Phil Perry

Patriots Mailbag: How realistic is a Bill Belichick trade?

One important factor could determine how Belichick's exit unfolds.

NBC Universal, Inc.

We're in the home stretch of the Patriots' 2023 season, and while there some interesting storylines to dig into this Sunday against the Chiefs, the bigger picture still looms large.

Is Bill Belichick coaching his final four games in New England, and if so, who takes over at head coach and general manager? Which current players should return in 2024, and what should the team do with its potential top-three draft pick?

Let's hit on those questions and much more in our latest mailbag...

Can I answer your question with another question? Wonderful. Thank you. Here goes nothin': If a split is inevitable, is it more likely than not that the Krafts and Bill Belichick would prefer to split amicably?

Because if that's the case, then I think that diminishes the likelihood of the Patriots getting compensation for Belichick in a trade. An amicable split, I think, would be a quick one. And coming up with a trade that makes sense for all involved could take some time. 

That being said, perhaps there's a location Belichick would prefer to coach next. Perhaps he'd make that known to his bosses. If the Krafts and another ownership group can work out an exchange in short order, that could work.

Belichick wouldn't be remembered as a coach who was fired at the end, and Robert Kraft wouldn't be remembered as an owner who fired the greatest coach of all time. And getting compensation for Belichick would of course help Kraft as he hopes to oversee a rebuild that will have to be done over time through the draft.

🔊 Patriots Talk: Is the decision to move on from Bill Belichick next season final? | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

But if the Krafts hold onto Belichick, who's under contract through 2024, and they refuse to budge on parting with him until they get the kind of trade offer they want, then things could get ugly. Head-coaching gigs may fill quickly after the season, and Belichick could be left without a place to sit when the music stops, which may lead to a firing. Or if Belichick is informed a deal has been worked out for him to go somewhere he doesn't want to be, he could pull a Rob Gronkowki and refuse to go

Again... ugly. 

If the goal is to end things elegantly, that kind of back-and-forth would seemingly blow up any hopes of that happening. That's why maybe what's best for the roster (trying to get a pick for Belichick) might not be what's best for the organization and fanbase (parting quickly and maintaining a relationship that can be celebrated at length at the appropriate time).

I'm wondering if the Krafts would ever do in the front office what it appears they are poised to do at head coach: elevate from within.

For instance, if they believe Matt Groh, Eliot Wolf, Steve Cargile, Cam Williams or Pat Stewart is general manager material, why would they not want to keep that person? Just because they've all worked for Belichick doesn't mean they don't have unique opinions as to how a team should be built.

The same is true for Jerod Mayo at head coach; he might have a great deal of experience playing for and working for Belichick, but that doesn't mean he'd try to mimic Belichick if he was given control of his own program.

If the Krafts view any of their front-office minds as capable of taking over, they may be inclined to do so because of pre-existing relationships that need not be formed over a hurried postseason interview process.

Fair point, Josh! If Bailey Zappe plays well enough to run the table, he absolutely should be in the conversation to start next season. 

But there's a difference between being "the starter" for a team and starting a few games for said team until another player is ready. Understanding that, Zappe playing well late in the year shouldn't prevent the Patriots from using a top pick on a quarterback with greater upside. 

If Zappe can shoulder the starter's workload as a bridge to the future? Great. He's cost-effective. He's familiar with the program. But he has physical limitations that would likely prevent the Patriots from handing him the role of long-term starter.

Trey Lance just got a fourth-round pick. But he had an extra season on his deal compared to Mac Jones. And he has upside -- whatever that's worth -- that Jones doesn't. Jones, meanwhile, has had much more success in college and the NFL than Lance has ever experienced.

I'd simply come back to the term left on Jones' deal now versus what Lance had left before this season, which leads me to believe that if the Patriots were able to get anything more than a fifth-round pick, I'd be surprised.

Jacoby Brissett would be at the top of my list. He's scheduled to be a free agent. He's a veteran. He's operated multiple systems. He's one of the league's better locker-room guys, and he won't be eyeing the starting quarterback role the way another player might. He'd be a trusted voice.

He may cost about $8 million -- which is what he's making in Washington this year -- but that would be worth it to have a respected veteran presence around a young rookie passer.

There's just not much you can expect them to do, Dave, in order to "secure" a spot near the top of the draft. Bill Belichick and his staff are trying to win every game. Players are trying to put their best foot forward for future opportunities.

The only thing within the realm of possibility, in my opinion, that could help the Patriots maintain a higher draft pick is this: sideline good players who are banged up. That would include Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle, hasn't practiced this week) and Demario "Pop" Douglas (concussion, limited in practice this week). If there are others who would be better suited to rest to give them a better chance of a full recovery for 2024, especially now that the playoffs are officially out of the picture, that might be worth considering. 

But I don't think Belichick will consider it. If those kinds of moves are going to happen, they might have to come from ownership. And with the Krafts facing a delicate situation as they try to navigate the potential end of the greatest head-coaching run the league has ever seen, they may not be all that inclined to start pitching roster moves to the author of that run.

Let's go rapid fire for what's left here... 

Justin Fields wouldn't be my first choice. But if you somehow end up out of range of the top two or three quarterbacks -- maybe top four, depending on how you view Oregon's Bo Nix? -- then I would be open to the idea.

Fields only has one year left on his deal. And you'd need to be willing to adapt to his playing style. He's not exactly the rhythm-and-timing guy the Patriots typically have liked.

I'd be making the pick inside the top three. Trading down assumes you'll be hitting at lower points in the draft. Not sure if, outside of the top seven or eight players this year, you'd be incredibly confident in what you're getting with a trade down.

The uncertainty at quarterback certainly could be a factor for someone like Tee Higgins, for example. But money talks. 

The Patriots should be open to it. He's familiar with the Patriots grading system. But he also has his own style, thoughts and opinions. And he's lately had a massive role with the analytics startup Sumer Sports that would give him a more modern-day perspective on value than others with his experience level would have. 

They need a tackle and maybe a guard. And that's if they re-sign Mike Onwenu and keep him at right tackle.

Even with Onwenu in the mix, Trent Brown isn't under contract for 2024. And it'd be fair to wonder -- though he's showed promise this season -- if Sidy Sow would be a starting-level option for next season.

In his most recent free-agent rankings piece, my buddy Brad Spielberger from Pro Football Focus had Onwenu at No. 25 overall, looking at a four-year deal for $58 million ($14.5 million per year).

As far as guards are concerned, that would put Onwenu just ahead of Cleveland's Wyatt Teller ($14.2 million) on an average-annual-value basis and just behind Kansas City's Joe Thuney ($16 million). Looking at right tackles, it would slot him in just behind Jack Conklin ($15 million). 

They really aren't in position to be red-shirting players taken in the third round. They can use all the help they can get. But that's where they are with Marte Mapu, apparently.

It's not for a lack of trying him on the field this season. They have, and he's responded by allowing some big plays in the passing game. Unfortunately for him, under Belichick, that's always going to lead to more time on the bench. 

Michael Penix Jr. is an interesting case, John. Big-time motor. Big-time production. If he slides because of his injury -- the way someone like Malcolm Mitchell did years ago -- at some point he could be considered a value add. Even if his injury history might lead to issues later in his career

Kyle Dugger is not a top-five safety, but he's really useful in the style of defense the Patriots deploy. And it'd be interesting to know whether or not the team -- whoever is running the front office for the team this offseason -- would ever use the franchise tag to keep him around if they felt they needed to.

Over the Cap projects the safety tag to sit at $17 million for safeties next year. That's a pretty penny. 

That would be a dream. Unfortunately, I think LSU teammates Jayden Daniels and Malik Nabers both will end up as top-10 picks. And even if you're willing to trade out of your original spot, not sure it's in the cards to end up with two picks in the top 10.

You never know, though, and the model of pairing quarterbacks with their college buddies at receiver has worked in recent years. 

Thanks for all the questions this week, you maniacs. Enjoy the weekend. We'll do this again next week.

Contact Us