As the New England Patriots continue to lose games, Bill Belichick tenure as head coach is growing more tenuous.
But two questions are still unclear: If the Patriots decide to move on from Belichick, when will they make that decision, and how will the two sides part ways?
One option is for New England to fire Belichick now. The team is entering a bye week after an embarrassing loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Frankfurt, Germany, in which the Patriots failed to score a touchdown and benched their supposed franchise quarterback with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. If Sunday was the final straw for team owner Robert Kraft, now would be the time to pull the plug on Belichick and hand the reins to assistant head coach Jerod Mayo.
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Kraft also could wait until the end of the season to fire Belichick -- or he could orchestrate a trade for the legendary head coach. NFL Media's Ian Rapoport confirmed Sunday morning what our Tom E. Curran reported a few weeks ago -- that Belichick's contract runs through the 2024 season -- so if the Patriots don't fire Belichick, any team that wants to hire him this offseason would have to negotiate with the Patriots.
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio believes a trade this offseason is the logical conclusion of Belichick's 24-year tenure in New England -- especially in light of Rapoport's report Sunday.
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"They put the word out Sunday," Florio said Tuesday on Pro Football Talk's PFT Live with co-host Myles Simmons. "When a sports league owns a media outlet, and the Patriots are very influential in the overall media operation, they have a platform to get the word out. And the word is, 'We're holding onto Bill Belichick until the end of the season. If you want him next year, you've got to make a deal with us.'
"... What's going to happen behind the scenes (is), anyone that is thinking about trying to hire Bill Belichick next year is going to contact the Patriots before we get to the end of the season and try to work something out. They'll initiate the formal process later after they've done their 'full search,' but that's the message. If it's the Commanders, if it's the Buccaneers, whoever is thinking, 'We want Bill Belichick next year,' you've got to go through the Patriots. You'll have to compensate them. He's going to be (in New England), I believe firmly, through the end of the year."
Florio's logic makes sense; if you're the Patriots, why not see if you can get a draft pick in return for Belichick, especially after the New Orleans Saints landed a first-round pick and second-round pick from the Denver Broncos for the rights to Sean Payton? But it's worth asking whether there's a similar market for Belichick, who is now 27-33 with zero playoff wins since Tom Brady's departure in 2020 and has made numerous missteps as a head coach and de facto general manager in that span.
Florio believes the answer will be yes, and that a struggling franchise like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would jump at the chance to land the legendary head coach.
"Dysfunctional teams are out there. Bad ownership groups are out there," Florio said. "There are ownership groups out there that don't care about winning. 'We're going to lose anyway. Let's have a name that gets people to show up. Let's get games in primetime.' Even if it's this morbid curiosity of, 'Can Bill Belichick turn it around?' You put Bill Belichick on the Buccaneers -- that stadium was half-empty the other day between the Buccaneers and the Titans. They've lost all their sizzle with Brady gone. The sizzle could return to a certain extent with Belichick.
"... Somebody out there is going to want him, and the fact that (the Patriots) haven't fired him, I think they already know there's going to be somebody who wants him. I don't know that, but at this point, I'm a firm believer: If you know what you're going to do at the end of the season, do it now. Give Jerod Mayo seven games to see what he can do. What's the harm?
"They're holding onto him because they think they're going to get something for him and then they're going to move on after the season, and somebody out there is going to give him that shot."
If there is indeed a trade market for Belichick, that should make for a fascinating offseason subplot. Until then, Belichick and the Patriots have nearly two weeks to digest their 2-8 record before facing the 2-8 New York Giants on Nov. 26.