The Patriots have found their offensive coordinator.
Old friend Bill O’Brien is coming back to Foxborough, a league source confirmed Tuesday morning. O’Brien will return to the post he held in 2011, his last year on Bill Belichick’s coaching staff, with hopes of reviving New England’s sputtering passing attack.
The hire is an important step of the offseason, as the Patriots look to make changes following their second losing season in three years.
So, what’s next?
Belichick and O’Brien need to round out the rest of the offensive coaching staff.
This past season, senior football adviser Matt Patricia served as the offensive line coach while also calling the plays on that side of the ball. Offensive assistant Joe Judge held an important role, too, primarily working with second-year quarterback Mac Jones.
Now that they have an official offensive coordinator, the Patriots will turn over the play-calling duties to O’Brien. But what about Patricia’s and Judge’s position groups?
It’s not uncommon for the offensive coordinator to also serve as quarterbacks coach. O’Brien did so in 2011. Josh McDaniels did so for 12 non-consecutive seasons in New England. Giving O’Brien the additional responsibilities of a quarterbacks coach would not be surprising, especially because he already has a relationship with Jones.
Still, it may be in the team’s best interest to bring in a dedicated assistant for that position.
Jones, who regressed statistically in 2022, is entering a pivotal year. After the 2023 season, the Patriots will have to decide whether they want to pick up the fifth year of his contract. Given the magnitude of the upcoming year, and the current state of Jones’s development, it would be beneficial to have a quarterbacks coach working in tandem with O’Brien — or even someone like Bo Hardegree, who was on Belichick’s staff as an offensive assistant for just one season before McDaniels took him to Las Vegas as his quarterbacks coach.
The Patriots could continue to allow Judge to work with the quarterbacks, though that doesn’t seem ideal. It might make more sense to move Judge back to a familiar spot as special teams coordinator.
Since Judge left to become head coach of the Giants in 2020, New England’s special teams have been trending in the wrong direction under Cameron Achord.
Rookie Marcus Jones shined as a punt and kick returner, but the rest of the unit’s performance left much to be desired this past season. Jake Bailey was one of the NFL’s worst punters before going on injured reserve and then getting suspended. Placekicker Nick Folk, who will turn 39 next season, may be starting to show his age. With captain Matthew Slater contemplating retirement, the unit’s leadership becomes even more important moving forward. Judge is the natural choice to step in.
So where does that leave Patricia? Reassigning him is not as simple.
Patricia, previously the Patriots defensive coordinator for six seasons, is not needed where he has the most expertise. New England’s defense remains one of the league’s best. The group is in good hands, especially now that the team has committed to linebackers coach Jerod Mayo for the long term. Steve Belichick isn’t going anywhere, either.
The Patriots could continue to allow Patricia to work with the offensive line, but that seems unwise. It seems more likely that they will promote assistant offensive line coach Billy Yates and/or make another hire. Oregon assistant Adrian Klemm, whom the Patriots interviewed for the offensive coordinator opening, would be a potential candidate.
The Patriots also could keep Patricia on staff as a “senior football adviser,” the vague title he held in 2021, and simply remove his coaching responsibilities. It’s entirely possible that the Patriots and Patricia decide it’s time to part ways.
Elsewhere on offense, the Patriots have Vinnie Sunseri coaching running backs, Troy Brown with wide receivers and return specialists, Ross Douglas also with wide receivers, and Nick Caley with tight ends.
Of the bunch, Caley is the most likely to move on. He interviewed for offensive coordinator with both the Patriots and Jets. Even if the Jets do not hire him, Caley can pursue other opportunities — Las Vegas doesn’t have an official tight ends coach listed — because his contract expired at the end of the season.
More clarity on the staff could come as early as this week. The Patriots are coaching the West squad at the East-West Shrine Bowl, with practice scheduled to begin Saturday. Brown is the team’s head coach, while Douglas is expected to be offensive coordinator. It may be revealing to see who else is on hand and in what capacity.
Bringing on O’Brien as an official offensive coordinator is certainly a promising start. But the hire is likely just the beginning of possible changes.