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Jerod Mayo, Eliot Wolf hope drafting Drake Maye leads New England Patriots into next era of success

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It's almost Maye day: 28 hours before the most important New England Patriots draft decision in nearly 25 years. On this Wednesday afternoon, the sun shines on Gillette Stadium without a cloud in the sky, a rarity this spring -- and it feels like a symbol of hope.

One clear sign of the Patriots' new era is the presence of first-year head coach Jerod Mayo, who welcomes me into his office for a pre-draft chat with a disarming smile and a bro hug, displaying infectious excitement. It's his first draft in the big chair. He's replacing arguably the greatest coach in NFL history -- Bill Belichick -- and he inherited a roster that, largely devoid of star talent, screamed rebuild. Yet, the 38-year-old Mayo is at ease; he's doing it his way. He tells me he doesn't feel any pressure or stress.

"Our legacy will be defined by and tied to the player who we draft at (No.) 3," Mayo told me. "I know I asked the fans for patience. But they won't give me patience. I'm good with it. We're ready for the challenge."

New England wasn't on the clock yet, but internally, their pick was in. In the lead-up to the draft, there was rampant public speculation about what the team might do, but the fact is, a small group of key Patriots football figures, led by director of scouting/de facto general manager Eliot Wolf, decided weeks ago the team was comfortable with any of its top three quarterbacks: USC's Caleb Williams, LSU's Jayden Daniels and North Carolina's Drake Maye. So if the first two picks went as they expected, they planned to draft Maye with the No. 3 pick -- and that's exactly how things played out.

The Patriots left open the possibility of a trade-back if they were blown away with a potentially franchise-defining godfather offer that helped fill their many roster needs. But despite multiple offers from the QB-needy New York Giants (set to first pick at No. 6 overall) and Minnesota Vikings (set to first pick at No. 11), per Patriots sources, no one came close. New England happily took Maye.

"With Bill, we probably would have traded back to get more picks. Our path for so long has been accumulating more picks because it was our process. And we still believe in that," Mayo told me. "But we also believe when you're at a position at No. 3, you have to get it right and get a cornerstone player."

"Like Bill, I believe in draft-and-develop long-term. It's always good to have a quarterback on a rookie deal. At the same time, I don't want to get into the game of, 'I really like this guy, let me trade back 3 picks to pick something up.' No, just take him. If we feel like he's an impact player, then take him."

United with Mayo, Wolf made the final decision to stay at No. 3 and took their guy -- Maye.

A 21-year-old North Carolina native, Maye is the QB the Patriots believe can eventually lead them back atop an AFC East that features Josh Allen's Bills, Tua Tagovailoa's Dolphins and Aaron Rodgers' Jets.

I spoke to three scouts for rival teams, and their evaluation of Maye featured questions about his occasional inconsistency in accuracy and overall NFL readiness, combined with unlimited upside because of elite arm talent, strong mobility and NFL size and traits. One scout compared Maye's upside to Josh Allen. Another named Justin Herbert. He also inspired Philip Rivers comparisons in some circles. What sold Mayo was Maye's toughness and competitiveness.

"(UNC) also had some holes on offense, and the thing that most impressed me about him, he would get smashed and just get right back up. That's the same trait you had in a guy like Tom Brady," Mayo said Thursday night after taking Maye. "Not saying that he's Tom, but just that mentality. Same thing with Joe Burrow. Those guys just keep getting back up and continue to play at a high level, and that was the aha moment for me."

Mayo told me just one day earlier: "The hardest thing to figure about the draft is, does this guy love football? Not what football has to offer. And that's become harder with NIL and portal-hopping. I want to find guys who compete. If you can figure it out, you'll dominate the draft. I want a guy who doesn't care what's going on, everything burning around you, and he's still ready to fight. I want that guy on my team."

Wolf added this about Maye on Thursday night: "He elevates his teammates ... The game was on his shoulders for them."

Maye has told people around him for weeks that he's not running from -- and, in fact, embraces -- the challenge of reviving the Patriots on the heels of the Belichick-Brady led dynasty.

"Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T. I'm not going to try to be Tom Brady," Maye said. "I'm going to try to be Drake Maye."

'Warmth before confidence'

Inside the Patriots facility, the walls tell the story of change. Nearly all the signs and emblems of the Belichick era, including those that read "The Patriot Way" and "Do Your Job," have been replaced.

Now, the first hallway signs you see when you walk in the building read, "We not me," "Hard work works," and "Process, Progress, Payoff," -- the latter is also the theme Mayo has set for his first season as head coach. Another wall reads, "When we win we win together," a phrase that came from offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt after Mayo encouraged his assistant coaches to contribute. Mayo loved it. Now, it's in every meeting room.

Mayo provided the vision themes on adjusting the wall decor, and the project was brought to life by executive vice president of football business and senior advisor to the head coach Robyn Glaser, who oversees all business elements of the football team.

Together, Glaser said, they wanted to highlight what Mayo wanted the team to represent. Notably, an asterisk is incorporated with each phrase, highlighting a key word: we, works, payoff, together. The asterisk symbolizes the north star, because, as Glaser said, the north star "constantly moves but it's something we always strive for." This is another core idea for the team.

One day, Mayo decided the back wall needed art -- something unique and personal. Glaser, the highest-ranking woman ever in the Patriots organization, tapped into a relationship she had with Rob "ProBlak" Gibbs, a Black Boston native who is a visual artist and organizer, commissioning him to do the wall mural. The result is a grand, colorful piece that prominently features a young Black kid in a football uniform, looking at Mayo and other Patriots legends in uniform, envisioning he could be like them one day.

"Diversity matters on our staff, Black and white, young and old, former players and non-players. Players' mental health matters. Relationships with players matter," said Mayo, the first Black head coach in Patriots history. "People matter. What you stand for matters. You have to work at it and build it."

Despite the significant changes in the Patriots building, the levels of respect for Belichick are still immense -- the team put his picture on a wall featuring other noteworthy coaches, executives and scouts who left a huge mark in New England. Mayo, who played for Belichick and served as an assistant on his staff, will certainly lean on some similar principles; he credited the legendary coach for allowing assistant coaches like him to evaluate and write reports on draft prospects early, to get the experience.

But this is Mayo's team. As he sees it, the most important part of his approach to leading this group is to show "warmth before confidence."

"You gotta show these guys that you care about them," Mayo told me. "It's different than it was back in the day where you expect them to just do what you say. You gotta show them you care about them as a man, as a father, before you even start talking X and Os. Once you build that relationship with players then you can be tough on them. But not before. I coach out of love and my staff will too."

Mayo's leadership style and culture-building have left an imprint on the people he touches. Multiple people, from Wolf to Glaser to his coaches and players, raved about those facets of his person.

"(Owner Robert) Kraft couldn't pick a better leader after the leaving of the legendary coach BB. Mayo is the right one," Patriots defensive tackle Davon Godchaux told me via text this weekend. "Once we get that offense clicking, we will be back in playoff mode and hopefully further. Always will be a top defense if not the best defense."

A handful of changes that have become clear this offseason under Mayo and Wolf:

  1. Maye was given his No. 10 jersey upon his Patriots introduction Friday. No longer are rookies required to "earn" their numbers, beginning with numbers in the 50s before the season, like they did during the Belichick era.
  2. Maye revealed there was a mini-basketball hoop in the Patriots locker room when he was on his pre-draft visit. It hasn't been present in recent years before Mayo took over.
  3. Wolf opened the draft-room door to any scouts or coaches who wanted to join this past weekend. An extremely large group did. Previously, the Patriots' draft room included only a very small group of invited scouts and executives.
  4. Wolf, with the help of senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith, has tweaked the team's grading system, influenced by Wolf and Highsmith's past history in the front office of the Green Bay Packers. Simply put, they work with a more traditional, value-based board, compared to the fit-based board of the Belichick era. The 2024 Patriots board had roughly 200 players, per a source. Previously, the Patriots would regularly have 125-150 players as fits on their draft board, a much smaller number than many other teams.

Wolf has not received the official title of general manager, but he has taken on most of the functions that a GM typically is in charge of, having control of the 53-man roster and making final decisions, like drafting players.

The son of former Packers general manager (and Hall of Famer) Ron Wolf, Eliot Wolf has been writing scouting reports since he was a kid. He was groomed to be in this spot, and with the support of well-respected front office executives and scouting directors, including Matt Groh, Highsmith, Camren Williams, Patrick Stewart and Brian Smith, Wolf and the Patriots were ready for this moment.

The 42-year-old Wolf spent 14 years with Packers to start his career, two as Cleveland Browns assistant GM and the last four seasons with the Patriots front office. In his first few months in the lead chair this year, Wolf defined his offseason goal to "weaponize the offense," a unit that finished in the bottom three in yards and points last year. The result: New England's first five draft picks in 2024, and seven of the eight total, were used on offensive players. The draft was headlined by Maye, but the Patriots aimed to intentionally support their QB by providing him with substantial resources to succeed. That's something New England failed to do effectively over the last three drafts to support 2021 first-round pick Mac Jones, who is now a backup QB in Jacksonville.

One example of their aggressiveness: The Patriots attempted to trade back into the first round for the No. 32 overall pick to acquire a WR, with South Carolina's Xavier Legette and Florida State's Keon Coleman graded high and similarly on their boards, per sources with knowledge of the Patriots' plans. Instead, the Bills traded the pick one spot back to the Carolina Panthers, who took Legette; the next day, Buffalo took Coleman with pick No. 33.

So Wolf traded back a few spots from No. 34 to take Washington receiver Ja'Lynn Polk at No. 37, and he used the fourth-round pick acquired from the Chargers in the move down to double dip at receiver, taking UCF's Javon Baker. Both picks seem focused on maximizing Maye's skill set -- they are physical receivers, with a lot of success winning downfield, who can grow with their big-armed quarterback. The Patriots also added tackle Caedan Wallace -- who Wolf believes can play on the left side -- and guard Layden Robinson early in the third and fourth rounds to bolster the offensive line.

"Eliot has been great. He's one of the most egoless guys in the business," Mayo told me. "Eliot doesn't get caught up with what the television is saying. He's a big film guy. That's really how we bonded."

Wolf has been clear he doesn't understand anyone doubting the Patriots' ability to support a young QB with their current roster. He believes people are underrating their receivers and offensive line, with a "solid" player-friendly offensive system led by Van Pelt.

Maye said last Friday that during his pre-draft visit with the Patriots, Van Pelt showed him outside zone run-scheme tape, as well as tape of Aaron Rodgers from the time that Van Pelt was coaching Rodgers in Green Bay, to give Maye an idea of the scheme they planned to install in New England.

Mayo pointed out the presence of Jacoby Brissett as a veteran option to potentially start and mentor Maye. He noted the significance of having proven QB-specialist Ben McAdoo as a senior assistant on staff, along with quarterbacks coach T.C. McCartney.

"We have the right coaches to help a young QB succeed. The only thing is, there can't be too many voices in his head," Mayo said. "We're on the same page with that, which is great."

Through the early months of this new era, Mayo has found it frustrating to remain silent as he encounters portrayals of New England's revamp that suggest leadership is not on the same page.

Last week, The Athletic's Dianna Russini posted the following: "While Eliot Wolf is running point, I'm told Patriots' President Jonathan Kraft is heavily involved in the decision making."

When asked about the report, Mayo said "it isn't accurate."

"They have not interfered with our process down here at all. Our process down here is different. We know we have to get it right. If we win games, everybody is happy," Mayo told me the Wednesday afternoon before the draft. "We've been given the keys from ownership to go out here and use our expertise and judgment and see how the chips fall."

"I would say Jonathan and Robert are great businessmen. They will always be a sounding board on decisions. I would never talk to them about Xs and Os but they understand people. Jonathan has been a tremendous help for me -- I've known him for a long time -- and the same for Robert."

Wolf said he informed owner Robert Kraft of their plan to take Maye with the No. 3 overall pick on Thursday morning -- draft day.

'The best player will start'

Rocking a khaki suit and Tar Heel blue tie and flanked by his four best friends -- three older brothers Luke, Cole and Beau, plus longtime girlfriend Ann Michael -- Drake Maye walked around Gillette Stadium for his introduction Friday like the luckiest man in the world. He proudly called Thursday and Friday two of the best days of his life, showcasing a jovial energy that seemed to immediately endear him to everyone, including his new teammates, receiver K.J. Osborn and linebacker Joshua Uche, who met him at the stadium.

What's next is the lingering question of when Maye will be given the keys as QB1 of the Patriots -- a team in desperate need of offensive hope following a miserable 4-13 campaign, their worst since 1992.

Given his youth and experience level (just 26 collegiate starts), Maye was considered by two NFL scouts I spoke with from rival teams as a prime candidate to be given the NFL equivalent of a redshirt rookie year, spent watching and learning from the bench. Brissett is New England's safety net; he has the knowledge of Van Pelt's offense (Brissett played under Van Pelt in Cleveland in 2022) and the experience to start significant portions of this season. But make no mistake, Maye will get a chance to win the Week 1 starting QB job.

"To go back to Bill, I don't think many rookies are ready to just jump in and play. At the end of the day, our philosophy is, the best players will play," Mayo said. "Coming in as a rookie, hopefully he's a sponge. A lot of good players in that locker room. Look, Jacoby understands, he's a mentor. He's very smart, has great leadership skills, and hopefully Drake can learn something from him, as well. I would say we're going to compete all spring, we're going to compete during training camp, and the best player will start."

So let the competition between a former North Carolina Tar Heel and an ex-North Carolina State Wolfpack QB begin. Maye can't wait -- and yes, he said his goal is to start.

"Let's go. Two ACC guys that want to compete and play," Maye told me. "Jacoby has been here, in a lot of different systems, he knows how to play. Great player. Went to the wrong school in the ACC, but I can't say much; he has bragging rights. Excited to be in the room with him -- a veteran guy to learn from."

Mayo told me the day before the draft that it was Maye's competitiveness that really caught his attention in the pre-draft process. Maye calls himself "the runt of the family, always picked last in pickup games" as the smallest of his fellow athlete big brothers. But it shaped him.

"He's a very smart guy. Leadership part of it shines through. Very likable guy. He's one of those guys he's not going to lose at anything. He will want to play again," Mayo said. "You can sit here and say he's not supposed to be pro-ready, but once you get a guy in the building, what if he's tearing us up on defense?"

One example of Maye's competitiveness: On the night before the draft -- 24 hours before the biggest moment of his life to date -- Drake was playing 4-on-4 basketball in a Detroit-area gym with his brothers and friends. His dad, Mark, was on pins and needles, silent every time Drake touched the ball. The Maye brothers play rough -- no blood, no foul. But they love to compete, and I'm told Drake and Luke dominated that night with no injuries, to the relief of all involved.

In our Friday afternoon chat, Maye compared his basketball game to that of an "off-brand Jayson Tatum." One of his brothers groaned. "They think I'm overrated," Drake said. "But off-brand Jayson Tatum. Off-brand."

Another example that caught Mayo's eye came on Maye's UNC pro day, when he missed a throw that bothered him. After he successfully finished the rest of his pro-day script, Maye went back to the early errant throw to show he could make it.

"That told me this guy has the mindset to get better. He's aware of his weaknesses as well, which is a huge positive," Mayo said. "If I know my weaknesses, I can try to fix them. Plus, from a raw-talent standpoint, he's pretty elite."

Maye added: "That's the perfectionist in me. As the youngest brother, I never want to give people the satisfaction that I'm comfortable with failing."

That's exactly what Mayo wants to hear from his future franchise QB.

The Patriots know they have a challenge ahead -- their roster doesn't look anywhere near like that of a Super Bowl contender, and fixing the franchise isn't a one-year project. There are still holes on the depth chart, and there will be criticism if New England hasn't moved toward the playoffs within a couple of years. But in the meantime, Mayo will hope to use a straightforward, relatable style to get his guys on board -- to go from, as the sign says, process to progress to payoff.

After the Patriots signed Osborn in March, Mayo said he gave this message to the receiver, straight up: "I'm not saying it's Super Bowl or bust because it's not. I'm not going to say we're going to win a championship because you're here. But we want to methodically put together a team that can sustain, win tight games and play complementary football -- good defense, move the ball on offense and get hidden yards on special teams."

Mayo, who was the Patriots' inside linebackers coach the last five seasons, said in recent years defensive players got frustrated at times with the offense's struggles. Those struggles were clearly at the root of their losing season in 2023, and they hope picking Maye is the beginning of the fix to that problem. As Mayo said, his legacy -- and Wolf's -- will be tied to their QB.

As for Maye, he's welcoming the challenge. He won't try to be Tom Brady. But he's confident that the best version of Drake Maye will eventually lead this team where they want to go.

"As the quarterback of this football team, and possibly the face of the franchise and face of the team, everything falls on me," Maye said. "I embrace that."

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