The end of one of the greatest coaching careers in NFL history, and the placing of a capstone on one of the greatest dynasties in sports, could be near if the New England Patriots move on from Bill Belichick.
According to a report from Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has already begun discussions with head coach Bill Belichick about the potential of someone else manning the sidelines in Foxboro in 2024.
"The discussions of where this goes post-Belichick have been underway for a while," Breer said, during an appearance on Fox Sports' The Herd with Colin Cowherd. "I think regardless of where this was, like how this (season) went, I think there was going to be discussion about the structure of the franchise and potentially changing the personnel department. 'Do we bring in a general manger (or) promote somebody to general manager and see if Bill wants to work with them?'
This season has been a disastrous one for Belichick and the Patriots, who enter Week 7 cemented in the AFC East basement, at 1-5, having suffered the most lopsided defeats of Belichick's career.
Belichick has struggled to rekindle the magic of The Patriot Way that made this a crown jewel franchise in the NFL with Tom Brady quarterbacking New England to six Super Bowl victories and nine appearances on Super Sunday prior to signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prior to the 2020 campaign. Since Brady's departure, Belichick's Patriots are just 26-30.
Whether Kraft ultimately fires Belichick, or the six-time Super Bowl winning head coach decides to step away at season's end, remains to be seen.
Here's a look at five likely candidates to replace Belichick as Patriots head coach, if there's a changing of the guard in New England for 2024.
Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots LB Coach
Jerod Mayo might be the leading candidate to replace Belichick, especially if Kraft and the Patriots decide to move forward with an in-house successor.
Last offseason, Mayo turned down the opportunity to interview for other head coaching jobs, and the organization made overtures on a possible long-term contract extension with the linebackers coach. Adding even more possible intrigue to a Mayo candidacy are reports that the 37-year-old participated in interviews for offensive coordinator candidates, which would be a bit of an anomaly for a defensive position coach.
In addition to his five years on Belichick's coaching staff, Mayo spent his entire career with the Patriots from 2008 through 2015, which could serve as prologue to the ultimate success story should he rise from former first-round pick of the organization to its next head coach.
Joe Judge, New England Patriots Assistant Head Coach
Similar to Mayo, it's easy to see how highly Belichick views Joe Judge, and if he has any say over who succeeds him, the former Giants coach will likely be squarely in the mix.
Not only did Belichick recommend Judge to New York Giants owner John Mara, but welcomed Judge back to Foxboro with open arms following his disappointing two-year tenure in East Rutherford.
While Judge's 10-23 record as a head coach leaves much to be desired, it's relevant to add context that he was largely saddled with a woefully under-talented roster assembled by former Giants general manager Dave Gettleman and saw his tenure uprooted by the chaos caused during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Belichick clearly has an affinity for Judge, even elevating him to the role of assistant head coach for the 2023 campaign. At minimum, if Belichick is given any input over who replaces him, expect Judge to figure into those conversations.
Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions Offensive Coordinator
If Kraft and the Patriots aim for a truly fresh start to a new era, there likely will not be a more coveted coaching candidate during this upcoming hiring cycle than Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.
The combination of Johnson's innovative play-calling, his ability to relate to his players and get them to completely buy into the scheme, and the Lions' offense's ascension up the ranks among the league's best are going to have the 37-year old among the league's rising stars.
Last offseason, Johnson removed his name from consideration for head coaching jobs, opting to return to Detroit. As a result, the Lions' offense is currently the league's third-leading offense, averaging 383.7 yards per game, the fourth-leading passing offense, averaging 259.5 yards per game, and fourth in scoring offense, averaging 28 points per game.
After over two decades with a defensive mastermind as head coach, if Kraft looks at the NFL landscape and how steeply the sport has tilted to the offense, combined with the potential of the Patriots drafting a quarterback next April, Johnson could be a leader in the clubhouse for this job.
Ken Dorsey, Buffalo Bills Offensive Coordinator
Similar to Johnson, Ken Dorsey is viewed as one of the brightest offensive minds in the sport.
Dorsey has called plays in Buffalo the past two seasons, following Brian Daboll's departure to become head coach of the Giants, and worked alongside Bills quarterback Josh Allen since the 2019 campaign.
Allen has become one of the game's most prolific passers, and the Bills' offense one of the most explosive in the league during Dorsey's tenure in Buffalo. Hiring Dorsey would also have the added bonus of both weakening one of the Patriots' division rivals while also gaining significant knowledge of how the Bills operate and how to beat them.
Mike Caldwell, Jacksonville Jaguars Defensive Coordinator
Caldwell is admittedly a wild card candidate, but the 37-year-old is a rising star in the coaching community and has been the architect of an ascending Jaguars' defense that has played its way into the conversation as one of the league's best.
Through the first seven games of this season, the Jaguars are holding opponents to just 20.7 points per game, in his second season as Doug Pederson's defensive coordinator.
This past summer, Caldwell participated in the NFL's 'Head Coaching Accelerator Program' and is an up-and-comer in the coaching community, which is designed to bolster relationships between assistant coaches and the league's power brokers.
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