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Sunday Patriots Notes: How much longer will Bill Belichick coach?

Related: Turning 70, Bill Belichick is still going strong: ‘I enjoy doing it’

New York Jets Vs. Pittsburgh Steelers At Heinz Field Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

With just under two weeks until an important NFL Draft, the New England Patriots are busy finalizing their boards as they look to repeat with another impact and competitive rookie class. With Matt Groh speaking with the media on Friday, it is clear that the front office and coaching staff have a clear plan on how to build this organization for success in 2022 and beyond.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into this week’s Sunday Notes.

1. How much longer will Bill Belichick coach? Yesterday, Bill Belichick celebrated the big 7-0. As we hear so much that age is just a number, it’s a good time to consider just how much longer Belichick will be a head coach and de facto general manager for the Patriots as he enters his 70s.

“For me, I enjoy the job. It’s challenging, but I enjoy all aspects of it,” Belichick said following this season’s wild card playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills.

“Robert and Jonathan [Kraft] have been very supportive and they’ve given me great opportunity to try and do the things we need to do to have a good team. I think we certainly made improvements from where we were last year but we certainly have a way to go as well.”

Belichick, who is just 38 wins behind all-time leader Don Shula for the winningest coach in NFL history, has been with the Patriots since 2000. While there is some speculation that he is only going to coach until he passes Shula, I feel as if his decision will be more about the franchise and how he sets it up for success in the future.

In my opinion, Belichick would want to leave the franchise in good hands and in line for success when it is time to step away. Getting franchise quarterback Mac Jones was a good start in 2022 and continuing to put a competitive football team around him is priority number one for the foreseeable future.

But, as Belichick himself would say: “We’re onto 2022.”

2. Patriots fans should have full trust in Matt Groh. On Friday, Patriots director of player personnel met with reporters for the team’s annual pre-draft press conference. Groh spoke about New England’s current roster, how its offseason went so far, and what the plans may be heading into the draft next Thursday night.

Ever since Groh took a more hands-on approach last season following his promotion to director of college scouting, everybody in New England has spoken highly of the Patriots’ new director of player personnel. Groh certainly seems to have a modern approach to the game — something that fans have urged for in years past.

“We’re always evaluating all of our processes and the way we evaluate different positions,” Groh said. “There’s never a ‘this is the way we do things.’ We are constantly trying to evolve and adapt to try and find better ways, more efficient ways of going about that.”

Groh said all the right things and harped on key areas of improvement that were seen by many this past year; speed, playmaking ability and drafting more early impact players again this year.

As the Patriots look to continue to grow their roster both for 2022 and beyond, Matt Groh seems to be the right man for the job.

3. Adding more speed on both offense and defense a point of emphasis for Patriots. Among the points mentioned by Groh was that the team is looking to “get faster everywhere.” He noted that the Patriots already made some moves in that direction last year, and continued during this year’s free agency.

With the AFC loading up on premier talent this offseason, it has become clear the Patriots are trying to reinvent themselves from a speed perspective as well.

Signing wide receivers such as Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne last offseason was a first step. Bringing in linebacker Mack Wilson and safety Jabrill Peppers this year suggests that the Patriots are in fact looking to get more athletic and faster on the defensive side of the ball as well (something that was already previously mentioned by inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo).

They are not done yet, though. A few additions in the draft would put them in a much better position than they were last year, especially at a linebacker position that struggled in the speed department in 2021.

If New England indeed wants to increase the speed at the position, there are multiple targets worth keeping an eye out for: Alabama’s Christian Harris, Montana State’s Troy Andersen, and Georgia’s Channing Tindall all ran a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, for example.

4. The way the Patriots view the linebacker position is changing. Speaking of the linebackers, Groh was also asked about the position and if the team would be looking to potentially get smaller and quicker than it has in past years. The Patriots had always looked for big, physical linebackers that were stout against the run and take up space in the front seven — e.g. Dont’a Hightower, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Christian Sam — but the times are changing.

In most cases, linebackers had to be over the 6-foot-3 and 250-plus pounds to play meaningful snaps in Bill Belichick’s defense. As Groh noted in his press conference, however, it doesn’t seem like that is necessarily the plan anymore for the Patriots.

“It’s a different game than it was 20, 30, 40 years ago and that player has also changed,” Groh said. “There’s not as many of those big linebackers, they don’t exist. Colleges want them smaller because they’ve got to be able to adapt to the college game.”

Groh’s comments shine a brighter light onto the Patriots’ defensive plans going forward. Even after the team acquired both Jabril Peppers and Mack Wilson to play big roles at the off-ball position in 2022, it might not be done adding talent.

5. Matt Patricia’s behind the scenes work this offseason. Since getting fired by the Detroit Lions and returning to New England, Matt Patricia has been a man of many hats. We didn't see him much on the sidelines in 2021 and heard reports of his role in the Patriots’ front office — helping with player personnel and league matters. His official title last season was “senior football advisor,” but as Bill Belichick said last month at the league meetings, he isn’t a big fan of titles.

When Groh was asked about how the DeVante Parker trade came about, he was quick to give props to Patricia who “did a great job getting on that early.” This could give us a hint of what Patricia may be doing inside the front office; keeping tabs of personnel around the league and tracking which players that may be considered a good fit with the Patriots.

With several uncertainties on the offensive side of the ball due to coaching departures this off-season, Patricia is set to help out on the offensive side of the ball and should be more hands-on with the players this year. However, it appears that he will still continue to be a jack-of-all-trades for Belichick.

Sunday Patriots Mailbag

There’s been some buzz recently of consensus top-10 pick Derek Stingley Jr. dropping in the draft due to the injury problems that have hindered him since his All-American freshman season at LSU. Personally, I don't see it simply because of what Stingley has put on tape since the moment he stepped on campus at LSU. He also popped at his pro day and has always been the top corner in the class.

If Stingley were to fall out of the top-10, however, I’m sure several cornerback-needy teams would pick up the phone to see what the cost would be to go get him in the early teens. Him falling all the way to No. 21 would be a major surprise, though, due to his potential and ability to lock down receivers at ease when healthy.

A lot will depend on how many quarterbacks go in the top-15. If there is a run at the position early, it would be music to the Patriots’ ears: it would allow some really good players to slip below where they are currently projected to go. Long story short, as Phil Perry told us this week on the Patriot Nation Podcast, if you’re a Patriots fan, you want a few quarterbacks to go early to allow the team to potentially strike and land a big-name prospect at another position.

Good question because I think running back is sneakily a need for the Patriots. Obviously, it will be Damien Harris’ and Rhamondre Stevenson’s backfield in 2022 but with Harris’ contract up at the end of the year, James White on the back-nine of his career, and a lack of a long-time third-down back on the roster, the Patriots could look to add another running back on Day 3 again this year.

Some names to keep an eye on: James Cook (Georgia), Kyren Williams (Notre Dame), Brian Robinson (Alabama), Tyler Bad (Missouri). They all fit the Patriots mold at running back from a Day 3 perspective.

Still, it’s too early to tell — a lot will be telling when we see if quarterbacks start to fall off the board just inside and outside the top-10. This would allow some premier talent like Devin Lloyd or Nakobe Dean, ass mentioned in your example above, to potentially fall into the Patriots’ lap at No. 21.

My dream scenario, by the way, would be one of Devin Lloyd, Daxton Hill, Andrew Booth Jr., Trent McDuffie, Jameson Williams or Jordan Davis. The Patriots picking any one of them would be a major addition.