Does Bill O’Brien’s presence at offseason workouts mean anything for the Patriots?

The former Patriots offensive coordinator didn't join the team this year, staying at Alabama with Nick Saban. But is the dream still alive for the future?

Bill O'Brien Patriots
Bill O'Brien before the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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Soon, the Patriots will begin another round of offseason workouts, which will both get new recruits up to speed and give us our first glance at how the revamped offensive coaching staff will keep the ball moving in Mac Jones’s important second season.

But it was a coach not currently on New England’s staff that caught peoples’ attention last week down in Foxborough.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported Sunday that current Alabama offensive coordinator and former Patriots play-caller Bill O’Brien made his way down to Gillette Stadium to visit old boss Bill Belichick — putting Patriots observers on high alert.

“Bill Belichick previously said the Patriots’ coaching staff was likely complete, but that doesn’t mean visitors won’t be welcomed at various times — and Belichick’s network is deep,” Reiss wrote. “Along those lines, players took note of current Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien on the field at Gillette Stadium last week at the voluntary offseason program. O’Brien, of course, has deep roots in New England as a former Belichick assistant.”


O’Brien, as many recall, was the odds-on favorite to take over for departed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels this offseason after the latter took the Las Vegas Raiders’ head coaching job. However, potentially because Belichick didn’t want to undermine Saban, O’Brien is remaining at Alabama for a second season as its offensive coordinator at this time.

Meanwhile, New England seems set to roll into this season with Joe Judge, Matt Patricia, and perhaps other offensive assistants sharing responsibilities for running the offense with Belichick himself.

As Reiss noted, O’Brien visiting Patriots workouts doesn’t necessarily have extra meaning in a vacuum. College coaches or NFL coaches currently unaffiliated with teams often turn up at practices across the league, especially if they have relationships with the current staff (which O’Brien does). As such, this might be nothing more than an innocuous call.

Then again, perhaps it’s not.

Belichick is ostensibly putting a good deal of faith in Judge and Patricia to keep the offense operating smoothly post-McDaniels. But there’s certainly a good chance that experiment doesn’t work out.

Additionally, a likely part of the reason Judge and Patricia might have such outsized roles is cost-effectiveness. Both coaches are still being paid by their former employers — the New York Giants and Detroit Lions, respectively — after being fired from their head coaching posts in the midst of five-year contracts. That means Belichick doesn’t have to pay them much and that there’s little incentive financially to hire an offensive coordinator, who would command a heftier sum, if he believes Judge and Patricia can fill that void themselves.


If the offense looks dysfunctional, however, that thinking could change quickly.

Also, Patricia’s Lions money should run out by the end of the 2022 season. So he’d either need to latch on with the team in some role or pursue another job elsewhere. Judge could stick around a few years, but his position won’t be guaranteed if the Patriots struggle offensively.

That could put O’Brien, who had a successful stint as New England’s offensive coordinator before getting head coaching opportunities at Penn State and with the Houston Texans, back in the Patriots’ crosshairs for 2023. What’s more: his familiarity with the team’s offensive system would, in theory, present as smooth a transition as you could ask if you brought in a new offensive coordinator for Jones’s third season.

If things don’t go as planned for the Patriots in 2022, calls for O’Brien to return to Foxborough will only grow louder.


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