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Hurley: The Patriots interviewing Nick Caley for offensive coordinator this year feels odd

Sports Final: Changes coming to Patriots coaching staff; are Mac and Bill cool with each other?
Sports Final: Changes coming to Patriots coaching staff; are Mac and Bill cool with each other? 08:31

BOSTON -- Last year, the Patriots -- read: Bill Belichick -- blocked tight ends coach Nick Caley from talking with the Raiders about a potential spot on Las Vegas' coaching staff. Despite losing Josh McDaniels and letting Mick Lombardi, Carmen Bricillo and Bo Hardegree go to Vegas, the Patriots didn't let Caley leave. It was an indication that the Patriots seemingly thought highly of Caley.

But then, the Patriots -- read: Bill Belichick -- installed Matt Patricia as the head of the offense, with Joe Judge second in command, despite neither coach having much experience coaching offense. It was an indication that the Patriots seemingly didn't believe Caley was ready to run an offense.

Then there was last week, when the Patriots announced that they'd begin interviewing offensive coordinator candidates this week, which was the same week that Caley headed to New Jersey to interview for the Jets' OC job. Now on Wednesday, Caley is interviewing for the OC job in New England.

Taken in total, it's rather difficult to determine exactly how the Patriots -- read: Bill Belichick -- view Nick Caley, and it's equally difficult to determine if they want him to stay or go.

Of course, if the Patriots hire him as the OC, then that question is answered. Caley may be mystified as to what went into last year's decision, but the end result being an OC job would surely soothe any lingering burns from 2022.

But if the Patriots hire an outside candidate -- and most reports indicate that's their plan -- then it's easy to imagine the Patriots letting Caley go to any team that wants him. (Reports indicate that Caley's contract in New England expires at the end of the league year, and it's obviously unclear how or if Caley would fit in to a new OC's staff.)

From Caley's perspective, it's easy to see the type of path he can envision for himself. Having worked as the tight ends coach since 2017, Caley need only look at his predecessor in Brian Daboll to see an ideal career arc. Daboll was the Patriots' tight end coach from 2013-16, and he then left to be Alabama's OC and QB coach in 2017, before jumping back into the NFL a year later as Buffalo's offensive coordinator. There, he helped develop Josh Allen into the All-Pro he is today, which earned him the head coaching job of the Giants, who had a tremendous turnaround in year one under Daboll and won a playoff game last weekend.

Granted, Daboll had actual OC experience (two years with Cleveland, one year apiece with Miami and Kansas City) before working as the Patriots' tight end coach. But Daboll was in his early 40s at the end of his run as Pats tight end coach, and Caley turns 40 later this week. Even if Caley isn't envisioning a carbon copy of Daboll's path, it's understandable if he's eager to take a step forward sooner than later.

From the Patriots' perspective ... it does feel like last year's evaluation was rather telling. If the team really believed in Caley, then he would have been the obvious choice over Patricia (offensive assistant coach in 2004 and 2005) and Judge (offensive assistant coach in 2019) to run the offense. Instead, the Patriots blocked Caley from leaving, kept him as tight ends coach, and spoke only of a "collaborative" approach to running the offense. It wasn't an unmitigated disaster, but it was nevertheless a failure. If the Patriots thought Caley was a worse choice than Patricia last year, how much could have changed in the past 12 months?

Now, it's interesting to envision the types of questions that were potentially asked during Caley's interview. Was he asked to identify glaring weaknesses in the offense and what he'd do to fix them? Wouldn't that require throwing Patricia and Judge under the bus, to Patricia's and Judge's ... and his own bosses? And how would he answer questions about Jonnu Smith's stunning lack of productivity since signing a big-money deal with New England? Or Hunter Henry dipping from nine touchdowns in 2021 to two touchdowns in 2022? Or the inability to squeeze any production out of the (admittedly thin) tight end corps of 2019 and 2020?

It's a complicated setup, to say the least.

And, above all, it's just a bit strange. While no doors are ever fully closed in an industry with so few primo jobs, it does feel like Caley's long-term future in New England ended with last year's staffing decisions.

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