Josh McDaniels’ return helps Patriots in quest to keep Tom Brady, but it’s not the entire equation

Want can the Browns do for New England? Well, not hiring Josh McDaniels to be their next head coach is a start. The Patriots caught a tremendous break this week when the Cleveland Browns elected to hire former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to fill their head coaching vacancy instead of McDaniels, who was viewed by the public as a leading candidate. 

With all the other NFL head coaching gigs already taken, McDaniels will now be heading back to New England to run the Patriots offense in 2020. Overall, there really are no negatives to this turn of events for the Pats. They don’t have to replace their offensive coordinator, have a head coach in waiting if Bill Belichick does elect to walk away at some point, and, arguably most importantly, have a trusted confidant of Tom Brady still residing in Foxborough. 

Of course, the storyline in Boston, New England and across the entire NFL landscape this offseason will be Tom Brady’s looming free agent decision. For the first time in his two-decade NFL career, the six-time Super Bowl champion will be an unrestricted free agent and free to pick from whichever team in the league that will have him. 

Given their history of six Super Bowl titles, sustained success over the past twenty years and the tight-knit relationship he has with Robert Kraft, who essentially called the quarterback his adopted son, it feels like the Patriots will have the inside track at retaining Brady when it is all said and done. The fact that McDaniels is back in the fold for at least the 2020 season is yet another feather in the Patriots cap. 

With all respect to history and the relationships made along the way, those factors I just mentioned above — including the return of Josh McDaniels — will hardly be enough to have Brady put pen to paper to sign on for the foreseeable future in New England, however.  

What the Patriots need to do is treat Brady like many of the other elite quarterbacks in the league. Yes, that means paying him at a price comparable to his colleagues, but there’s also another component to this that may be even more critical to bringing him back. That’s simply providing him with the weapons to compete for more Super Bowl titles. 

Take a look around at the final four teams in the playoffs still fighting for a Lombardi. Aaron Rodgers has Devante Adams, who is arguably a top-5 receiver in the league, and star running back Aaron Jones at his disposal. His old teammate in Jimmy Garoppolo has a plethora of weapons the Bay Area headlined by tight end George Kittle, rookie Deebo Samuel and receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Chiefs have given Patrick Mahomes Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and plenty of other high-flying weapons to make that K.C. offense hum. 

Heck, just imagine what Brady could do with Derrick Henry has his running back along with A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, Adam Humphries and Jonnu Smith in the passing game. He’d likely be right where Ryan Tannehill is, just a game away from the Super Bowl. The only difference there is that a Brady-led team with those weapons likely wouldn’t need to go on the road for the AFC Championship. 

No disrespect to the Patriots weapons, but, outside of Julian Edelman, who is entering 2020 at age 34, and possibly James White, the rest of that group doesn’t hold a candle to those skill position players still vying for a title this year. Their ceiling is simply not as high as currently constructed. 

New England isn’t naive to this reality, mind you. They drafted wide receiver N’Keal Harry in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, but were given a dose of bad luck with him as he missed half the year due to injury. They also got so desperate that they went out and signed the talented, but troubled Antonio Brown and even relied on the often unreliable Josh Gordon for half the year too. That formula was predictably unsustainable. 

If you and I can see the talent gap between the final four teams’ skill position players and the group Patriots had this year, you better believe Brady sees it too. 

So, whenever he ultimately sits down with Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots brass this offseason to talk about a potential return, the team can’t rely on the history made, championships won, and the familiar face of McDaniels to sway Brady. 

There needs to be a point of attack in free agency and in the trade market to surround the quarterback with talent comparable to his colleagues. Is it a run at A.J. Green? A trade for O.J. Howard? Honestly, who knows. It’s only January and plenty can happen between now and the start of free agency. But make no mistake about it: Those are the types of moves that better New England’s chances at keeping the greatest player to ever put on their uniform. 

Ask yourself these questions: What makes Tom Brady happy? The answer: Rings. What’s his favorite ring? “The next one.” 

If the Patriots want to keep him, they need to at least make him think his best odds of attaining “the next one” is in Foxborough. 

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