Patriots Mailbag: Ranking NFL’s 10 Offensive Coordinator Openings


Jan 20, 2023

As we await word on the identity of New England’s next offensive coordinator, let’s empty out this week’s Patriots mailbag.

Which candicate is favourite to become Patriots OC
All signs are pointing to Bill O’Brien, who reportedly interviewed for the job Thursday. I thought O’Brien was the best candidate to replace Josh McDaniels last offseason, and my opinion on that hasn’t changed.

Hiring him makes all the sense in the world. We’ll see if the Patriots close the deal.

Any chance any of the OC candidates are brought on as positional coaches if they don’t get selected? Or with all the OC openings are they expected to pursue other opportunities?
It’s possible. We don’t know how widespread the Patriots’ staff changes will be, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see multiple new position coaches appointed this offseason, in addition to the new OC.

The candidates would need to agree to that lesser role, of course, I could certainly see the Patriots offering position-level jobs to one or more of the coaches they interview but do not hire.

Shawn Jefferson is an interesting option. He’s a highly respected wide receivers coach — Calvin Johnson once called him the best he’d ever seen — and might soon be out of a job in Arizona, depending on whether Kliff Kingsbury’s replacement chooses to retain him. Hiring Keenan McCardell as receivers coach would be trickier, since he’d need permission from the Minnesota Vikings to make a lateral move like that.

It’s also unclear whether Belichick is interested in replacing current wideouts coach Troy Brown, whom he reveres. The Patriots Hall of Famer has helped groom two first-team All-Pro punt returners (Gunner Olszewski and Marcus Jones), but New England’s receivers struggled this season in his first year as their primary position coach.

There wouldn’t be any NFL rules preventing the Patriots from hiring Adrian Klemm as their new offensive line coach, as he’s currently coaching in college as the associate head coach/run game coordinator/O-line coach at Oregon. But Klemm’s lone stint as a primary NFL position coach lasted less than a season, with him leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers with two games left in the 2021 campaign to take his current job.

The second part of your question also is important to consider. Nearly a third of the NFL’s teams (10 of 32) currently have offensive coordinator openings, and more could open in the coming weeks once Denver, Carolina and Houston hire new head coaches. The Patriots will have plenty of competition for OC candidates, and coaches up for those jobs will have a buffet of options.

How desirable is the Patriots’ vacancy compared to the others? Here’s how I’d rank them:

1. Los Angeles Chargers
The roster is loaded with talent, and you get to work with one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in Justin Herbert, even if it requires dealing with some occasional game-management buffoonery from head coach Brandon Staley.

2. New England Patriots
Stable organization, very good defense and better personnel on offense than this season’s results suggested. If you believe Mac Jones’ 2022 regression was the result of poor coaching, not a lack of talent, then this is an enticing job.

3. Baltimore Ravens
Probably the biggest wild card on this list. If the Ravens can re-sign Lamar Jackson, then this is a great spot, though only for a coach whose scheme and style fit Jackson’s unique skill set. If Jackson walks, the appeal of this job plummets.

4. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have the pieces to compete when they’re not decimated by injuries, but if I was a prospective coach, I’d worry about Sean McVay peacing out next offseason and leaving his assistants’ fates at the mercy of his replacement.

5. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals have a Pro Bowl-caliber QB in Kyler Murray, but he’ll likely miss at least part of next season after tearing his ACL in December. Arizona also reportedly plans to trade DeAndre Hopkins, its best receiver.

6. Tennessee Titans
Injuries crushed the Titans this season, but their offense hasn’t looked anywhere near explosive since ex-OC Arthur Smith left after the 2020 campaign. There’s also a major quarterback question with Ryan Tannehill turning 35 this summer and third-round draft pick Malik Willis not even good enough to start over Joshua Dobbs late in his rookie year.

7. New York Jets
Good head coach, great defense, talented roster with some impressive young pieces. But who’s your quarterback? Certainly not Zach Wilson.

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If the Bucs can find a way to retain Tom Brady, then their opening would shoot up this list. But that doesn’t seem likely. Tampa finished 25th in scoring this season under former OC Byron Leftwich.

9. Washington Commanders
Another team with major QB questions after banking on Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke this season, plus a franchise that’s been a mess for decades under reviled owner Dan Snyder.

10. Indianapolis Colts
This team needs a lot of work, starting with halting the QB carousel that hasn’t stopped spinning since Andrew Luck retired.

A major failure over the last two years for the Pats were their high-priced tight ends. Why is nobody talking about the fact that Nick Caley was responsible for that group?
It’s a good point, and one I’m surprised more people don’t mention when they discuss Caley as an offensive coordinator candidate in New England or elsewhere. He seems to be well-regarded around the league, but it’s an undeniable fact that his position has not been consistently productive since Rob Gronkowski left after the 2018 season.

The talent level was low in the first two post-Gronk seasons, but the Patriots spent big money to bring in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith in 2021. Smith has been the most disappointing member of that blockbuster ’21 free agent class (less than two catches per game and one total touchdown over 30 appearances), and Henry regressed in Year 2, his touchdown total falling from nine to two. Matt Patricia probably deserves more blame for the latter, as the Patriots didn’t seem to properly utilize Henry in the passing game. this season.

It also doesn’t reflect well on Caley that 2020 third-round picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene both were busts. They combined for five total catches and were cut before their third season. That might have been an evaluation failure more than a development one, but still.

Reports have indicated Caley is unlikely to stay with New England without a promotion, so if he doesn’t win the OC job, I’m interested to see where he lands this offseason.

Would getting Dhop in the offseason be worth it for the Patriots or should they continue to develop the younger WRs on the team instead?
I say go for it. I’m on record advocating for a Hopkins trade. So many of the NFL’s top teams feature a premier pass-catcher (or two) who can truly threaten defenses, and the Patriots haven’t had one of those in years.

I’ve always been a fan of Jakobi Meyers’ game and believe New England should do what it can to re-sign him, but he’s not that legit No. 1. Hopkins would be, even at age 31. So would Tee Higgins, who’s coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons as Ja’Marr Chase’s running mate in Cincinnati.

The Patriots won’t find a wideout like that in free agency this year, but they should pursue one on the trade market.

What is a move on the current roster that you think could be surprising to fans this off season
Not sure how high this ranks on the surprise scale, but I don’t think Trent Brown is a lock to be on the team next season. He has one year left on his contract, but the Patriots would absorb just a $1.25 million dead money penalty by cutting him.

Brown battled through a nasty flu bug to play 98% of New England’s offensive snaps this season, but his play was erratic, and he’s on the books for $11.4 million in 2023.

A full-scale offensive tackle overhaul would be a bold move — redshirted seventh-round draft pick Andrew Stueber is the only other tackle under contract for next season — so there would be value in keeping Brown around from a continuity standpoint. But I wouldn’t be shocked if the Patriots had two new starters at the position come Week 1.

Hi Zack, before this weekend of games, can you go on record and give us your Super Bowl pick?

I’ll go with a Super Bowl LIV rematch: Kansas City versus San Francisco, with the 49ers winning this time around. Super Bowl MVP: Christian McCaffrey.

Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images
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