It's getting harder and harder to imagine Bill Belichick returning to the Patriots in 2024. If odds were set as to the various potential outcomes (and surely such odds exist, somewhere), the longest would be "status quo."
If Belichick goes, it can happen in various different ways. He could be fired. He could resign. He could retire. There could be a mutual parting.
Or he could be essentially traded to another team that is looking for a head coach.
We laid out the scenario that could potentially take him to Washington last week. Any team looking for a coach after the season could try to make that deal. Which creates what could be a game of chicken of sorts after the season ends, with teams potentially interested in Belichick waiting for him to become a free agent and the Patriots waiting for teams potentially interested in Belichick to call.
At some point, a team that wants Belichick (if there is one) would have to make a move. At some point, the Patriots will need to start their own search. And given that any team that would like to hire Belichick would need to otherwise conduct a Rooney Rule-compliant search, it will take time before any team that wants Belichick will activate that process.
This could mean that, as a practical matter, things will be worked out discreetly by the Patriots and the team that wants him, before the season ends. It shouldn't happen that way, but sometimes things like that do indeed occur.
The compensation to the Patriots would be pre-negotiated. Belichick's contract would be pre-negotiated. Then, at the right time, the first domino would be flicked, with a phone call from Belichick's next team to the Patriots.
Whatever happens, the aftermath of the regular season could bring a seismic shift to the NFL's power structure of the past two decades. It feels like the tectonic plates will be moving. When and how and where they go will be fascinating.