New England Patriots, NFL

If the Patriots dynasty is officially over, what’s next?

Belichick has engineered one of the most remarkable dynasties in NFL history over the last two decades, but his legacy may be defined by the post-Brady era.

Over the last two decades, the New England Patriots, under the direction of head coach Bill Belichick and leadership to Tom Brady, have orchestrated one of the greatest dynastic runs in the history of the NFL. Six Super Bowl Championships, nine Super Bowl appearances, and a bevy of records, streaks, and statistics later, the dynasty has crumbled.

It became evident during the offseason in 2019, if not before, that Tom Brady would be leaving New England after the 2019 season to seek a fresh start with a new franchise, in his age 43 season. During that offseason the team had also seen future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski retire from the NFL, and it became clear that a major shift was coming.

The team still won the disparate AFC East but was a shell of the team that had won the Super Bowl just one season earlier. Brady looked noticeably frustrated and old, and the team never really gelled in the way that we’re used to see the Patriots gel.

Now, Rob Gronkowski has also followed Brady to Florida, and the Patriots are left with a dynasty that once was, and need to create a clear path forward for the franchise.

In many ways, what happens in the next three years will decide how history looks at Bill Belichick. Yes, he’s a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the best head coaches in the history of the NFL. But, will history remember him as the coach that could only win with the greatest quarterback of all-time at the helm? Or, will he be a coach that engineers multiple Super Bowl Champions with multiple quarterbacks? Remember, Belichick was a mediocre head coach before Brady came on board in Boston.

The New England Patriots have a series of decisions to make as they move into the draft and navigate the murky waters of their 2020 offseason. Those decisions will determine whether the Patriots rebuild is a successful one, or whether they regress into relative NFL mediocrity.

What’s the Patriots path forward

What should be the next steps taken by the franchise?

First, the Patriots should continue to be a defensive-minded, rough and rugged team that makes life difficult for opposing offenses and keeps scoring low. This is very much the strategy that led to the Super Bowl Championship in the 2018 season, and Belichick’s abilities as a defensive mind are unparalleled.

That starts with star cornerback Stephon Gillmore, but it cannot end there. The team needs to invest, heavily, in pass rushers and secondary standouts in the draft and in post-draft free agency. The team must be able to slow down the Kansas City Chiefs, the Baltimore Ravens, the Houston Texans and the Buffalo Bills in order to continue being relevant in the 2020 NFL season and beyond.

Second, New England must identify their quarterback of the future. Sure, the team has publicly indicated that they’re comfortable with Jarrett Stidham at the helm in 2020. But he’s a second year quarterback with four career pass attempts, so that seems highly unlikely. It’s also very cute and kind that they have re-signed career backup Brian Hoyer, but there is obviously no chance that he’s the quarterback of the future. So, the team needs to identify that person.

Perhaps using a second-round pick on someone like Jalen Hurts is more palatable (New England does not currently own a second-round pick, but could easily secure one for Joe Thuney, who is on the trading block, or by packaging some of their other 11 selections to get one. Using a third-round selection on a prospect like Jake Fromm feels more like the kind of steal the Patriots may get.

Third, the Patriots must find a workhorse, bell-cow running back. This may not happen in the draft, but it could. Look at someone like JK Dobbins in the second round or Zach Moss in the second/third as possible options for the Patriots. Sony Michel and James White are nice pieces, but neither are going to carry the ball 20-25 times a game. Instead, they should be complementary, change of pace pieces placed around a centerpiece. A continued strong running game even improved running game, will be imperative for the team’s new quarterback to be successful.

Fourth, they have to get some receiving options. Mohamed Sanu never lived up to the billing in 2019, and Julian Edelman has a tone of wear on his wheels. Those realities coupled with Gronk’s departure have left the Patriots passing game in shambles. The team needs to invest in a wide receiver and tight end this offseason. Look for the team to shop the free agent market when veterans start getting cut after the draft (and also at current free agents like Marqise Lee, just release from Jacksonville this week).  It would also be surprising to see them not use a day two pick on a receiver (they do have three second-round picks, after all).

Belichick is hard-headed and arrogant enough that he is not going to go quietly in to the night. He’s much more likely to take the challenge head on and try to prove that he made Brady great and not the other way around.

Time will tell, but the New England Patriots have a great deal of work to do before the 2020 season (theoretically) kicks off.

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