Tom E. Curran

Patriots need to get on-message about where they're headed

One person needs to take the wheel in New England. Not three.

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ORLANDO – The ol’ “one voice” approach certainly had its drawbacks during the past 24 years. Especially when that one voice issued little more than grunts in response to valid questions.

But the upside was, you knew where to go to when you had a question. Bill Belichick.

As we know, there often wasn’t a usable response. Especially the past few years when the decisions got more head-scratching and “doing what’s best for the football team, like we always do …” was doing extra heavy lifting. But the personnel went through Bill. The contracts went through Bill. The trades, the drafts, the party-line. All Bill’s.  

Belichick didn’t just keep fans and media in the dark. He often wouldn’t reveal his intentions to anyone – not the owners, not the personnel people. Nobody knew nothing.

But right now? It’s almost like there’s TOO many answers floating around. We’re barely three months into the post-Belichick Era, so things will likely settle. But nobody knows nothing and, well, they are saying so. Which isn’t a calming maneuver.

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This occurred to me here in Orlando. On Monday, first-year head coach Jerod Mayo was deferring to interim/de facto GM Eliot Wolf (who’s ostensibly on an audition) on filling out the roster, scouting, deal-making and being the point man on the quarterback.

Then on Tuesday, owner Robert Kraft was coming over the top voicing his opinion about a “top-rate young quarterback” and citing Calvin Ridley’s girlfriend first when asked why the free agent wide receiver didn’t sign.

Wolf, unlike most personnel chiefs, wasn’t at the owners' meetings. One, because he was doing scouting and evaluation but also – one supposes – because he’s not been hired as personnel chief.

Wolf has known for months that Kraft wants a “top-rate young quarterback” because every owner in the league wants that. But if you’re a temp and know your boss will hold GM interviews after the draft – as Kraft plans to – the heat’s on Wolf to take what he hopes will be a “top-rate young quarterback” at No. 3.

Even if Wolf looks at the roster and thinks it stinks and that adding multiple first-rounders is the way to success, can he pass on Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels or J.J. McCarthy and run the risk of them ripping it up elsewhere? There’s an ownership finger on the scale.

Yet trading down makes even more sense since the Patriots came up empty in free agency.

Which brings us to the “weaponize the offense/burn some cash” portion of the program. "Weaponize" was Wolf’s from the Combine. Cash burning was Mayo’s, said jokingly on WEEI at the end of an interview but said nonetheless.

Neither really happened, which led this week to laments and excuses about why the Patriots are – largely – the same team that ended 2023.

There is merit in the old saying, “Underpromise. Overdeliver.” The free agent crop was sparse at the Patriots' positions of need – wideout, left tackle and quarterback. Further, you can’t force players to go where they don’t want to. And (as we discussed Monday) the Patriots are nobody’s idea of a good time. But expectations were set on high. Now, people are howling mad. So Kraft ventured into explaining why Ridley went to the Titans.

“There was one outstanding receiver that unfortunately we couldn’t close,” he said. “It was not because of finance. Clearly, his girlfriend wanted to be in the South. We had a situation where the taxes were, like, almost 10 percent higher. We offered — we were willing to keep going at that premium. But he didn’t want to be in the Northeast. And part of it might be the quarterback situation as well.”

Patriots owner Robert Kraft spoke with the media at the NFL Owners Meetings on Tuesday, and talked about drafting a QB with the 3rd overall pick, and why Calvin Ridley turned down New England.

Candor is appreciated. But throwing the prospect’s significant other into the conversation is an overshare if you’re looking to make the Patriots a destination around the league rather than a remote outpost.

In addition to discussing what they’ll do at three, Mayo and Kraft both circled back often to the team’s willingness to spend. Mayo did it five times Monday in his half-hour session. I don’t know if Belichick did it more than five times in 25 years. He’d be the heavy that was tossing around nickels like manhole covers. Ownership could skate.

Now that Belichick’s not here to take the slings-and-arrows from the fans and media, they’re landing a little too close for comfort. And nudging up against “the owner doth protest too much…” territory.

Candor is great. Who doesn’t like candor in my business? But mixed messages? I mean, what do we do with this answer from Kraft when asked about his expectations?

“My hope and expectations are to make the playoffs,” he said. “That’s something realistically – we have a new leadership team, we’re going to have a lot of young players we don’t know. A lot can happen. We might struggle more than I want. … you try to figure out what the key variables are, and then try to put people in place that you think can react and adapt to what has to happen. I really feel we have a good young team. I just hope we don’t struggle.”

Expect to make the playoffs but hope we don’t struggle. An all-encompassing answer like that which has the Patriots projected anywhere from miserable to wonderful? Aim small, miss small. Underpromise. Overdeliver.  

Answers don’t just disappear on the wind like smoke from burning cash. They have staying power.

The Patriots aren’t a good team and – because they were so bad in 2023 – the timetable on Belichick’s departure was accelerated. They are reeling as they head into their most important draft in 30 years. They aren’t doomed. Not by a longshot. But one person needs to take the wheel. Not three.

Robert Kraft discusses any change in expectations for the Patriots this upcoming season, saying that despite his young team, his hopes to make the playoffs remain the goal.
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