Saturday, June 15

Should the Patriots’ path back to relevance include Bill Belichick? Sando’s Pick Six

Cover 7 | Monday A daily NFL destination that provides in-depth analysis of football’s biggest stories. Each Monday, Mike Sando breaks down the six most impactful takeaways from the week.

Surely changes are coming to the New England Patriots, unless the new normal works for owner Robert Kraft and his family. The game-by-game trend in the Patriots’ point totals this season (20, 17, 15, 3, 0) aligns with the organizational trajectory of late. That is bad enough, but it’s the nature of the past two defeats — 34-0 at home to New Orleans on Sunday, a week after falling 38-3 at Dallas — that commands urgent attention.

The Pick Six column for Week 5 leads with NFL team executives discussing what path the Patriots should take to become a team on the rise again. It’s a tricky situation because Bill Belichick is an all-time great coach and franchise icon, but the status quo is untenable.

One exec argued for starting over with a new coach next year. Another insisted Belichick simply needed help. Two others explained why staying the course could be challenging.

Before we tackle the Patriots’ future, here’s the full Pick Six menu:

Belichick and Patriots’ future
Dak Prescott’s contract + 49ers
Owner David Tepper and 0-5 Panthers
Bills’ injuries a matter of 4, 7, 13
Anthony Richardson’s big challenge
Two-minute drill: Don’t forget the Eagles

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

NFL Power Rankings Week 6: Lions, Jaguars on the rise, plus rookie check-in

1. Should Bill Belichick determine the Patriots’ quarterback future, and overall future, after what the last few seasons have shown?

The Patriots’ plan at quarterback since Tom Brady’s departure following the 2019 season has consisted of waiting until July 2020 before signing Cam Newton; using a first-round pick to make Mac Jones the fifth quarterback selected in 2021; spending lavishly in 2021 free agency on pass catchers who never became dynamic threats, led by Jonnu Smith; entrusting Jones’ development to Matt Patricia and Joe Judge in 2022; and whatever is happening this season.

All while drafting a kicker, drafting a punter and investing more than anyone else in a long snapper at a time when rules keep reducing the prominence of the kicking game.

The case for changing coaches after this season begins there.

Read more: How did the Patriots end up with the NFL’s worst offense? A position by position breakdown

“The transition from Brady to where they are at now is such an indictment,” one of the execs said. “Their best move is to bring in a young offensive coach with a new GM and start fresh. You let the new offensive coach determine whether Mac can be saved. They need real change. They gotta get out of this.”

The case for moving forward with Belichick requires compromise.

“Bill is brilliant and provides a lot of value,” another exec said. “He needs help with player acquisition. The question is, will he accept it or fight it? He’s going to have to make sacrifices to get that all-time record for wins.”

We have detailed in the past how much institutional knowledge Belichick and the Patriots have lost. Ernie Adams, Nick Caserio, Dave Ziegler, Josh McDaniels, Dante Scarnecchia, Josh Boyer, Brian Flores, Chad O’Shea were with Belichick as coaches, evaluators and confidants for decades. All are gone.

“The idea that all Bill needs is help is pretty compelling,” a third exec said. “Bill always had a development system for coaches and personnel people, including people like Caserio, who coached wide receivers and then, next thing you know, he is director of player personnel. My question is, where is the next Caserio? Are we going to declare in 2023 that this is it, Bill needs help, and he can’t go to his farm and get the people he needs?”

Getting help for Belichick sounds great, but isn’t necessarily practical.

“Who would take a job in personnel there and think that they have real power?” a fourth exec said. “How do you get somebody? I’m wondering if that is why they ended up with Patricia and Judge a year ago, and Bill O’Brien now. Maybe nobody else wanted the jobs.”

Almost no one in the game knows football history better than Belichick does. Surely he watched the Raiders regress as their Hall of Fame visionary owner Al Davis clung to old ways, plunging that organization into mediocrity for decades. Belichick is not there, but he’s closer now than he’s ever been. He needs 30 regular-season wins to pass Don Shula for the all-time lead. At his post-Brady win rate, Belichick would need to coach the rest of this season, plus three more 17-game seasons, just to break the record early in the 2027 season, at age 75.

“If Bill wants to salvage this, he has to get in position to get one of those quarterbacks (in the 2024 draft),” the first exec said. “Otherwise, you are paying top of the market for Kirk Cousins, or going after (Gardner) Minshew or (Ryan) Tannehill or (Justin) Fields or Kyler Murray or Zach Wilson.

“To me, it is a Kraft discussion, not a Bill discussion. We know what Bill is with and without Tom Brady. It is more, where do they go next year, with Kraft being responsible for that.”

2. The San Francisco 49ers’ 42-10 domination of the Dallas Cowboys could become a landmark on two quarterback timelines.

Dak Prescott called this game the most humbling of his career as the Cowboys’ quarterback. He passed for 153 yards with three interceptions. Dallas was never competitive in the game.

“Hard to pay Dak after tonight,” one NFL exec surmised.

“Don’t think this game by itself impacts Dak too much,” another said, “but it could start it down a path.”

Prescott is signed through next season, with a $59.4 million salary cap figure in 2024. Owner Jerry Jones acquired quarterback Trey Lance in a move some saw as strategic for negotiating purposes, despite Lance’s developmental status.

On the other side, Brock Purdy passed for 252 yards and four touchdowns while improving to 10-0 in the regular season as the 49ers’ starter. San Francisco’s offense has become far more productive over the past four starts in particular. Purdy is not even eligible for a new contract until after the 2024 season, but he is positioning himself well. Big-game victories such as this one carry additional value.

The 49ers’ offensive consistency has been remarkable so far. Their success rate on pass plays (59 percent) ranks third through five games since 2000, behind only the Patriots of 2007 and 2011. That reflects their ability to limit negative plays.

“Kudos to Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch,” a defensive coach said. “They have set it up exactly how Kyle wants it, with a good, fast defense that is simple so they can lose coordinators and just plug and play. They have the offensive skill they want. They probably would rather have a better O-line, but the quarterback is playing at a high level on a rookie deal. It is go time for them.”

3. The Carolina Panthers are 0-5. It’s tough finding wins for owner David Tepper as well.

The first five games of the Frank Reich/Bryce Young era in Carolina have gone worse than anyone might have anticipated. Five games aren’t enough to make firm evaluations about a new head coach or rookie quarterback. There will be plenty of chances for that in the future.

But the atrocious start, which has seen Carolina fail to cover the point spread in any game, let alone win, invites broader questions. Such as, what major decision has Tepper made or approved that looks like a big win for the organization? Possibilities include:

Hiring coach Matt Rhule on a seven-year, $62 million deal
Trading star running back Christian McCaffrey
Abandoning plans for a new practice facility
Declining the Rams’ offer for Brian Burns (two firsts, one second)
Firing interim coach Steve Wilks
Hiring Reich after the Lions’ Ben Johnson withdrew from consideration
Trading to the top of the 2023 draft for Young

Again, the Reich and Young moves cannot be evaluated this early, but if the 0-5 start is giving fans some reservations, that would be understandable, given the broader Tepper context.

“What it shows to me is, just because you were successful in business does not mean you are going to be successful as an NFL owner,” an exec from another team said. “Where are his big victories? He hired the right coaches? Did he? He drafted the right quarterback. Did he? How does Tepper hang his hat on any decision he has made as an NFL owner?”

There is some context beyond Tepper and Carolina.

Seven quarterbacks drafted first overall have started at least 60 percent of their teams’ games since the 2011 labor agreement, which lowered salaries at the top of the draft. Of those seven, Andrew Luck was the only one to post a winning record as a rookie.

The table below shows those seven quarterbacks, their records and where their teams ranked in EPA on offense and defense/special teams, per TruMedia.

Rookie QBs Drafted First Since 2011

QB Record OFF DST

11-5 [.688]

12

26

6-7 [.462]

20

23

6-10 [.375]

4

32

6-10 [.375]

13

31

5-10-1 [.344]

14

29

2-7-1 [.250]

26

20

3-14 [.176]

29

31

0-4 [.000]

TBD

TBD

Luck went 11-5 (.688) with the Colts in 2012. The other six rookie first overall quarterbacks combined for a 28-63-2 (.312) record. That record drops to 28-68-2 (.296) if we count Young with the Panthers.

4. The Bills have lost cornerback Tre’Davious White, linebacker Matt Milano and defensive tackle DaQuon Jones to injury over the past eight days. The numbers four, seven and 13 are instructive here.

The Bills’ injuries on defense over the past two games carry obvious human costs. White, Milano and Jones are players the Bills have built around.

On the balance sheet, those players rank fourth-, seventh- and 13th on the team in annual salaries, respectively. The chart below shows players filling those salary slots for Buffalo and select other contenders, adding context to these subtractions from the roster.

On the positive side for the Bills, they face the Giants and Patriots the next two weeks. Those teams are averaging 21.6 offensive points per game combined, compared to 30.4 for Buffalo. The Bengals, Eagles, Chiefs, Cowboys, Chargers and Dolphins on the schedule later, which will put these injuries in the spotlight.

5. Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson has started four games and finished just one. What if he’s not built to take punishment?

No team drafting a quarterback among the top five selections made a bigger projection than the Colts made with Richardson, whose talent was obvious, but who had started only 13 games in college.

Richardson has started four games in the NFL. He has finished one. He missed another. He might miss more after suffering a shoulder injury during a 23-16 victory over Tennessee on Sunday.

Richardson needs reps to improve and gain a feel for the game. How is he going to get those reps without welcoming additional injuries?

“The only time he is going to feel a full-speed rush is preseason and the regular season,” a defensive coach said. “That was great for Peyton Manning, but what happens when the kid only plays 13 games in college? It’s tough for his development and is one reason how many games you play in college needs to be a consideration.”

Richardson compared himself to Cam Newton heading into the draft. Newton topped 400 yards passing in each of his first two starts and didn’t miss a game during his first three seasons.

“Cam was 250-260 pounds and thick,” another coach said. “Richardson has a much leaner look to him. Cam delivered punishment. Richardson takes punishment. Big difference.”

Richardson limped off after suffering a leg injury running with the ball against Jacksonville in the opener. He suffered a concussion against Houston the next week while scrambling for a touchdown and taking a hit near the goal line that he didn’t seem to feel coming. The shoulder injury Richardson suffered Sunday against Tennessee resulted from the Titans’ Harold Landry tackling him and landing on him after a short gain.

What if Richardson isn’t built to take such contact? What if he lacks the experience/feel as a ball carrier to roll with the hits and get back up for another play? What is the offensive plan if Richardson keeps getting hurt? Can the Colts win with Richardson in the lineup if he cuts back on the rushing?

“This is a potentially dangerous mix,” a veteran coach said. “You have an inexperienced college player who is just learning how fast NFL defenders close, while playing for a head coach (Shane Steichen) who got the job partly because he was good at designing quarterback runs (for Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia).”

Hopefully for the Colts and Richardson, these injuries are simply a run of bad luck.

6. Two-minute drill: Let’s not forget about the Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles are 5-0 after handling the Los Angeles Rams in Week 5, but feel a bit under the radar while the 49ers dominate more thoroughly elsewhere in the NFC.

The Super Bowl loser’s curse doesn’t apply here.

The 2022 Eagles are the first Super Bowl loser since the 1990 Bills to start 5-0 the following season.

Before that, the 1980 Eagles were the previous Super Bowl loser to start 5-0 the next season.


Former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski led the team back into contention one season after losing a Super Bowl. (Clem Murray / Associated Press)

The Tom Landry Cowboys, Bud Grant Vikings and Don Shula Dolphins also started 5-0 after losing Super Bowls. That’s great company for this Philly team, which visits the Jets before a Week 7 home game against the Dolphins.

A six-game stretch of the Eagles’ schedule beginning in Week 9 delivers Dallas twice, Kansas City, Buffalo, San Francisco and Seattle.

So much for the Cincinnati Bengals needing to sit Joe Burrow for the quarterback’s own good. Sore calf or not, the Arizona Cardinals’ patched-together secondary provided a one-week cure at least. If Burrow passing for 317 yards and three touchdowns was surprising in light of recent games, seeing the quarterback scramble for a big gain against Arizona was shocking.

This sets up an intriguing Week 6 matchup between a reborn Burrow, receiver Ja’Marr Chase (192 yards Sunday) and an emerging Seattle secondary featuring rookie Devon Witherspoon and second-year corner Tariq Woolen.

Gotta love Mike McDaniel’s declaration after his Miami Dolphins piled up 524 yards in their 31-16 victory against the Giants, giving Miami an NFL-record 2,568 yards through five games.

“Mission accomplished,” McDaniel joked. “Our whole goal this entire offseason was statistical output through five games.”

The 2000 Rams (2,527) had been atop the list, followed by the 2011 Patriots (2,476) and 2013 Broncos (2,449).

The Dolphins lost the turnover battle 3-0 Sunday and still won comfortably. Tua Tagovailoa’s two interceptions didn’t matter, but with Miami rolling at a record-setting pace, those two negative plays are something for opponents to look at, at least.

“The book on Tua said if you can cloud things, he’s not the best at adapting on his feet when it’s not there,” a coach offered.

The record book says no such thing. Tagovailoa leads the NFL in passing yards, yards per attempt and pass completions longer than 15 yards.

With the Jets’ Breece Hall trampling the Broncos for 177 yards rushing in New York’s 31-21 victory, Denver has allowed 877 on the ground over its past four games. That is the second-worst total over a four-game span within a season in Broncos history.

The Broncos allowed 920 over four games during the 1988 season, per Pro Football Reference.

Is there anything more Mike Tomlin than the Pittsburgh Steelers having a 3-2 record after a five-week start to the season that seemed to last five months? There was nothing artistic about the Steelers’ 17-10 victory against Baltimore, but here they are, in the mix.

“It’s good to go into the bye sitting atop the (AFC) North, particularly all that we’ve been through,” Tomlin said.

(Top photo: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)


The Football 100, the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Pre-order it here.