Bill Belichick and the Patriots nailed the heck out of their first big decision of the 2023 offseason by hiring the almost obviously perfect choice Bill O’Brien as New England’s new offensive coordinator tasked with bringing stability back to the Mac Jones-led attack.
In many ways it already feels like a productive offseason, especially compared to what took place a year ago when Matt Patricia and Joe Judge inexplicably found their way to the offensive side of the coaching staff in an ill-fated move that went even worse than we pretty much all pessimistically projected.
But O’Brien’s arrival is not the be-all, end-all, cure-all for what ailed Jones and the New England offense. Nope, the respected offensive mind is merely the first step because, as Belichick himself noted again this week on Tom Brady’s “Let’s Go” podcast, it’s players that win games and coaches that lose them.
So while we can blame Belichick, Patricia and Judge (and maybe special teams boss Cam Achord) all we want for New England’s pile of disappointing losses in 2022, the Patriots simply need more elite players who can go out and win games moving forward.
That starts at the wide receiver position. It starts with New England finding a way to procure a true No. 1 target for Jones to jumpstart the young QB’s development the way so many other teams have of late. Think Stefon Diggs for Josh Allen and the Bills. Tyreek Hill for Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins. Or, most notably given Philly’s spot in Sunday’s Super Bowl, think A.J. Brown for Jalen Hurts and the Eagles.
The NFL will always be a quarterback’s league. Having an elite QB is still THE way to sustained success and being an annual contender.
We lived that in these parts with Brady for two decades. Kansas City is living it right now with Patrick Mahomes.
But if you don’t have a truly elite QB, the next best plan is to marry your competent passer with an elite option at the wide receiver position. Follow the money and you’ll notice the explosion in wide receiver contracts in recent years. Teams trying to get over the top have prioritized the position like no other time in football history.
And that’s exactly what Belichick’s Patriots need to do this offseason.
That’s exactly why New England needs – yes, NEEDs! – to swing a trade for Bengals big-bodied wide receiver Tee Higgins.
Playing in Ja’Marr Chase’s substantial shadow in Cincinnati, the former second-round pick Higgins has developed into a playmaking, pass-catching star in his own right.
Now, heading toward the final season of his rookie contract, he and the Bengals need to make a decision about his football future.
Having to plan for massive contracts for Joe Burrow and Chase in the immediate future, it’s not too hard to see the generally fiscally frugal Bengals trading Higgins this offseason to maximize a return on the asset.
If that happens, it needs to be to a No. 1 WR-needy Patriots team that owns the No. 14 overall pick in the draft and tens of millions in cap space to make both the Bengals and Higgins very, very happy.
Higgins is a 6-4, 215-pound beast with 215 receptions for 3,028 yards in his first three NFL seasons. He’s notched exactly 74 catches in each of the last two seasons, topping 1,000 yards each time. He averages 14.1 yards per catch in his 46 games with 19 touchdowns.
Belichick, who’s shown an affinity for players who perform well against his team while pursuing talent over the years, saw Higgins’ ability firsthand in Foxborough this past December. Higgins had eight catches for 128 yards and a touchdown while playing bully-ball in matchups with Jonathan and Marcus Jones.
If the Patriots are serious about making major strides forward this offseason. If surrounding Jones with the type of talent every modern a QB needs to succeed. If New England wants to leave mediocrity in the rearview mirror to purse Robert Kraft’s mandated annual contender status once again. Then then there is one big move for a bigtime receiver that could mean big things for Belichick, O’Brien, Jones and the Patriots.
Forget cheaper moves for aging veteran talents like DeAndre Hopkins or Keenan Allen. Those would be lesser moves with lesser, short-term results.
It’s time for the Patriots to Tee it up this offseason.
Grip it and rip it.
Go get Higgins and see what happens!