The Patriots will reportedly have a new offensive coordinator under head coach Jerod Mayo in 2024.
According to ESPN's Pete Thamel, former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien is taking the same position on Ryan Day's staff at Ohio State. O'Brien is going back to school after a one-year return to New England, where the Pats offense bottomed out, ranking 31st in scoring (13.9 PPG).
O'Brien reportedly being one-and-done in his second stint with the Patriots isn't a major surprise after a mutual parting of ways with former head coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots are also bracing to lose other assistants as Mayo builds his coaching staff. Once Belichick makes his move, with signs pointing to the former Pats coach landing in Atlanta, we should have more clarity about who is staying and who's going. However, indications are there could be significant changes in Mayo's staff.
O'Brien couldn't turn water into wine with flawed offensive personnel and inner turmoil within the coaching staff last season. The Patriots were short-handed on the offensive side of the ball, with offensive line coach Adrian Klemm taking medical leave in early November and assistant wide receivers coach Ross Douglas leaving mid-season for a job at Syracuse. With an already thin staff under Belichick, those coaching absences didn't help.
The Patriots new regime will need to do a better job of building up the talent on offense. That's a given, regardless of who they hire. Ultimately, Belichick, and as collateral damage, O'Brien, is no longer here because of roster deficiencies more than anything. Both guys can still coach; the lack of talent on the roster did them in last season.
Still, Mayo should consider this as an opportunity to revamp the offensive system, which could use an update. The Patriots system is predicated on high-IQ players thriving in structure, with a quarterback who can win within the initial play design by being a step ahead of the defense mentally, both pre-snap and post-snap. That's unlikely for a younger QB, particularly a rookie. Frankly, it has not been overly successful for any quarterback besides Tom Brady.
On any given play, the quarterback and, by extension, his receivers have to do the following: set the protection based on the defensive alignment, identify the pre-snap coverage structure, and then throw on time based on leverage/site adjustments while reading the coverage post-snap. Not only does that require a highly intelligent group of players, especially at quarterback, it also takes chemistry through practice reps. Those might not exist in the current NFL calendar.
Although the bulk of offensive production is still in structure, offense's nowadays are adapting. They're making it easier for players to execute the initial play designs with less mental stress while allowing more athletic quarterbacks to create magic off-script by organizing the chaos when the play breaks down. For example, Kansas City doesn't just wing it when Patrick Mahomes improvises late in the down. Instead, the Chiefs have rules within their offense to let Mahomes cook.
New England will likely dip into the top of this year's quarterback class as the current owners of the third overall pick in the 2024 draft. To some degree, the three most likely candidates will want to play out of structure: Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and Jayden Daniels. Plus, this offense needs to be simplified for a less experienced quarterback not named Brady while still creating scheme-related conflict in the defense.
The Patriots needing to rebuild their offensive coaching staff could be a blessing in disguise. Yes, you'll hear Josh McDaniels's name floated around plenty. McDaniels, like O'Brien, is a good coach. But along with the expectation that he could follow Belichick to his next stop, Mayo should embrace a new offensive system — it's time to go in a different direction with offense in Foxborough.
Here are our top candidates to be the Patriots next offensive coordinator:
Josh McDaniels (Former Raiders HC, Former Patriots OC)
McDaniels was hanging around 1 Patriot Place in the final days of the Belichick era, including attending Belichick's farewell press conference. Early indications are that he'll follow Belichick to his next stop. However, reports are indicating Mayo would have McDaniels on a shortlist to run his offense, so we at least need to explore this as a possibility. It's also worth noting the Krafts are huge fans of McDaniels, with rumblings that he was once viewed as the heir apparent to Belichick.
Although there's significant overlap with O'Brien's scheme, McDaniels does things slightly differently. The Patriots drop-back pass game and protection system would be the same. But their early-down base offense would change. McDaniels is a big believer in "21" personnel with two-back sets featuring a fullback, whereas O'Brien bases his offense out of "12" personnel with two tight ends. From this perspective, McDaniels has a more diverse and effective run game. O'Brien stripped the Pats rushing attack down to duo and trap schemes. The simplicity could've been due to issues along the offensive line, but McDaniels is a far more creative schemer in the run game, marrying that to effective play-action concepts.
The total package from McDaniels always seemed to give the Patriots a base offense to lean on when they needed to find a rhythm: lead ISO, FB counter, and play-action off gap schemes were frequent in his early-down sequencing. As a result, McDaniels's offenses in his last three full seasons ranked fifth, ninth, and eighth in rush DVOA. He also adapted his scheme to build designed QB runs for Cam Newton in 2020, so he has that in his bag.
McDaniels's base plays gave the Patriots a comfort zone to hang their hat on, while his experience would allow Mayo to make him the de facto head coach of the offense, with a Rolodex of coaching connections to build an offensive staff. That's very valuable for a first-time head coach.
Eric Bieniemy (Commanders Offensive Coordinator)
Bieniemy is under contract with Washington as their offensive coordinator, but they're currently in the process of hiring a new head coach. The Commanders are interviewing several offensive-minded head coaches, with Lions OC Ben Johnson as a leading candidate, so their new hire could be bringing their own offensive system to Washington. If that's the case, Bieniemy will immediately become one of the hottest offensive coordinator candidates on the market.
Bieniemy, of course, cut his teeth with the Chiefs before bringing Andy Reid's system to Washington. The scheme marries traditional West Coast elements with the college air raid offenses, a perfect blend of both worlds for a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes. Bieniemy got more out of Sam Howell than many expected until the wheels came off in Washington this past season, essentially running the Reid scheme verbatim.
The offense majors in gun runs, early-down RPOs, and then Reid drop-back staples such as Tampa Bay, mesh variations, and all-go special. Above, you see Tampa Bay with a "rail" tag for the running back to beat a man coverage matchup with a linebacker on a wheel route.
Bieniemy brings coaching experience similar to McDaniels' to run the show himself with his own staff while installing a new offensive system that's highly successful in the NFL. Plus, it would be an ideal fit for Caleb Williams or Drake Maye. If the Reid disciple shakes free, this would be a home run hire for Mayo and the Patriots.
Shane Waldron (Seahawks Offensive Coordinator)
Waldron is in a similar position as Bieniemy. With the Seahawks moving Pete Carroll upstairs, Seattle will have a new head coach next season who might bring in his own coordinators. If that's the case, Waldron, who is already interviewing for OC jobs, would be a prime candidate to return to New England after spending significant time in the McVay offense.
After spending two seasons on the Patriots staff in 2008-09, Waldron got back into pro football on Jay Gruden's staff in Washington when Rams head coach Sean McVay was the offensive coordinator. He followed McVay to Los Angeles for four seasons, coaching tight ends before being promoted to pass-game coordinator. For the past three seasons, Waldron has run the offense in Seattle, where he rescued Geno Smith's career, ranking 12th, 13th, and seventh in total DVOA.
Although they're similar in many ways, Waldron uses fewer three-receiver sets and condensed formations than McVay. In fact, Seattle used spread formations at the second-highest rate in the NFL last season (36.1%). Still, Waldron bases his offense out of three-receiver sets like his mentor with a heavy dosage of pre-snap motion. Seattle ranked seventh in motion at the snap rate this past season (26.4%), using motion to add on blockers while quickly changing the passing strength to mess with opposing defenses. The Seahawks also mostly featured a zone-based run game, with Geno averaging 9.6 yards per attempt on a 23.9% play-action rate.
In the drop-back pass game, Waldron loves to create space for a "choice" route-runner. By using great separators such as Cooper Kupp on those routes, the McVay tree moves the chains on third downs by giving their best receivers the space and freedom to get open (see Choice Stucko above). At its core, the McVay offense is all about making things formationally look the same to keep the defense off-balance with their run-game/play-action sequencing, which produces explosive plays on early downs. Then, they'll go to more of a chain-moving West Coast playbook on third down, two-minute, and other obvious pass situations.
Waldron is familiar with the Patriots organization from his team in the late 2000s. However, the bigger appeal is bringing the McVay offense to New England.
Zac Robinson (Rams Quarterbacks Coach and Pass-Game Coordinator)
Along the same lines as Waldron, Robinson is another McVay disciple with loose ties to the Patriots as a former Belichick draft pick in 2010. Robinson only spent a few months in Foxborough as a seventh-round pick, but his coaching background is very intriguing. Along with his NFL coaching experience under McVay since 2019, Robinson worked as an independent quarterback consultant following his playing career. Robinson's work as a quarterback trainer like Tom House or Jordan Palmer makes him an excellent candidate to develop a rookie quarterback. Beyond the Xs and Os, Robinson could help a young Jayden Daniels or Drake Maye with the mechanics, footwork, and other details of the position. Essentially, the next young QB in New England would have a private trainer on staff.
As for Robinson's vision as a schemer, he has climbed the ranks on McVay's staff from assistant quarterbacks coach to assistant wide receivers coach to pass-game coordinator/quarterbacks coach over the last two seasons. Given all his coaching background is with the Rams, you'd think his scheme would mimic what he knows by learning from McVay. You could expect many of the same tenets as McVay: heavy three-receiver sets, condensed formations, outside zone/duo sequencing with play-action, motion at the snap, and the McVay drop-back pass game. The Rams ranked second in condensed formation usage (58%), so Robinson could play receivers tighter to the formation rather than spread the field like Waldron.
At 37 years old, the Patriots would be hiring one of the hottest young offensive minds if they could lure Robinson out of LA, but they'll have to hurry – Robinson has many suitors.
Klint Kubiak (49ers Offensive Passing Game Specialist)
As the son of former NFL head coach Gary Kubiak, Klint Kubiak has been coaching in the NFL since the 2013 season when he first made it to the pro game as an offensive quality control assistant. Since then, Kubiak coordinated the 2021 Vikings offense, worked with Nathaniel Hackett in Denver as the quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator, and is now the pass-game coordinator for Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. What do all those stops have in common? Kubiak has grown up in coaching with a heavy outside zone/West Coast influence.
The 49ers and Rams essentially run the same offensive system, but there are a few key differences in how they get to their staple plays. With the Rams majoring in three-receiver sets, the Shanahan tree leans more on heavy personnel. The 49ers ranked second in using "21" personnel on 36.2% of their offensive plays, basing the offense out of two-back sets. San Fran loves to run outside-zone lead, with FB Kyle Juszczyk paving the way for Christian McCaffrey. They'll then build complementary plays that look the same formationally but feature traditional play-action, half-boot action, or bootleg plays to switch the point of attack.
The 49ers and Rams ultimately get to similar things, especially in obvious pass situations, and both offenses are among the league leaders in condensed formations. But they get there from different personnel groupings, so it would be up to Mayo how he wants to build his offense.
Texans Top Offensive Assistants - Ben McDaniels (WRs Coach and Pass-Game Coordinator) and Jerrod Johnson (QBs Coach)
Let's combine these two since they're both on a Texans staff that could lose offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik to a head coaching gig. If Slowik leaves, Houston will likely promote either McDaniels, yes, Josh's brother, or Johnson to OC. Nevertheless, both coaches have a hand in C.J. Stroud's rapid development, with Slowik bringing the Shanahan system to Houston under former 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.
McDaniels has extensive experience in coaching in both the college and pro game, with a stop at the University of Michigan before landing in Houston with Nick Caserio in 2021. It's unclear how exactly McDaniels would structure a run game since he has worked in many different offenses, but the Texans current passing game is Niners-like.
As for Johnson, he's a rising star in coaching circles, similar to Zac Robinson. Johnson broke into coaching following a lengthy playing career and has worked directly with quarterbacks for the past two seasons. At only 35 years old, Johnson doesn't have the coaching experience as other candidates on this list, so it might be a few years too soon for him to be an OC. But his work with Stroud this season has gotten his name on the map.
Tee Martin (Ravens Quarterbacks Coach)
Although he has only been in the NFL for three seasons, Martin has been coaching for nearly 20 years, with most of his experience in the collegiate ranks. Martin has coached quarterbacks and wide receivers, taking over as the Ravens QBs coach this past season. His experience working in Greg Roman and Todd Monken's offense built around star QB Lamar Jackson is very intriguing if the Patriots are thinking of taking Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels with the third overall pick. Martin could bring Baltimore's designed QB run game with the spread formations and more advanced passing system that Monken runs. That would be a fun pairing for the Patriots, who would need a new system for Daniels.
- Let's also lump former Patriots TEs coach Nick Caley (now with Rams), Shawn Jefferson (Panthers WRs coach), and Keenan McCardell (Vikings WRs coach) together. Mayo reportedly sat in on OC interviews last offseason with Belichick, and all three interviewed for the position a year ago, along with O'Brien and Adrian Klemm. If the new Pats head coach liked one of them, they could get another opportunity to interview for the role.
- Former Colts and Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is another highly experienced coach who could get an interview in New England. Hamilton would likely run his version of a Reid/Reich offense with the Patriots. His experience in the league would help Mayo.
- I've long been a fan of Kliff Kingsbury, but it sounds like he's following Caleb Williams to the NFL or staying put at USC. Still, Kingsbury, who ran a modified air raid in Arizona to bring the system to the pro game, is an offensive guru who could run that side of the ball.
- Liam Coen is another McVay disciple who will get looks as an NFL offensive coordinator this cycle. After working for McVay for two different stints, Coen returned to Kentucky this past season to be their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Coen was born in Warwick, Rhode Island, and played quarterback at UMass, so he has ties to the New England area.
- It would be a wild story for current Dolphins WRs coach Wes Welker to return to New England as a coach. That wasn't happening with Belichick, but Welker overlapped with Mayo as a player. The former Pats wideout has been coaching wide receivers since 2019 in the Shanahan system, first with the 49ers (2019-2021) before following Mike McDaniel to Miami in 2022.