To be fair, no artist or craftsman should ever be judged by what a project looks like in the middle of creating it. I might go to this well too often, but halfway through every episode, Bob Ross' paintings looked like Modern Art. (That's not a compliment.) Until he'd take a spatula dipped in white paint and make those black and blue triangles turn into pine trees and snow capped mountains before your eyes.
But the same goes for anyone in the middle of an act creation. Someone building a deck onto a house. Knitting a sweater. Assembling IKEA furniture. Putting together a LEGO set. Editing the rough-cut of a video. Even creating the universe itself wasn't going to garner any five star reviews three days into the Book of Genesis. Personally, I don't run a new stand-up bit past any other comics until I feel like it's ready for an audience. Hell, I don't anyone reading one of these blogs while it's half written. Because it'll be an incomprehensible mess, filled with grammatical errors. I don't post anything until it's a barely comprehensible mess, filled with grammatical errors. Then and only then is it fit for public consumption that you can judge me by.
With that in mind, it wouldn't be fair to look at the state of the Patriots on February 9th and see it as anything other than a work in progress. Completely rebuilding the power structure of a pro football operation for the first time in a quarter century takes time and patience. But to be fair to me, I don't want to be fair. And five years removed from our last postseason win is too much time and I'm low on patience. So it's either try to make sense of where we're at right now, or read up on the latest thing said by someone about Travis Kelce. I've made my choice.
What we can say with some confidence is that, whatever Eliot Wolf has for a title, he's effectively the Patriots GM. We know this due to reports that he sat in with Jerod Mayo during all the interviews for coordinators and assistant coaches. But even if we hadn't heard that, it'd be obvious just by the results of the exhaustive nationwide searches the team has made.
Wolf worked in the personnel department of the Packers from 2004-17. In different capacities. With various job titles. Always with diminutives attached like Assistant to the Associate Undersecretary Adjutant of Player Personnel or whatever. I exaggerate, but he was never the GM so we have no way to gauge his performance. And here are the people he's brought in from outside the organization:
Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt: Green Bay's running backs coach, 2012-13 and quarterbacks coach, 2014-17
Offensive assistant Ben McAdoo: Green Bay's tight ends coach, 2006-11 and quarterbacks coach, 2012-13
Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery: Green Bay's defensive front assistant 2015-17, defensive line coach, 2018-21, defensive line coach and running game coordinator, 2022-23
Quarterbacks coach TC McCartney, Van Pelt's tight ends coach in Cleveland
Make of that what you will. Clearly life in the NFL is a nomadic existence. You work with a lot of people. And try to hire the people you're either friendly with, impressed by, or hopefully both. But anyway you look at it, this is Wolf trying to put his old Packers band back together. And since there's no GIF for that, I'll add some flavor to this blog with this:
When you're on your fourth offensive coordinator in four years and your fifth quarterbacks coach in five, I suppose it's not the worst idea to go with people you're comfortable with with. Or in McCartney's case, people the people you're comfortable with are comfortable with. And offensively, those Packers coaches were not without their successes. But it wasn't always clear skies and happy landings. Just taking the sweet spot where this braintrust was mostly together here's where the team ranked:
- 2012: 5th in points, 13th in yards
- 2013: 8th, 3rd
- 2014: 1st, 6th
- 2015: 15th, 23rd
- 2016: 4th, 8th
- 2017: 21st, 26th
Though those 2013 and 2017 numbers reflect the fact Aaron Rodgers played half the season. Regardless, our new de facto GM is making the first major change in the team's offensive scheme since Clinton was President by handing the controls over to people he worked with in the mid 20-teens. Led by a coordinator who hasn't been actually coordinating on game days save for a game here or there during the Covid season. Again, make of that what you will.
Still, Wolf has the most assets at his disposal for rebuilding this roster any Pats GM has seen since maybe the year Bill Parcells arrived and had the first overall pick. And according to this report in from Jeff Howe in The Athletic, you probably won't like the plan:
When the Patriots were discussed among league and team sources, the same question continued to come up: What are they going to do at general manager? …
If it’s Wolf running the show, expect the Patriots to give a long, hard look at drafting a left tackle with the No. 3 pick.
Not that choosing a tackle high in the 1st round is a bad idea, generally speaking. They're important. They're at a premium. It's an area of need, given how unreliable Trent Brown has been for stretches and the fact his contract is up. Plus Notre Dame's Joe Alt and Penn State's Olumuyiwa Fashanu are consensus Top 10 prospects. But who are they going to protect? Bailey Zappe? To give him more time to throw to Tyquan Thornton? It's early in the process here and there's a million things to sort out. But when you just came off a season where you finished dead last in points with fewer than 14 per game, building around a left tackle feels like you're subjecting your highest pick in 23 years to life as the next Joe Thomas.
Finally, there's the chance to rebuild the roster through free agency, thanks to the last GM saving up $66 million in cap space, third most in the league. Mayo is on record as saying they have "cash to burn." While Mr. Kraft just gave an interview where he pushed back against the narrative that they haven't always been burning cash:
Source - “I know there’s a perception that we have held back on spending. Let me just say, for our fans, that’s just not true. Look, we were blessed to have a coach in our system who was a great coach and also understood value. He ran a tight ship. . . .
[O]ur coaches have always had the ability to spend at whatever level they wanted. I think Bill [Belichick] was always thinking about the future and really understood value. But we never held back with any of the coaches we’ve had over the last 30 years.
"They’ve been able to get whatever they want. If cash spending became an issue for our family, and we couldn’t do it, then I would sell the team. Winning football games, after my family, is the most important thing in my life. Whatever we can do to help make that happen, we’re going to do."
Now, this is one of those topics that degenerates into a discussion about cap spending vs. cash spending, which makes my perfectly coiffed, prematurely grey hair hurt. Which I won't get into. I'll just repeat what Belichick said about it just last year:
NESN - “So teams that spend a lot of cash one year probably don’t spend a lot of cash in the next year, because you just can’t sustain that. So we’ve had high years, we’ve had low years, but our cap spending has always been high. And that’s the most competitive position you can be in. … There’s a salary cap, and we spend to the salary cap, that’s what’s important. …
I mean, you can’t sustain the 20 years of success that we sustained by overspending every year without having to eventually pay those bills and play with a lesser team. So I think if you look at the teams that have done that, that’s kind of where some of them ended up. Jacksonville back in ’14, the Rams are going through it, Tampa’s going through it now. Not saying there’s anything right or wrong with it, it’s just a different way of doing things, and there’s a result for doing that.”
Which leaves us asking the biggest question of all, which is where Wolf stands philosophically on this. It's hard to imagine he's been on Belichick's staff as long as he has and thinks the Jaguars/Rams/Bucs approach of loading up and "going for it" is the smart strategy. But does that mean he's going to shop out of the same thrift stores where his former boss generally went bargain hunting? Or can we count on a few Stephon Gilmore-type signings? Or a wild, Supermarket Sweep-style spree like the one Belichick went on in 2021 that earned him EOTY? Because that was an outlier. And Thunder Kraft never seemed comfortable with it. And while it produced home runs like Matt Judon, Kendrick Bourne and Hunter Henry, there were a lot of Ks like Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith.
Right now we have no idea. We don't even have confirmation of who is actually calling the shots, much less what our prime suspect's core philosophy is. Or what the organizations plan is going forward. Because no one is saying.
All this might sound like I'm pessimistic. I don't think I am. But like most Pats fans, optimism stopped being my default setting about 1,500 crushing disappointments ago. I hope I'm wrong. But to borrow a line from Lord of the Rings, "Do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands." Until we get some positive news, that's where I'm at.