Curran: Patriots' early offseason approach should trigger optimism


It’s been a little more than a week since the Lost Season of ’22 came to an end for the Patriots. And already they’ve charted a sensible course back to stability and the success that comes with it.

Owner and head coach convened. The fact the offense underperformed and regressed was acknowledged. Changes are coming.

Ambiguity about who’s doing what and the exhausting shell game played with titles is -- at least on offense coming -- to an end.

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The "collaborative process" in which Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge executed a mind meld and unleashed a newly-installed offense that tapped into the experienced and well-paid offensive talent on hand? Dead.

Eighteen weeks of watching a scene like this was enough. There will be -- as a team-released statement announced after we reported changes were coming -- an offensive coordinator.

The primary target is former Patriots OC, former Penn State and Texans head coach, former Alabama OC Bill O’Brien. There is unanimity on all sides that O’Brien’s the best person for the job and -- while there are other candidates with merit -- the familiarity ownership and Mac Jones have with O’Brien and O’Brien’s willingness to return mean it would be an upset if he doesn’t get the job.

One tender aspect of O’Brien returning is what happens with Judge and Patricia. Are they still part of the offensive coaching staff? How will they jell with O’Brien if they aren’t reassigned to new roles? O’Brien coached alongside Patricia in his time here. He surely has some relationship with Judge. No doubt there’s some friendship so it will need to be diplomatically addressed so there’s no hard feelings.

Car analogy alert! Low-cost, refurbished replacement parts can do more harm than good. Pay more and get the right part in the first place.

Of course, unlike an inanimate car part, coaches who get scrap-heaped or reassigned can voice their opinions if they feel scapegoated. The potential for both Judge and Patricia to feel they were set up to fail and/or that the young quarterback made them look bad is very much present. That’s another tender aspect going forward. Making sure there’s not a bunch of Mac-stabbing going on behind the scenes by guys who understand their brands got hurt in 2022 and might get Machiavellian in trying to recoup status.

That needs to be nipped in the bud because the team’s primed for an organizational rebirth even with a couple of olds at the helm.

In Belichick and Kraft the franchise has a Hall of Fame coach and would-be Hall of Fame owner who -- despite advancing ages -- still have their fastballs. They value what they’ve built together. They have the same goal. When they slow down or step aside -- whenever that may be -- they want to see it continue to flourish and do so in a way that reflects the values and philosophies they’ve honed over almost a quarter century.

And that’s why the other portion of the statement the team released last week is worth scrutinizing. Why was it important to highlight the team’s intent to keep Jerod Mayo on the coaching staff long-term?

Because he is everything the team wants to keep in-house. They want him to know he’s valued in a way that, say, Josh McDaniels didn’t when the team approached him after he’d all but accepted the Colts coaching job in early 2018. McDaniels never heard one word about the team’s future plans for him until he was about to go to Indy. Mayo now knows.

Does that make him the successor to Belichick? A lot can happen between now and when Belichick finally says, "Enough ..." but it appears Mayo would have the inside track. For Belichick, having Mayo take over for him would likely be a source of pride.

He drafted Mayo in 2008 with the 10th overall pick. He saw him become an All-Pro and Defensive Rookie of the Year. He tabbed him as a captain in his second season. He watched as Mayo became one of the most respected and charismatic leaders the team’s had in Belichick’s tenure. He brought him back from the business world and a decorated career in television and has seen him flourish in coaching and become a coveted candidate around the league.

So much fruit from the Belichick coaching tree has fallen elsewhere and gone sour. For Belichick, having a successor he helped shape who’ll continue in the same vein. That allows kind of a living legacy for Belichick and maintains his link to the team after he’s no longer coaching.

Which should be – after all Belichick’s done here and how much this franchise means to him – almost mandatory. Tom Brady never should have played anywhere else. And Belichick should never work anywhere else.

So if 2022 was a one-off, a recalibration, a learning experience. If it gets used as fuel for the rest of the journey? Maybe that’s a tradeoff worth making.

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