition showcases aired Thursday night, and the rookie quarterback did, indeed, make it out unscathed.

The Pro Bowl itself will take place Sunday at 3 p.m. ET at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. While many have questioned why Jones was invited to this year’s NFL all-star game — the Raiders’ Derek Carr would have been the more deserving alternate after Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow all bowed out for various reasons — and I can’t say I’m thrilled that I now feel obligated to watch it, it’ll at least be interesting to see how he performs alongside the league’s best.

Any word on Raekwon McMillan’s rehab, and is he under contract for next season? If so, could he potentially be the more athletic LB we seem to need?

No update on McMillan’s rehab, but the Patriots did sign him to a one-year extension after he went down with a season-ending torn ACL in training camp, so they clearly want to continue working with him. He looked good before his injury and was impressing Belichick.

“Raekwon’s done a real good job,” the Patriots coach said in August. “I’ve been very impressed with his intelligence, his work ethic. He’s locked in every day. He works extremely hard both on and off the field. Does a great job of trying to get it just the way that it’s supposed to be, the way he’s been taught. He takes all that very seriously and handles a lot of responsibility in there.”

The Patriots initially targeted McMillan ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft, so he’s been on their radar for a while. The 26-year-old isn’t an elite athlete and probably wouldn’t be more than a depth piece, but he could definitely help if he stays healthy and sticks on the roster.

Who is a former Patriots player that you can see becoming a coach for them within the next 2-3 years?

That’s a good one. My No. 1 pick would be James Develin, who said after his retirement in 2020 that he could see himself returning to the Patriots in a coaching role. Given his reputation as a weight room warrior during his playing career, maybe a job on Moses Cabrera’s strength and conditioning staff is in the fullback’s future.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
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