Fate of Brady, McDaniels and others are all up in the air.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Hours after the Patriots’ disappointing loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Matthew Slater tried to put things into perspective.
This season marked the 11th consecutive year that the Patriots are in the playoffs. Saturday’s game against the Tennessee Titans, however, marks the first wild-card appearance for the Patriots since the 2009 season.
Still, Slater said, the Patriots should be looking forward to the opportunity. After all, you never know where this run might end.
“Here in New England, we’ve been a little bit spoiled with having byes yearly,” Slater said. “But look, we’re blessed to be in the playoffs, and we should be excited about that. We should look forward to our opportunity and try to seize the opportunity.
“Because, look, the reality is there are guys on this team that may never see the playoffs again over the rest of their careers. So we need to make this opportunity count.”
That statement rings true this season more than ever. Change could soon be coming in New England. When this 2019 NFL season ends, the Patriots could have more turnover than usual.
As Slater said, there’s a lot riding on this Patriots run. The biggest question is what happens after?
Whenever the Patriots season ends, the “Tom Brady 2020 watch” will begin.
The biggest storyline heading into this offseason will be the Patriots future Hall of Fame quarterback. There have been some signs that Brady’s time in Foxborough could be ending.
For the first time ever, Brady played in a contract year. On Aug. 4, Brady agreed to an extension. However, the final two years on Brady’s contract automatically void at the conclusion of the 2019 season, making the quarterback an unrestricted free agent. There’s also a clause in the deal that prevents the Patriots from placing the franchise or transition tag on Brady.
Two days after agreeing to the extension, Brady and his wife, Gisele Bundchen, put their Massachusetts house on the market. The house is still for sale for a whopping $33.9 million. Reports are that Brady’s family is planning a move to Connecticut and they’ve already researched schools for their children.
To add to the intrigue, it was announced that Brady is stepping down as the honorary co-chair of the Best Buddies International organization. Starting next summer, Julian Edelman and Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum will take over and help run the annual football game inside Harvard Stadium. Brady instead will be a global ambassador for the organization.
When the season ends, Brady has three options: re-sign with the Patriots, sign with someone else or retire. The 42-year-old quarterback has maintained that he wants to play until age 45. Could Brady actually suit up for someone else next year? As far-fetched as it sounds, his boyhood idol Joe Montana did it, leaving San Francisco to finish his career in Kansas City.
If Brady leaves, who replaces him? Do the Patriots give rookie Jarrett Stidham the reins? Do they find a bridge quarterback? Free agents include Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Phillip Rivers and Eli Manning.
Speaking of the offense, a big change could be on the way if offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels leaves.
Last week, the Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers and New York Giants requested and received permission to speak with McDaniels for their vacant head-coaching positions. McDaniels reportedly is at or near the top of the lists for all three teams and will meet with them next week.
McDaniels has garnered a lot of respect from the players and coaches inside Gillette Stadium. Two weeks ago, Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said he would have never come out of retirement in 2016 had McDaniels not been the offensive coordinator.
“He’s just such a really good coach and a great guy for me personally to work with,” Scarnecchia said. “Someone’s going to be very lucky to have him as a head coach someday.”
This wouldn’t be the first time McDaniels left. He became the head coach of the Denver Broncos in 2009 before returning to Foxborough in 2012. Back then, the Patriots replaced McDaniels with Bill O’Brien, who’s now the head coach of the Houston Texans. McDaniels nearly left again, in 2018, to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, but ultimately decided to stay.
If McDaniels leaves, who replaces him?
One option could be Chad O’Shea, who was the Patriots wide receivers coach from 2009-2018. He spent last season as the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins and was let go after one year. O’Shea, however, knows the Patriots’ system and probably would have been the Patriots’ offensive play-caller if McDaniels left back in 2018.
The front office could also look different in 2020.
This offseason, the contract of Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio and Patriots director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort are set to expire. Both would be big losses for the Pats.
Caserio was courted last offseason by the Houston Texans, who wanted him for their vacant general manager position. The Patriots filed tampering charges against the Texans and only dropped the case when Houston stopped their pursuit of Caserio. That being said, the Texans never filled their GM position.
Caserio just doesn’t work in a GM-like role in Foxborough, drafting, signing and trading for players. He’s also wired into McDaniels’ headset during the game and helps like a coach at practice. According to the NFL Network, the Patriots have tried, but failed to extend Caserio this season.
One potential replacement for Caserio would be Ossenfort. He replaced Jon Robinson, who left in 2016 to become the director of player personnel in Tampa Bay and is now the GM of the Titans. Ossenfort is on a similar path and could be an NFL GM one day. He’s in his 18th NFL season and 15th year with the Patriots. He’s been the assistant director of college scouting, a national scout and area scout for the Patriots.
Patriots director of Pro Personnel Dave Ziegler would be another candidate to step up if Caserio and/or Ossenfort left.
Along with Brady, there are several important players who could retire or sign elsewhere in 2020.
Last year, during Super Bowl Media Night, Devin McCourty made headlines by saying he might retire if the Patriots won. The Pats did, but McCourty returned and has been excellent. The 32-year-old is a free agent after this season and hasn’t decided if he’ll play in 2020.
“It’s a year-by-year thing. You can’t help yourself thinking about it now,” McCourty said. “When the offseason hits, whenever that may be, hopefully it’s not until February-March where I start to think about that stuff. Then I’ll talk to my wife, sit down and figure all that stuff out. I’d much rather figure all that stuff out with another Super Bowl ring.”
On defense, linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins are in line to cash in his offseason. Van Noy told NBC Sports Boston this week that he’s “looking obviously to get paid a lot.” Defensive tackle Danny Shelton and linebacker/fullback Elandon Roberts will also be free agents.
On offense, Brady certainly leads the way, but left guard Joe Thuney, who’s coming off a career year, will enter this offseason as a free agent. Ted Karras also becomes a free agent after showing he’s a capable starting center.
Slater, 34, is coming off another Pro Bowl season. Like McCourty and Brady, his contract expires at the end of this season and if he were to leave, it would signal the end of an era. The 12-year veteran said he will also sit down with his wife after the season and discuss his plans.
“We don’t really have a number on it right now,” Slater said. “We always want to be prayerful about it and make sure we’re doing what God’s leading us to do and what we feel like is best for our family. It’s not just a Matthew Slater decision anymore. It’s my wife and our three children. We have to make a decision based off what’s best for our family.
“I know that I’m closer to the end than I am the beginning,” Slater said. “I’ve been trying to embrace every moment and I’ve done that my whole career. ... That being said, the best way to show gratitude is to come out, be prepared, play at a high level and leave it all out there on the field.”