A reunion between Bill O'Brien and the New England Patriots wasn't in the cards in 2022. Could 2023 be a different story?
The Patriots' offense has sputtered this season under offensive play-caller Matt Patricia, who was tabbed to replace departing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels this offseason despite having no prior experience calling offensive plays.
Many viewed O'Brien as a top Patriots offensive coordinator candidate at the time of McDaniels' exit, considering he called plays for the New England offense in 2011. And while O'Brien honored his commitment to Alabama head coach Nick Saban to return as the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator in 2022, the MMQB's Albert Breer noted Thursday that O'Brien could be looking for a new job next offseason.
"What happens at Alabama is interesting, and I think everybody here should be paying attention to it," Breer said during an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub. "Is it possible that Nick (Saban) and Bill (Belichick) talk and Billy O'Brien wants to come back (to New England) and Nick maybe feels like it's time to change their offense a little bit after, God forbid, they lose two games? ... I think that could be in play here, absolutely."
Breer reported in September that O'Brien "would have been amenable" to re-joining the Patriots, but that Belichick was concerned about O'Brien leaving the team after one season, which would have meant three different offensive coordinators in three seasons for young quarterback Mac Jones. So, Belichick decided to promote from within and chose Patricia, who has 16 total years of experience on staff.
Patricia isn't exactly producing results, however: The Patriots rank 26th in the NFL in yards per game and have managed just one touchdown drive longer than two yards in their last two contests. If the offense doesn't improve down the stretch, perhaps Belichick would try to cut his losses and make O'Brien the full-time OC while letting Patricia focus on offensive line coaching duties.
New England Patriots
There are multiple factors at play here: Breer noted that O'Brien could draw interest on the college head coach market if he leaves Alabama, with Nebraska as a potential suitor. But Breer's report is a reminder that Patricia's job as play-caller is far from safe, and that play-caller speculation will heat up if New England doesn't reach the playoffs this season.