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Sunday Patriots Notes: Assessing Bill Belichick’s future on his 71st birthday

Notes and thoughts on the Patriots and the rest of the NFL.

Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

We are right between free agency and the draft, and yet the NFL news cycle rarely sleeps. So, in order to clean out the notebook from last week as it relates to the New England Patriots in particular, please enjoy this week’s edition of our Sunday column.

Today, our Sunday Patriots Notes will take a look at Bill Belichick on his 71st birthday, the Patriots Hall of Fame nominations, local pro day, and more.

Assessing Bill Belichick’s future on his 71st birthday. Bill Belichick is a firm believer in the “one day at a time” mantra to keep his players and coaches focused on the present rather than the future. While that is a noble approach, those covering the team can take some liberties — especially on April 16, Belichick’s birthday.

With him turning 71 today, we can therefore try to take a look ahead and assess what might be in store for New England’s long-time head coach. Let’s work backward here: we know that Belichick will be a first-ballot enshrinee into both the Patriots and the Pro Football Hall of Fames, no questions asked.

As for the “when,” that is anybody’s guess at this point in time. While team owner Robert Kraft seemingly put some pressure on Belichick during the NFL ownership meeting last month, it still seems unlikely he would part ways with him after the 2023 season — even if the team fails to win its first playoff game since Super Bowl LIII in February 2019.

Unless the Patriots fully fall apart and end the year as one of the worst teams in football, Belichick being kept in his position beyond 2023 seems like a safe bet. Of course, that does not mean that he himself wants to be back.

Belichick will not quit to coach another team, that much seems certain. However, with him in his early 70s now, he might be willing to transition away from his current job and hand at least the head-coaching title to somebody else: recently extended Jerod Mayo appears to be the prime candidate, and a person held in high regards by ownership.

“Well, he’s definitely a strong candidate to be the heir apparent,” Kraft said in late March. “But we have some other good people in our system. So right now, we have a good head coach, and we’re doing everything we can to support him, and make sure we do everything we can to win.”

Another name to consider is Belichick’s son and current linebackers coach (and de facto co-defensive coordinator), Steve. He and Mayo teaming up as future defensive coordinator and head coach, respectively, does make some sense and would ensure a level of stability heading into a post-Bill Belichick era. And the man himself, meanwhile, might still stick around as a general manager-type presence.

Of course, we are now fully entering speculative territory. Fact is, Belichick has not made any public comments about his future. What can be said with some certainty, though, is that his fingerprints will likely be all over the organization for years to come — even when he himself will no longer be part of it.

Belichick’s birthday is not the only reason why April 16 is a big day for New England. Back in 2000, when Belichick turned 48 and had just joined the Patriots as their new head coach, he had quite the busy birthday: it was time for the second and final day of the NFL Draft. Even under the old two-day format, the final four rounds closed out the event.

New England ended up making eight selections, with one standing out: the greatest quarterback of all time in the sixth round. The story of Tom Brady and pick No. 199 is well known, and will continue to be re-told even with him now retired.

In hindsight, the day he was drafted changed the NFL like few before. Obviously, though, nobody knew at the time — and the reactions to adding Brady were relatively underwhelming at the time.

Take the following excerpt from the Boston Herald on April 17:

[W]hat’s with that? Why another quarterback? The Patriots already have their franchise starter in Drew Bledsoe, a proven veteran backup in John Friesz, and a young developmental player in Michael Bishop.

The Boston Globe was not quite as down on the selection, but also did not project a great future:

A pocket passer who will compete for a practice squad spot with the Patriots ... Brady’s selection should not affect backup quarterbacks John Friesz and Michael Bishop.

Belichick, unsurprisingly, also kept expectations low.

“We’ll put him out there, let him compete and see what happens,” he said in a post-draft press conference. NFL fans across the globe know what happened: a legendary, first-ballot Hall of Fame career that nobody could have seen coming.

While Brady was a home run pick at No. 199, the other April 16 selections were rather “meh” and their impact ranged from miniscule to nonexistent: offensive tackle Greg Robinson-Randall (4-127), tight end Dave Stachelski (5-141) defensive linemen Jeff Marriott (5-161) and David Nugent (6-201), safety Antwan Harris (6-187), linebacker Casey Tisdale (7-226) and fullback Patrick Pass (239) combined to play 215 games. Brady appeared in 335 by himself.

A former lacrosse player was among those working out at the local Pro Day. The Patriots hosted about a dozen players for a local Pro Day last week, taking a look at some of the under-the-radar prospects from colleges in the region. Among those visiting was Harvard edge Truman Jones, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss.

A team captain, the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder is entering the draft off the most productive season of his college career. Jones not only registered six sacks, forced a fumble and led the Ivy League with 13 tackles for loss in 2022, he also blocked two extra points and a field goal. His production is not the only reason why he might be a player to watch: he also played lacrosse in high school.

Other players to work out at the Pro Day include Duke WR Jake Bobo, Purdue QB Austin Burton, Coastal Carolina DT Jerrod Clark, and New Hampshire WR Sean Coyne.

Bill O’Brien will soon be introduced. No addition this offseason has generated as much euphoria around New England as the re-hiring of Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator. With the exception of the East-West Shrine Bowl, the 53-year-old has primarily been in the shadows since then.

That will change this week, at least a bit: on Tuesday, O’Brien and the rest of the Patriots’ current coaching staff will be made available to the media. As always, we will have you covered here at Pats Pulpit.

The Patriots have hired a former general manager. Bill O’Brien was not the only offseason addition by the team: Christopher Knower, who used to work as general manager for the Frankfurt Galaxy of the European League of Football, will now bring his expertise to the Patriots — albeit not on the football operations side (h/t @aroundtheelf). The club added him as operations manager for the German market, meaning that he will help increase its presence there.

In 2021, Germany was named an “international home market” for the Patriots and three other teams (Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Carolina). As such, the organization is allowed to conduct business in the country. It also will play a game there this fall, presumably in early November.

Wes Welker leads list of Patriots Hall of Fame nomination snubs. Wes Welker may never have won a Super Bowl with the Patriots, may have had his issues with head coach Bill Belichick, and may be coaching for a division rival now (Miami), but he still deserves a spot in the franchise Hall of Fame. Him not making the list of finalists for this year’s induction was therefore a bit curious.

Welker originally joined the Patriots in 2007 and over the next six seasons became one of the most productive pass catchers in the NFL. His numbers were nothing short of impressive: Tom Brady’s go-to-guy, he averaged 112 catches, 1,243 yards and six touchdowns per regular season in New England, was named to four All-Pro teams, and led the league in receptions three separate times.

Welker’s numbers hold up against most receivers in Patriots history; the player effectively replacing him, Julian Edelman, averaged a 79-873-5 stat line after Welker left New England in 2013. He eventually will make it in but the timing is in question, especially considering that the list of deserving candidates is not getting any shorter.

Welker did go up against some top-notch competition this year, though. Logan Mankins was one of the best guards in the NFL during his time in New England; head coach Bill Parcells helped bring the team back to relevance in the 1990s; Mike Vrabel — the favorite to make it into the Hall this year — was a menace at the outside linebacker spot and as a part-time tight end. Arguments can be made for those three over him.

Still, the bottom line is that Welker has done enough to deserve a red jacket.

Commanders sale shows the value of NFL franchises. While nothing is final just yet, it appears the Washington Commanders will soon change ownership: Dan Snyder, whose tenure with the club was filled with controversy and who is currently under investigation for improper business practices and workplace misconduct, is expected to sell the team to a group led by Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils owner Josh Harris.

The move will be a lucrative one for Snyder: according to a report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Harris’ group has offered to buy the franchise for $6.05 billion — a record price for a sports team. Snyder himself had originally acquired the club for $800 million in May 1999, or $1.4 billion when adjusted for inflation.

That $6.05 billion number is a bit above the current valuation by Forbes. The magazine has listed the Commanders at $5.6 billion, sixth in the NFL. For comparison, the second-ranked Patriots have a value of $6.4 billion.

If Robert Kraft would sell his club at the same margin as Washington he would therefore get $6.9 billion. Realistically, though, that number would likely be significantly higher. The general brand value, still-recent run of success, stadium ownership, and — more than anything — lack of turmoil appear to be the main reasons why.