What next for New England Patriots after Wild Card defeat to Tennessee Titans?
Tom Brady's future in New England looks uncertain as he weighs up his next option.
By Cameron Hogwood - @CameronHogwood
Last Updated: 09/01/20 7:02am
"I'll keep that between me and the players," was the eerie response from Bill Belichick when questioned on the message to his team in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's Wild Card defeat to the Tennessee Titans.
The always thought-provoking head coach was swift to play down talk of what the future holds for the franchise, and yet there was a steely and menacing frustration indicative of cogs in his brain already re-awakening in view of next season.
While the Patriots locker room will have been engulfed with rare disappointment, it too will have staged the beginning of the renovation and Belichick will already be thinking, he always is.
It may be a new chapter for one of the NFL's greatest dynasties, but that doesn't mean they'll be any less dangerous.
For all the NFL has come to learn about Belichick, it would take a brave person to expect an outright capitulation. While the league's longest-tenured active head coach is still around, the Patriots are always dangerous. His six Super Bowl rings and 17 playoff seasons in New England say so.
It's difficult to see a 67-year-old Belichick walking away from the Patriots in pursuit of another long-term project. After all, if he wants a challenge he now has a new one on his hands - responding in 2020.
There might be one high-profile departure in New England this off-season, but it's unlikely to be Belichick.
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The Patriots' season ending at Wild Card weekend defies the norm, but it also leaves them and Belichick with practically an extra month to think about the offseason.
That means a jump on potential free agency targets, an extended window in which to settle outgoings and the opportunity to devote more time to NFL Draft preparation.
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Don't forget this was an 8-0 team at one point in the regular season, primarily flawed by a rotating wide receiver turnstile and a regressing veteran quarterback.
A productive offseason and the Patriots could well enter the new campaign as contenders again. It does, however, come with a major asterisk over the quarterback position.
Brady on the move?
You suspect Brady's future in New England depends on whether or not Belichick still wants him around as he approaches 43. Brady wants to play, owner Robert Kraft claims he wants him to stay, so that just leaves a head coach that is no stranger to cutting emotion and sentiment out of decisions.
Brady will be a free agent for the first time in his career and currently looks more likely to search for pastures new than retire, if his time in New England is to come to an end.
"I love playing football, I love playing for this team," Brady said after Saturday's loss.
"I have loved playing for this team for two decades and winning a lot of games. I don't know what it looks like moving forward."
There is no doubting his production declined significantly in 2019. His 88.0 passer rating was the lowest it's been since 2013, as was his tally of 24 touchdown passes, although neither were aided by his limited receiving corps.
That chip on the shoulder is still there, the motivation to compete is still there and there is a feeling Brady won't be satisfied with ending his career on a pick six in a Wild Card loss.
A move away would also offer Brady a fascinating opportunity to prove he can win without Belichick.
He could emerge as an option for the Indianapolis Colts, with general manager Chris Ballard still seemingly not sold on Jacoby Brissett following Andrew Luck's retirement last summer.
The Los Angeles Chargers may also be in the market for a short-term quarterback option to replace the ageing Philip Rivers, although to do so with another play-caller at the end of his career would no doubt raise eyebrows.
Never has there been more discussion surrounding how much further Brady can take the Patriots, but he might end up being their best option at the moment.
There are few current quarterbacks in the league that are both available and a standout long-term replacement, while New England's No 23 pick in the draft leaves them in a tricky spot if they are to go quarterback-first in Nevada this April.
And that's where Belichick's issue lies and where it has lied ever since Jimmy Garoppolo was traded to the San Francisco 49ers - a deal he had reportedly been against.
Change on the sidelines could also mark a new era of sorts, with special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach Joe Judge set to become the new head coach of the Giants.
The 38-year-old will succeed the recently-fired Pat Shurmur, having also been a target for Mississippi State after they relieved Joe Moorhead of his duties.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is meanwhile due to be interviewed by the Cleveland Browns on Friday for their head coaching vacancy, a role he has not carried out since his brief spell with the Denver Broncos between 2009 and 2010.
The 43-year-old had also been subject to interest from the Giants and the Carolina Panthers, the latter of whom have hired Baylor head coach Matt Rhule.
McDaniels has had a hand in each of the Patriots' Super Bowl triumphs across his various roles with the organisation and boasts a key influence on perhaps the greatest quarterback in history (we'll leave that one for you to decide).
A regular fixture in the offseason scramble for head coaches, McDaniels had been set to take over at the Indianapolis in 2018 before producing a stunning u-turn on his agreement.
If it isn't this year that he finally moves on, it may well be the next. Alternatively, the Patriots could be hoping he sticks around long enough to fulfil long-term expectations by succeeding Belichick upon his eventual departure or retirement.
There was a point in September when the Patriots had a case for owning one of the most gifted receiver corps in Julian Edelman, Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon.
Demaryius Thomas also looked as though he could prove an inspired acquisition, only to be traded to the New York Jets before even playing a game.
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That all came crashing down as Brown was cut and Gordon was later waived, leaving running back James White to serve as the Patriots second-most productive receiver behind Edelman with 72 catches for 645 yards and five touchdowns.
Throw in Rob Gronkowski's retirement and Brady had a completely new dynamic to contend with across a season when he himself struggled to match his previous high standards.
The Patriots now also have a decision to make over Mohamed Sanu after the former Atlanta Falcons receiver failed to impress following his trade in October.
With 12 picks in the draft, including four projected compensatory picks, New England will have a chance to address their void at tight end along with some other priority areas.
When it comes to added support for a 34-year-old Edelman, the Patriots will be hoping for leaps from receivers N'Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski, Jakobi Meyers as they enter their second year.
There could meanwhile be movement on defense, with Devin McCourty, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins marking three starters in line to hit free agency.
It might be a new-look and somewhat enigmatic Patriots team come September, but you get the feeling they aren't going away any time soon while Belichick and his mastery is still at the helm.
Watch every game of the Divisional Round on Sky Sports Action (407) as playoff coverage begins on Saturday at 9pm with the Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers; Sunday's action kicks off with the Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs on air from 7.30pm.