The growing rift between New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft is down to the Kraft family "taking control" after the franchise missed the playoffs and face a potentially bleak immediate future.
The Patriots staggered to an 8-9 record in 2022 with a faltering offence proving to derail a promising campaign by a strong defensive unit. After the year concluded, Kraft released a letter to season ticket holders insisting "no one in the organisation is satisfied" with the results from the past season, revealing the team will undergo "critical evaluations" this offseason.
These appear to be the return of Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator, who takes the reins from Matt Patricia - a defensive coach. The Pats have also brought in receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Mike Gesicki as weapons for quarterback Mac Jones amid an arms race in the AFC East as the New York Jets close in on a trade for four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers.
The old adage claims winning cures everything - and the Patriots have stopped winning after two decades of dominance with Tom Brady working alongside Belichick. The legendary head coach is facing mounting pressure after a series of questionable personnel decisions in recent years and Boston Globe writer Ben Volin believes Kraft is simply flexing his power to re-jig the franchise.
“I do think you see a little bit of a disconnect crop up this offseason, and I don’t know if it’s a disconnect as much as it’s Robert Kraft and the Kraft family taking control,” Volin told Colin Cowherd on Fox Sports’ The Herd. “I think you see that with the Bill O’Brien hire; Rob Gronkowski made an interesting comment where he suggested they paid Bill O’Brien head coach money to get him to come and be offensive coordinator - that’s only a decision the owner is making. The last time they did that was with Josh McDaniels to get him to not go to the Colts - that was another owner decision.
“The Patriots released a letter after the season from the Krafts to season ticket holders saying, ‘No one is satisfied’. They announced via press release that they were going to be interviewing and hiring a real offensive coordinator this year - no more of this Matt Patricia experiment.
“They go out and get Bill O’Brien who I believe is more of an ownership decision than a Bill Belichick decision, so I think you’re seeing the Krafts roll up their sleeves and taking charge a little bit more this offseason and I don’t think Belichick wants to go anywhere else, so I think that’s the dynamic you’re seeing right now in New England.”
With the hire of O’Brien, it promises to be an intriguing year for the Pats' offence. Smith-Schuster agreed to a three-year deal worth $33million to replace the Las Vegas Raiders-bound Jakobi Meyers, and the former Kansas City Chiefs star will join a wide receiver corps featuring DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne and last year's second-round pick Tyquan Thornton.
On Friday, the Patriots signed Mike Gesicki to a one-year deal worth $9million, with the tight end leaving the Miami Dolphins after four seasons. The 27-year-old appeared in each game for Miami but his role was ultimately minimised in rookie head coach Mike McDaniel’s offence as his production sharply declined from 73 catches for 780 yards in 2021 to 32 catches for 362 yards last season.
O’Brien created a two-tight-end offence in the early 2010s that was incredibly productive, setting records with Rob Gronkowski thriving alongside Aaron Hernandez. Gesicki was even recruited to Penn State by O’Brien, so there’s already a level of understanding of his game and what he can bring to New England alongside fellow tight end Hunter Henry.