No team in the NFL has a more nebulous coaching staff than the New England Patriots. Exhibit A: Joe Judge.
Judge's title with the Patriots in 2022 was quarterbacks coach and offensive assistant, a role that by many accounts he did not fill well. Judge and senior football advisor Matt Patricia -- with help from head coach Bill Belichick -- oversaw an inconsistent, ineffective and at times dysfunctional offense that ranked 26th in the NFL in yards per game.
Rather than part ways with Judge, however, New England gave him a new title that would seem like a promotion: assistant head coach. The Patriots confirmed Judge's title Thursday on the team's official website, but as many on social media pointed out, Judge is listed under the Defense section of the coaching staff, not Offense.
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So, what's going on here? Will Judge -- a former college quarterback who has spent the majority of his coaching career working on offense and special teams -- take on defensive responsibilities in 2023, or is this more about optics? Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer believes it's the latter.
"They can't put him on special teams, because it makes it look like they promoted (special teams coordinator) Cam Achord -- which they essentially have, but they don't want to make it look that way," Breer said Thursday night on NBC Sports Boston's Arbella Early Edition, as seen in the video above.
"And they can't put him on the offensive staff after what happened last year. So, if you're looking at it, it's either, we put him right next to Bill (Belichick), the optics of that aren't good, put him on offense, the optics of that aren't good, put him on special teams, the optics of that aren't good -- let's just slide him in with the defense and hope nobody else notices. That's what I think this is."
The Patriots are notorious for giving their assistants mysterious titles that don't always match their job descriptions, and it sounds like that trend will continue in 2023. While Achord has been New England's special teams coordinator since 2020, Breer suggested that Judge will be the lead special teams coach, while also performing a variety of "assistant head coach" tasks as Belichick's right-hand man.
"His role is going to be sort of a guy who is, in a lot ways, helping Bill do his job better," Breer said of Judge. "He's going to run the special teams and oversee the special teams with Cam Achord; I think he's the No. 1 and Achord is the No. 2 now. And beyond that, what an assistant head coach does in other places is what Joe Judge will do, which is be sort of the guy who can be Bill's eyes and ears when he can't be certain places and fill some roles that Bill would typically fill when he can't fill them."
That's a pretty good gig for a coach who reportedly didn't get along with quarterback Mac Jones in 2022.
The Patriots hired a legitimate offensive coordinator this offseason in Bill O'Brien, who is expected to work closely with Jones to get the offense back on track in 2023. So, perhaps Judge's status as a "defensive" coach is New England's way of confirming that O'Brien will be running the offensive show this season.
To hear more from Breer on Judge as well as what to make of Jerod Mayo's official title, watch the full Early Edition discussion above.