Bill Belichick is a septuagenarian. When he celebrated his 70th birthday in April, he became one of only two active NFL head coaches older than 70, along with Pete Carroll. Only George Halas and Don Shula have coached more professional football games, and he owns more Super Bowl rings than any other human being dead or alive.
Which begs the question: How much longer does Bill Belichick want to coach a team that is 8-11 in its last 19 regular-season and playoff games dating back approximately one calendar year? How much patience does he have for a squad that, when it comes to boneheaded mistakes and penalties and lack of polish, has become the antithesis of the old Belichick model?
That was put on full display via the historically embarrassing way in which the Patriots lost to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 15 to fall to 7-7 and remain in a tie for last place in the AFC East. Their 2022 demise is on an increasingly obvious horizon as they prepare to face the surging defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals as a home underdog in Week 16.
Odds are Belichick will fail to win a playoff game for the fourth year in a row, even if the Pats manage to make it to the postseason. FiveThirtyEight gives them just a 19 percent chance of doing so.
Belichick is basically the last component left from the Patriots' extended early 21st-century dynasty. Tom Brady is in Florida, Josh McDaniels was on the opposite sideline when the feces hit the fan for New England last Sunday in Vegas, and even right-hand Belichick guru Ernie Adams retired last year.
Those spoiled by the Brady era in Foxborough are realizing that finding another Brady is near-impossible, and that even finding a consistently reliable quarterback in Round 1, let alone Round 6, is a mission. Just look at 2021 first-rounder Mac Jones, who has struggled mightily with a 71.6 passer rating the last three weeks—right when the Pats needed him most.
Belichick appears reticent to endorse Jones as his starter for the remainder of a season that sees New England face three teams in playoff positions in Weeks 16, 17 and 18.
Where Belichick and the Patriots go from here likely depends on what Belichick wants. Likely, but not definitively. You'd think he'd have earned a lifetime membership in his role, but this is business, and if owner Robert Kraft feels it's time for a fresh start, a trade involving Belichick could be on the table. Belichick would have to sign off on that because he wouldn't simply coach anywhere, and whoever acquires an expensive 70-year-old coach would want to be guaranteed a number of years with him.
You'd have to question whether that'd be a publicity ploy more than an attempt to become a Super Bowl contender. Again, the Patriots are consistently proving to be a sloppy, poorly managed team. And consider how rarely Belichick hits on high draft picks. The jury might still be out on Jones and 2022 first-rounder Cole Strange, but they and Isaiah Wynn are greatly outnumbered by a failed group containing names like N'Keal Harry, Derek Rivers and Cyrus Jones (to name just a few).
Indicators of his recent success (or lack thereof) in finding, procuring and grooming talent: Stephon Gilmore is the only Patriots position player who has been a first-team All-Pro in the last four years, and this year's roster contains just one Pro Bowler.
Maybe the Patriots are better off starting fresh, whether that means finding someone to take Belichick off their hands in exchange for draft (or real-world) capital or asking him to resign.
Regardless, it feels as though they're smashing their heads against a wall with defensive-oriented Matt Patricia outlandishly running a revamped but consistently clumsy offense. And because they haven't had much success in recent offseasons, the talent isn't there. Nobody could blame Belichick for not wanting to tolerate a full rebuild, but that might be necessary if Jones can't emerge as a franchise quarterback.
Wynn and starting corner Jonathan Jones are scheduled to hit free agency this offseason, and three of their best young players—Ja'Whaun Bentley, Mike Onwenu and Kyle Dugger—will then enter contract years. The Belichick Way is to not overpay, but that's inevitable in this era. It's hard to envision the Patriots can get a lot better by investing deeply in a good-not-great core, but neglecting to do so will result in even more short-term pain.
In said era, a great coach-quarterback combo can compensate for a lot of flaws. But Belichick appears to have lost much of his touch, and Jones has by all indications regressed as a sophomore subject of the Patricia experiment.
You get the feeling they'll all give it another year. The Patriots have never been rash, and according to Spotrac, they're on track to enter the offseason with more salary-cap space than anyone else in the AFC. Jones could still make it, and Belichick deserves plenty of leeway.
But another year with Belichick, Jones, Patricia and this core has a very good chance to do more long-term harm than good for a team that is owed nothing from the football gods.