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Just-fired coach immediately emerges as top candidate to replace Bill Belichick in New England

As speculation and intrigue continues to swirl around the future of Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots are reportedly zeroing in on his replacement -- who just became a lot easier to acquire.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft has earmarked former New England star Mike Vrabel as Belichick's eventual replacement. The Tennessee Titans surprisingly dismissed Vrabel as their head coach on Tuesday, opening the door for the Patriots to pursue him if and when they part ways with Belichick.

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New England's long memory

The Patriots anticipated needing to talk with the Titans about a rare coaching trade, which would have seen them potentially part with draft picks in exchange for landing Vrabel as Belichick's replacement. But Vrabel, a former All-Pro linebacker in New England between 2001 and 2008, is now free to join any team he wishes -- and Kraft's desire to sign him extends far beyond his achievements as a player.

Kraft and the Patriots remember how Vrabel led the underdog Titans into Gillette Stadium on Jan. 4, 2020 and masterminded a 20-13 upset victory -- a game which ended the Belichick-Tom Brady dynasty that made Vrabel a three-time Super Bowl champion. Brady left New England for Tampa Bay that offseason, and the Patriots have played one postseason game since.

Why did the Titans change course?

Titans ownership decided that Vrabel was no longer the right coach for a team that appears ready to undergo a major overhaul this offseason. This was despite ownership backing Vrabel during a disappointing season.

Tennessee posted a 6-11 record in 2023, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season -- and finishing with a bottom-five scoring offense for the second season running, despite the emergence of rookie quarterback Will Levis. The Titans will be picking seventh overall in the 2024 NFL Draft and will hope to land a difference-maker on offense -- but it's now an open question as to who will be coaching up that top-10 talent, whoever it is.

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