Earlier today, the New England Patriots suffered their third departure of the offseason. After already losing special teams/wide receivers coach Joe Judge and defensive line coach Bret Bielema to the New York Giants, the Patriots will now also have to replace the man responsible for the team’s offensive line: Dante Scarnecchia will retire from pro football.
Before getting ahead of ourselves, however, let’s take a quick look at what Scarnecchia’s retirement means for the team.
The Patriots’ staff loses its most experienced assistant
When Scarnecchia first arrived in New England, Ron Meyer was still the team’s head coach. The year was 1982 and over the nearly four decades that followed, Scarnecchia would go on to serve in multiple roles for the Patriots (and the Indianapolis Colts for a couple of seasons as well) — from special teams and tight ends coach, to coaching assistant, to interim head coach and finally, beginning in 1999, offensive line coach.
No other assistant on Bill Belichick’s staff had the same experience as the 71-year-old, and the team and its head coach will undoubtably miss what he brought to the table in his 34 years with the franchise. Just take a look at what Belichick had to say when Scarnecchia returned from his first retirement in 2016: “I think the world of Dante. I think he is as fine of a coach as anybody that I’ve coached with, and I’ve had the opportunity to coach with a lot of them.”
Scarnecchia’s heir will have big shoes to fill
While it remains to be seen who eventually follows Scarnecchia’s massive footsteps, the Patriots have a pair of in-house options that could fill the vacant position: Carmen Bricillo and Cole Popovich. While Bricillo was originally added last offseason to work closely alongside Scarnecchia in an assistant role, Popovich is already entering his sixth year in New England after spending four as a coaching assistant partially responsible for the O-line.
Whether the Patriots go with Bricillo or Popovich, or somebody else entirely, one thing is certain: whoever follows the legendary coach will have big shoes to fill. If it is indeed one of the two young assistant coaches, they better get up to speed quickly considering that...
The offensive line will face even more uncertainty now
There is a realistic chance that Scarencchia will not be the only high-profile departure the Patriots’ offensive line will have to deal with this offseason. After all, starting left guard Joe Thuney and 2019 starting center Ted Karras are both scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency in March and might leave New England as well if attractive opportunities presented themselves — something that is expected to happen especially in Thuney’s case.
Add the medical status of original starting center David Andrews, who missed all of last season after blood clots were discovered in his lungs, to this and Scarnecchia’s retirement and you get an offensive line in flux.
Somebody else will have to develop the Patriots’ recent draft picks
Over the past two offseasons, New England invested considerable resources in its offensive line: the team spent a first-round draft pick on tackle Isaiah Wynn in 2018, before selecting tackle Yodny Cajuste and guard Hjalte Froholdt in the third and fourth rounds one year later. All three men are still in the developmental stages of their careers, with Wynn brining the most experience to the table after having started nine games for the Patriots over the course of the 2019 season. Cajuste and Froholdt, on the other hand, both missed their rookie seasons on injury-related reserve lists.
Whoever steps in for Scarnecchia will need to continue working on the development of the three youngsters — a potentially critical part of the Patriots’ long-term roster construction considering a) Wynn’s role as the team’s starting left tackle, b) Thuney’s upcoming free agency and Froholdt as his possible replacement, and c) the up-and-down play of right tackle Marcus Cannon last season and Cajuste being groomed behind him.
The Patriots shouldn’t count on Scarnecchia returning once again
As noted above, this is not the first time Scarnecchia announced his retirement from coaching: he already stepped away from the game after the 2013 season before being lured back two years later. This time, however, the Patriots should not count on a similar development considering Scarnecchia’s age and the toll that coaching in the NFL can take on a person no matter how physically and mentally fit it might be.