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Kelley: Eliot Wolf in Enviable Situation With the Patriots

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New England Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Eliot Wolf joined the New England Patriots front office in 2020 as a consultant. Wolf became the Patriots director of scouting in 2022, a position he continues to hold. While Wolf’s job title has not changed in 2024, his responsibilities have. After Bill Belichick’s departure, Wolf holds the distinction of having the final say on personnel matters in New England. It is an outstanding situation for the 41-year-old football lifer.

A new general manager generally comes from outside of the organization with the prior regime departing due to a lack of success. The new guy in the building can make their moves, including moving on from coaches and players from the prior regime that didn’t work out. Wolf is in the rare position of coming in due to a lack of recent success, but also having been part of the old regime. He worked for the Patriots for the past four seasons.

Coaching Staff

Robert Kraft owned responsibility for “parting ways” with Bill Belichick and naming Jerod Mayo to be Belichick’s successor as head coach. If things don’t work out with Coach Mayo, the owner is responsible for the hire. Mayo claimed responsibility for the hiring of the coaching staff (with input from Eliot Wolf and Matt Groh). And, it has leaked that both the offensive coordinator and special teams coordinator were not their first choices, so there is a built-in reason to move on from either of those hires quickly if they don’t work out.

Wolf holds the role of “de facto GM” but didn’t hire the staff. If things work out with Jerod Mayo and the rest of the coaching staff, it is good for all involved. If things do not work out well, Eliot Wolf could receive an opportunity to hire a staff of his own. The situation is good for the director of scouting.

Patriots Roster

Coaching staff aside, Wolf’s position benefits him most when it comes to player personnel. Although he was working in the front office for the past four seasons, and was director of scouting for the last two, it has been made clear that Bill Belichick had the final say over all of the New England Patriots decisions.

So, while some franchises feel forced to ride out their poor decisions, Eliot Wolf can walk away from any player on the Patriots roster at the moment. Bill Belichick will get blamed for selecting the player (or ruining their career). The productive players can be brought back with Wolf receiving credit. Unproductive players can be cut loose with the former boss receiving the blame.

Low Expectations, High Potential

The New England Patriots finished 4-13 last season, so expectations for their 2024 team are not high. ¬†However, several factors are working in the Patriots’ favor.

Last year’s team played poorly. However, New England also had poor luck last season. Matthew Judon, their lone Pro Bowl player from 2022, was lost after only four games. Christian Gonzalez looked like a Rookie of the Year candidate before heading to IR after only four games himself. All-Pro punt returner Marcus Jones was done after two games. All three players finished the season on injured reserve. By Week 18 there were 15 Patriots players on IR. This included Rhamondre Stevenson, Cole Strange, and Kendrick Bourne among others.

Simply by having a healthier team in 2024 the New England Patriots should have a significantly better team. New England also had over $100 million to help them make improvements to the roster. The Patriots own their highest draft pick since 1993 as well. The cupboard might look bare to some, but the potential to improve immensely is there. And if it takes longer, the expectations for 2024 were low anyway.

Eliot Wolf should also be able to buy himself some time if he drafts a rookie with the third overall pick as many anticipate. No rookie quarterback has ever led their team to a Super Bowl and that is unlikely to change in 2024. New England might not be ready to win a championship just yet, but they can certainly make a strong return to being relevant. Again, a great position for Wolf to be in.

Strong Start to the Wolf Era

This offseason is off to a strong start for Eliot Wolf and the New England Patriots. They placed a transition tag on Kyle Dugger, ensuring he would stay put, or at least only leave if the Patriots allowed it. Wolf brought in a veteran tackle in Chukwuma Okorafor, who has the potential to start on a team-friendly deal. Okorafor also does not count toward the compensatory picks. Veterans Hunter Henry and Kendrick Bourne were brought back.

Meanwhile, Mac Jones was traded to Jacksonville and special teams player Chris Board was waived, freeing up some additional spending money.

Wolf deserves credit for his performance so far, and has been receiving it. Bill Belichick drafted Dugger and brought both Henry and Bourne to New England. But so far the only mention of Belichick’s involvement has been negative talk concerning Mac Jones. That said, it difficult to do much better than Wolf has done to date.

For the sake of the New England Patriots franchise, hopefully, the Eliot Wolf Era in New England will go half as well as that of his predecessor. He has returning stars, money to spend, a new coaching staff, and likely the new face of the franchise coming in the draft. Wolf finds himself in a position to garner a lot of praise, without risking much blame. It’s an enviable position to be in. Eliot Wolf could enjoy it for quite some time with the New England Patriots if he continues to play his cards right.

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