PHOENIX — Bill Belichick said everyone will get a chance to earn his spot — including the quarterbacks — beginning next month when Patriots players start to reassemble for the offseason program.
The Patriots coach was asked if he anticipated a quarterback competition between incumbent starter Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe during a breakfast meeting Monday at the NFL’s annual meeting at the Arizona Biltmore, and he grouped all the positions together.
“Well, everybody will get a chance to play, and we’ll play the best player,” he said.
Pressed if that meant it’s an open competition, Belichick repeated, “Everybody will get a chance to play.”
That goes for every position group.
“Everybody that’s on our roster, if they earn the opportunity to play, then based on what they do in practice and all that, then they’ll get an opportunity to play,” Belichick said. “Certainly, veteran players that have been on the team before, if they’re still on the team, they’ll all get an opportunity to play.”
Jones struggled with injuries and consistency in 2022 as the Patriots implemented a more streamlined offense with coaches Matt Patricia and Joe Judge taking over the bulk of the coordinator duties following Josh McDaniels’s departure.
Belichick, who said he was “not sure” if Patricia will be on the staff in 2023, hired Bill O’Brien as a new offensive coordinator. O’Brien has a lot of experience grooming quarterbacks, and the hope is that he can help Jones continue to grow.
“I thought it was best for the team,” said Belichick. “There were a number of reasons. I have a good relationship with Bill. We go back a ways.”
Asked if he was disappointed in Jones’s sophomore season, the coach spoke more in generalities.
“Well, as a team, we didn’t perform very well last year,” he said. “I think we all need to do a better job. It’s all of us.”
During his first meeting with reporters since the end of the season, Belichick touched on a number of subjects, including free agency, the draft, the salary cap, his roster, his staff, his place in history, and why fans should look forward to 2023.
▪ On free agency.
Belichick said he was looking forward to working with newcomers Juju Smith-Schuster, Mike Gesicki, and James Robinson, among others. He called Gesicki, the former Dolphins tight end, “a tough guy to game plan for. He’s hard to cover.”
Asked about interest in pursuing quarterback Lamar Jackson and/or receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Belichick said he would not be talking about any players not on his team “period.”
▪ On the draft.
“We’re working through it,” he said. “Just finished with free agency. Seen a lot of players in the draft, but we’re certainly not there yet — a month away. Matt [Groh] and his staff have done a great job.”
▪ On the salary cap.
Belichick said the Patriots “spend to the cap” every year. “We’ll have a competitive team,” he said. “And anybody who knows anything about the cap knows that over a period of time, it evens out.”
▪ On the roster.
Belichick called re-signing Jonathan Jones “a big one” and noted that his leadership and experience will be a big benefit in the wake of Devin McCourty’s retirement. “[Jones] has been a great player for us for a long time in a lot of different roles.”
He added that cornerback Jack Jones’s late-season suspension is over and said “we’ll see” when asked whether Marcus Jones will continue to contribute in all three phases of the game.
▪ On his staff.
Asked about Judge’s role going forward and the reported hiring of Will Long as tight ends coach, Belichick said more news about the staff will be revealed later in the spring.
He also gave special teams coach Cam Achord a vote of confidence.
“Last year was last year; there were a lot of things that weren’t good enough,” Belichick said. “[Achord] is a good coach. Led the league in special teams in ‘20. I don’t think that’s the problem.”
Belichick called new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm “a smart guy ... I think he’ll do a good job for us.”
▪ On his pursuit of Don Shula’s all-time record of 347 wins (Belichick stands at No. 2 with 329).
“I haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “I have great respect for the game and all that. I’m not really focused on that right now. The 2023 season is all I’m concerned about.”
▪ On a reason why fans should be excited about 2023.
“I don’t know,” he said. “The last 25 years?”