When it comes to the Patriots this offseason, the biggest story may be the number of coaches lost rather than the number of players lost.
Yes, it is a little exaggerated, but the point is the Patriots will need to replace at least five coaches and the number of impact players that will need to be replaced likely will not exceed that.
On defense, Brian Flores, Brendan Daly and Josh Boyer have all departed, and then on offense Chad O’Shea and Jerry Schuplinski have also found new homes. Defensively, the only positional coach returning is Steve Belichick (safeties). Fortunately on offense, the leaders of the room will be back — Josh McDaniels (offensive coordinator), Dante Scarnecchia (offensive line) and Ivan Fears (running backs) — but O’Shea (wide receivers) and Schuplinski (assistant quarterbacks) will be missed.
Given the number of coaches departing and new faces coming in — already Greg Schiano as Flores’ replacement — the Patriots and Bill Belichick may need to cater some of their offseason moves towards it.
It may be more imperative than in any other offseason to keep the core group of current players together and do whatever possible to retain players who have familiarity with the system.
When it comes to the defense, defensive end Trey Flowers is the biggest free agent to be, and it appears the team will do what it can to have him return, but will set a limit and not go past that. Flowers has the potential to break the bank on the open market, but also could be a situation where other teams don’t see his true value given the system he’s played in to to open his career.
More importantly when it comes to leadership, there’s Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty.
Both players are under contract for 2019, but Hightower has a cap hit of almost $11 million. With his production this past season (48 tackles, ninth on team), in any other offseason he would have been a prime candidate to get cut, but that doesn’t really seem like an option given how much his communication means to the defense. He may get asked to take a pay cut, but the team may not be as combative as it might be if the the entire coaching staff was returning.
McCourty is another player who has a big cap hit ($13.4 million) and in any other year would likely get asked to take a pay reduction, but the team needs him to lead the backend of the defense. It also is worth noting he’s contemplating retirement, so he could use that as leverage against the team. If it asks him to take a decrease in pay, he could just say he’s done and retire.
Given Schiano will be the defense’s third play-caller in three years, Hightower and McCourty seem vital to keep around given their combined 16 years in the system.
On the other side of the ball, it’s worth looking at the wide receiver position.
O’Shea was one of the most undervalued members of the coaching staff this past season. The wide receiver position saw 26 transactions over the course of the year, which highlighted the struggle to find a consistent bunch. For 2019, only Julian Edelman is under contract so there will certainly be some new faces.
It may be worth looking into bringing back one of their own free agents to try and keep some continuity in the room. Phillip Dorsett seems like the most likely of candidates. In some other years the team may have gone for a complete revamp of the position, but given a new positional coach and Tom Brady being 42 years old next season, that doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.
Which free agents the Patriots go after also may be impacted, too. They may need to target some of the safer players, opposed to going after some of the wild cards. This is not only because of a new receivers coach coming in, but also pure numbers. With only Edelman returning, impactful players are needed and signing only wild cards isn’t the proper approach this year. Dependable players are needed.
Replacing so many coaches will not hugely impact how the team does business over the next few weeks, but if a “safe” theme starts to develop this is one of the reasons why.