FOXBORO -- When Patriots.com posted draft-day videos from the team's war room, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was right there for the internet to see. He sat with coach Bill Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio, football research director Ernie Adams, chairman and CEO Robert Kraft and president Jonathan Kraft. He had a seat at the head table.
Was that the first sign that McDaniels would have an expanded role in New England after he passed up the opportunity to take the head coaching job in Indy? Not exactly, according to him.
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When I asked last week if anything about his job had changed since he decided to come back to the Patriots, McDaniels explained that his gig was the same as it ever was.
"My role is the same," he said. "I would say that I'm always open to...If they wanted to give me any responsibility in any way shape or form, I'd try my best at it. And I'm always trying to learn. If there's something they'll let me be a part of that could make me a better coach, I'm definitely going to do it. I'm still at a part in my career where I'm trying to grow and get better. If there's anything that I'm able to do in that regard, then I would jump at the chance."
Meanwhile, Albert Breer of SI.com reported on Thursday that McDaniels' presence in the team's "notoriously small and private draft room" was a "new development, and reflects a step forward."
That was a reasonable assumption after what had been said about the factors that led to McDaniels staying in New England soon after the Super Bowl. Following his decision to stick with the Patriots, indications were that he'd been given clarity about his future with the team -- clarity he hadn't had previously -- and the presumption was that changes were coming.
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"The opportunity," McDaniels told the Boston Globe's Jim McBride in March, "to stay here and work for who I think is the greatest owner in sports and the best head football coach in the history of our game, to work with the best quarterback that has ever played...Look, I’m privileged to have the opportunity to do that, and when they kind of crystallized that -- ‘Hey, here’s what we see going forward and here’s how we would like you to fit into it’ -- it gave me a reason to stop and say, ‘All right, what’s the best decision for me?’ And certainly, it was difficult. But I made the decision on my own, nobody pushed me into it."
Maybe that part about "here's what we see going forward" didn't mean any immediate changes to McDaniels' role. That could've meant responsibilities would only be added down the line. Perhaps it was strictly a reference to McDaniels' compensation; the Globe reported that he did have his contract "adjusted" when he decided to stay.
Still, it felt like there was more was on the horizon for McDaniels. And at the draft -- whether this was the team's intention or not -- McDaniels seemed to have more of a forward-facing role. He joined Belichick, Caserio and Robert Kraft as the guest speakers at the team's draft party before the first round. And then there were those inside-the-draft-room videos.
It's hard to put too much stock into what's seen on those things. They're obviously produced by the team and heavily edited. But the fact remains that McDaniels was shown sitting with the team's decision-makers all weekend. A quick scan of Patriots.com draft videos in the past shows the same primary players -- Belichick, Caserio, Adams, the Krafts -- together without their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
That doesn't mean McDaniels hasn't been in the room before, of course.
"Josh has been in there before, even going way back to the 2000s when he and I were in there together when we really didn’t know anything," Caserio said on draft weekend. "We still don’t know anything, although we have a little more experience. Look, Josh is a great friend of mine, there’s no question about it. He’s great to work with. Our entire coaching staff is very involved in our process. We have a lot of confidence and faith in their information, their input and their evaluation. Josh has been in there before and our coaches, and their opinions on our entire staff, are very valid. They’re an intricate part of this process and we rely on them on a lot of information, and Josh is included. He’s one of them."
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“I’ve been in there before,” McDaniels said. “Some years I’ve been in there and some years I haven’t. It all depends on what the focus is or isn’t at that particular year. I think all of us hear the same thing each spring. Our responsibility is to -- whatever they give us in terms of evaluating and scouting. We try to do the best we can, whether that’s going on trips to visit guys or doing stuff when we get to have our 30 visits in the building or watching tape and evaluating guys on tape.
“From that perspective, my role did not change at all. I’ve always been involved to whatever capacity that they wanted or needed me to do. And at the same time, if they’ll let me do that, if they’ll let me be a part of anything -- I think all coaches would agree -- we’d all like to learn as much as we can from every opportunity that we have to be around Bill, Nick, Robert, the scouting staff.”
So, maybe McDaniels was in there this year because the Patriots had done so much work on this year's quarterback class. If that was the focus of this particular year, then it would make sense to have him in.
But in 2014, when the Patriots were in on the quarterback class and selected one in the second round, it was assistant to the coaching staff Mike Lombardi who was at the head table (he was there in 2016 and 2015 as well), not McDaniels.
Again, those videos are edited. It's a little ridiculous to go too far down the rabbit hole and refer back to those as evidence of anything. But the perception at draft weekend was that McDaniels had graduated to the draft-day inner circle. And Breer's report would support that perception. Plus it stands to reason that if a media-conscious team like the Patriots wanted to hammer home the message that McDaniels' role is what it was last year, then they could've done a better job of illustrating that. They didn't.
From an ownership perspective, it would make sense to have an eye toward the future as it wonders what's next for the franchise. It would make sense if the Krafts wanted to put a little more on McDaniels' plate or to give him more forward-facing opportunities to see how he'll handle them. As much experience at the head table as possible for McDaniels -- during the draft or anything else -- might give the Krafts a better idea of how he'd make the transition to the head job if they ever wanted him to make it.
McDaniels was asked last week, was his decision to stick helped at all by an understanding that he might one day succeed Belichick?
"Nope, nope," he said. "I mean, my role is the same. Look, I think if you’re here, you have an opportunity to work with and for the best people in our game -- maybe some of the best people that have ever done those things in our game.
"Whatever happens in the future is going to happen. I just know that I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be the offensive coordinator here, coach quarterbacks, work with the offense, and work for the people that I work for."
McDaniels may be able to make his head-coaching dreams come true elsewhere at some point. Even though the wound he left in Indy is fresh, the league is annually desperate for good head coaches and McDaniels is still just 42.
"I’ll say this: I’ve stated again and again that I definitely want to be a head coach again," McDaniels said. "At the same time, I love being here. This is where my kids were born and raised. We’ve made a pretty special life here, and that’s not an easy thing to leave."
If he can accomplish his goal of becoming a head coach without leaving, going through a more hands-on apprenticeship under Belichick as he waits for his next shot, that would seem like a win-win both for McDaniels and the family that encouraged him to stay. He'll learn, and the Krafts can learn more about him. And if the Krafts' are already planning on leaning in McDaniels' direction when the time comes, even if they haven't promised him anything, then it would make even more sense for them to encourage him to take on as much as he can.
We may not know exactly how, if at all, McDaniels' role will change this year. But draft weekend was an instance where the Patriots were perfectly fine with at least giving the appearance that more had been put on his plate. It was right there on their homepage.