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Kelley: Who Does New England’s GM ‘Search’ Make Sense To?



President of the New England Patriots Jonathan Kraft, left, looks on with owner Robert Kraft, right, before the first half of an NFL football game between the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. The Krafts will need to decide on the future of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Since the New England Patriots ‘parted ways’ with Bill Belichick in January, the franchise got busy preparing for the 2024 NFL season. They named Jerod Mayo as their new head coach. New England hired a coaching staff to surround their rookie head coach, including coordinators Alex Van Pelt, DeMarcus Covington, and Jeremy Springer.

The Patriots have also shaken up their front office, where Belichick seemingly enjoyed the final say on personnel moves for most of his tenure with the team. That distinction was passed to Eliot Wolf upon Belichick’s departure. Although the franchise has been careful to emphasize words like ‘collaboration’ and ‘consensus building’ at every turn, ultimately somebody needs to make the final decision. Wolf was bestowed with that honor.

Eliot Wolf’s fingerprints are all over the Patriots’ offseason moves. He has had working relationships with several New England coaching hires. Wolf also brought in two outside executives he previously worked with: Alonzo Highsmith and Bobby Brown.

Also Read: Meet the 2024 New England Patriots Coaching Staff

Perhaps most importantly for both 2024 and beyond is Eliot Wolf enjoying the final say in the team’s personnel decisions. This included handling NFL free agency and the NFL Draft. With the Patriots picking higher than they had in 31 years (No. 3 overall) the choice about what to do with that selection was crucial to the team’s success. Do they draft a quarterback? Should they trade back to acquire more players or picks (as Mayo suggested Bill Belichick would have done)? Eliot Wolf stayed put and drafted Drake Maye, hoping he would become a franchise quarterback in the NFL.

New England Patriots is reportedly interviewing for the general manager position after all the heavy lifting has been done. Why?

Why Did the Patriots Wait to Hire a GM?

The Patriots announced Jerod Mayo becoming head coach before finding Belichick’s replacement to run football operations. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on the Patriots GM search in January after Belichick had been fired.

“They’re in no rush to hire a general manager. They might even wait until after the draft to hire a general manager.”

None of this made sense to me at the time. It does not make sense to me now.

After Belichick and the Kraft family “parted ways” there was no need to wait to hire a general manager. Anyone interviewing for the job would already know that Mayo had been hand-picked for the head coaching job and the new GM wouldn’t get to pick their head coach. Mayo could even sit in on the interviews to ensure the two would work well together.

The day before Schefter’s report, I suggested eight candidates to replace Belichick in the Patriots front office. The list included two in-house candidates, Matt Groh and Eliot Wolf. Among the other options were three former New England executives, and two former Patriots players. Only one of the choices had no prior ties to the Kraft family, which seemed important.

But nothing was done. Eliot Wolf became the de facto general manager but not the actual one. For Wolf to get the title of general manager (and the new regime has expressed that titles are important) they needed to interview other candidates. They did not. Why?

The Rooney Rule

All NFL franchises are well aware of the Rooney Rule.  It states teams have to follow certain guidelines for specific jobs. This includes interviewing minority or female candidates from outside their organization for positions. Brian Flores famously complained about the Rooney Rule when he found out the New York Giants had given Brian Daboll their head coaching job before Flores’ scheduled interview.

Since the New England Patriots have decided to hire a general manager, they must now comply with the Rooney Rule. This would have been incredibly easy in January. It might prove more difficult in May.

At least two known minority candidates have reportedly refused to interview with New England. Trey Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals (who was on my original list of candidates) and former Arizona Cardinals executive Quentin Harris.

Some minority candidates appreciate the opportunity to interview for jobs, even if they know they are a longshot for a position or believe they are being used for teams to comply with The Rooney Rule. People in that category have expressed the benefits of “getting their name out there” and that going through the interview process can be very valuable.

But even a longshot candidate has a shot. Does anyone not named Eliot Wolf have any chance at being the New England Patriots hire?

The Job Belongs to Eliot Wolf

Admittedly, I’m not as giddy as some (fans and media alike) about the Patriots offseason. That said, it is truly too early to judge any of it. New England earned a grade of TBD from me on their NFL Draft report card. I liked New England locking up some of their key free agents and extending Mike Onwenu. They also did not “burn some cash” on anyone outside the 2023 New England roster. They have not made any trades (other than trading back in Round 2 of the draft).

Eliot Wolf had a huge hand in hiring the coaching staff, adding to the front office, signing players, and drafting. Whether people love all his moves or not, the 2024 Patriots are his team. Not allowing him to see how they perform in year one seems foolish.

The candidates turning down New England to interview for the position know it is Eliot Wolf’s job too. They aren’t long shots for the job, they are no shots. At least two opted not to help the Kraft family reach The Rooney Rule criteria for a position that isn’t open. It is tough to blame them.

Stating that I’m confused by the Patriots’ process is in no way a knock against the person expected to get it. Eliot Wolf comes across as knowledgeable, thoughtful, and well-prepared. He has been around the NFL his entire life. Wolf seems very comfortable with himself and his role. He also brings a youthful perspective despite being a football lifer. This balance will serve him well.

What’s Next?

The Rooney Rule has excellent intentions. The idea of having more minorities in NFL positions of power, jobs they were not even considered for not too long ago, is great. New England had an opportunity to comply with this rule and hire the right person for the job nearly four months ago. It would have been an attractive job, based on holding the No. 3 overall selection and considerable salary cap space. Eliot Wolf might have emerged as the best candidate.

For some reason, the Patriots opted not to hire a general manager (or head of football operations) in January. They could have interviewed Trey Brown, Quentin Harris, Ray Agnew, Alonzo Highsmith, Robyn Glaser, or anyone else they are now interviewing (or trying to).

If Eliot Wolf does not get the general manager’s job, why has he wielded so much power this offseason? Would “connections to Eliot Wolf” have been as prevalent for a staff he was not running? And if Eliot Wolf does get the job, it will confirm to many that The Rooney Rule is the sole reason New England is asking these people to interview, making a sham out of the hiring process.

Maybe I’m off base here and Eliot Wolf has proven something to the Kraft family over the past four months they felt unsure about before then. And, despite that positive impression, they are still trying to interview other people for the job, to see if they can upgrade. While conceding the decision-makers in New England are likely much smarter than this scribe, this seeming charade makes no sense to me. I’m happy to listen if I’m missing something.

The New England Patriots hiring a general manager felt like a no-lose situation. Somehow it has become a no-win situation, from a public relations standpoint. Maybe not “The Dynasty series” bad, but not great either. If the Patriots attempt to “comply” with The Rooney Rule and still hire Eliot Wolf, it likely comes across poorly to many in the NFL. Sadly, it appears this entire controversy could have been easily avoided.

Award-winning blogger, Dan's work has also been featured on Fox Sports, Boston Metro, Barstool Sports,, and many other outlets.

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