New England Patriots fans have a long offseason list of wants. Atop those lists, many have noted the need for 1) a new offensive coordinator and 2) an elite perimeter receiver.
In his first season operating the offense, Matt Patricia was simply outmatched, ill-prepared, and overwhelmed. This is not the job for him. Whether Belichick retains his services and transitions him to a different role (offensive line group or back to the defensive side of the ball) remains to be seen, but the Patriots brass has made it clear they will begin their search for a new offensive coordinator this week.
One name that popped up repeatedly last offseason and throughout the regular season is Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. A New England native, O’Brien served on the Patriots staff from 2007 through 2011, including one season as the offensive coordinator before moving on to take the Penn State head coaching job.
As for wide receiver, the Patriots do have talent in that room. New England must decide whether to bring back unrestricted free agents Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor. Kendrick Bourne provided a late-season spark and looked like the player who was a significant contributor to the offense throughout the 2021 season. Giving Tyquan Thornton additional reps in his second season should be a priority, as he did flash at times. DeVante Parker battled injury for a good portion of the season, but in his 11 starts, he displayed the contested catch skills that Pats fans expected after trading for him last offseason.
That said, the Patriots do not have an elite wideout on their roster. Meyers is the closest thing to it, and resigning him this offseason should absolutely be on the to-do list. Meyers operates out of the slot, and the Patriots need a guy who can consistently create separation on the outside. The name that’s surfaced most frequently as of late is Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, rumored to be on the trading block. A five-time Pro Bowler, Hopkins is on the wrong side of 30 but is still among the league’s elite at the position. On top of that, the mutual respect between Hopkins and Coach Belichick has never been clearer than it was in Week 14.
The trouble with these wishlists is that they often don’t account for context. After Bill O’Brien’s two-year stint as the Penn State head coach, he returned to the NFL as the head coach of the Houston Texans. In Houston, O’Brien spent six years coaching the aforementioned DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans won the AFC South four times in their time together but never made it past the Divisional Round in the playoffs. Bill O’Brien was ultimately fired after four games in the 2020 season, but not before trading away his star wideout to Arizona.
O’Brien has been the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Alabama ever since, pairing with Mac Jones to win a National Championship in 2021. O’Brien’s familiarity with Bill Belichick and Mac Jones makes him the obvious frontrunner for the offensive coordinator job. But if that’s the direction the Patriots go, don’t bank on DeAndre Hopkins to follow suit.
Hopkins has a no-trade clause and isn’t likely in a rush to join O’Brien. Despite the mutual respect with Coach Belichick, the relationship between O’Brien and Hopkins during their time in Houston was icy at best. Hopkins noted in 2020 that while he has the “utmost respect for Coach O’Brien,” there was “no relationship” during their six years together. Moreover, Hopkins suggested that the anonymous post-trade chatter around Hopkins’ acquaintances and perceived decline in production may have stemmed from Bill O’Brien’s camp.
By all accounts, there is no love lost between these two. Patriots fans may get one of these guys, but don’t bank on both.