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Coach Mayo Discusses Free Agency, Patriots Draft Plans at NFL's League Meetings 

The Patriots head coach discussed the team's approach to free agency, the quarterback class in this year's draft, and more from the AFC coaches breakfast. 

Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo addressed reporters from the AFC coaches breakfast at the NFL's annual league meetings on Monday morning in Orlando, Florida. 

In an offseason of firsts for the first-year head coach, the league meetings serve as a mile-marker in a monumental offseason for the Patriots as they rebuild the football program in Foxborough. With a methodical approach to the offseason thus far, Coach Mayo explained New England's thought process regarding free agency and next month's draft, where the Patriots hold the coveted third overall pick.

Starting with free agency, the Patriots top decision-makers have received criticism for the lack of major veteran additions. Despite being among the league leaders in salary cap space, New England is 12th in free agency spending (maximum contract value). For a team that went 4-13 a year ago, the Pats retained their top internal free agents and added depth pieces rather than going out and making a splash signing at the top of the market.

Although the team was among the finalists for star receiver Calvin Ridley, who opted to sign with the Tennessee Titans despite a lucrative offer reportedly on the table from the Patriots, the perception is that New England wasn't big-game hunting during free agency this offseason. On Monday, Mayo's opening comments were directed toward explaining their approach.

"Free agency, obviously, the media, the fans, everyone wants that big signing. But at the same time, as we continue to put this team together, I think there has to be a process. It has to be a methodical process," Mayo told reporters in Orlando. "When there is a guy that we want to get, the Krafts have already told us they'll spend the money."

Rather than a cash-spending issue, Mayo pointed to a lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball in free agency. The Patriots head coach and de facto general manager Eliot Wolf have spoken publicly about the team's needs at quarterback, wide receiver, and offensive tackle. Furthermore, Wolf told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine that New England wanted to "weaponize" the offense.

However, according to Mayo, the Patriots didn't view free agency as strong in those areas as they look to upgrade the offense, hence the less aggressive approach so far this offseason.

"I would say offensively this year, we were very picky as far as the players that we were getting. That wasn't really a deep offensive free agent class to even make that type of splash," Mayo said. "We did have targets that we wanted that just didn't work out, but we want guys who want to be a part of this process. That want to be a part of the next chapter."

The Patriots have signed veteran backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, swing tackle Chuks Okorafor, and receiver K.J. Osborn as free-agent additions; at this point, this feels underwhelming, especially given the Patriots' over $100 million in cap space entering free agency.

However, besides their reported interest in Ridley, those difference-makers didn't exist in this free-agent class. Although some fans might not want to hear it, the Patriots head coach has a point. Due to the premium placed on high-end playmakers, most top receivers heading into free-agent years either re-signed with their current teams or remain under team control via the franchise tag. In other words, those blue-chip receivers didn't hit the open market.

The Patriots are also not done shopping for upgrades at wide receiver. Mayo added that the team remains active in the trade market and is intrigued by a wide receiver class in the draft.

"We're still open on the trade market, but I'd also say this is a pretty deep class as far as receivers are concerned, so it's all on the table right now. Hopefully, as we continue to get closer to the draft, Eliot's fielding calls," Mayo explained.

Along with continuing to look for ways to upgrade the offense, the other trade market the Patriots are heavily monitoring is the value of the third overall pick in the draft. New England clearly needs a franchise quarterback, and this is a strong quarterback class. But there's also an acknowledgment that the Patriots have several holes to fill. For a team in a rebuilding process, there's logic to receiving a trade haul for the No. 3 pick to accumulate more draft capital.

"If someone offers a bag, as we would say, a lot of first-round picks, we definitely have to talk about those things as we continue to put together the team," Mayo said. Honestly, the guaranteed way to win is to accumulate more picks. So, if we don't feel convicted at number three, we are willing to do that [trade the pick] as well."

The Patriots are open to listening to trade offers for the third overall pick, but Mayo also pointed to a group of quarterbacks the head coach views as future starters in the NFL.

"When I first started watching these guys, it was a three-man race. As you continue to go to these Pro Days and bring guys in on the 30 visits, having time to spend with those guys to really get to know what makes them tick, it's about five guys honestly that could come in and be a solid quarterback in the future," Mayo explained.

The Patriots head coach recognized top prospects Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and Jayden Daniels as three of those five while hinting at Michigan prospect J.J. McCarthy as the fourth. However, he stopped short of giving his full list. Based on representation at Pro Days, one could decipher that possibly Oregon quarterback Bo Nix is the fifth quarterback Mayo referenced.

Mayo also explained what he's looking for in the Patriots next franchise quarterback and gave insight into the team's meetings with Maye and Daniels at the combine.

"One thing you want from a quarterback is a good decision marker. The other thing that often gets lost is just competitiveness and toughness. You see some of the top quarterbacks in the league like those guys get smacked and get right back up. I think that's very important when you're scouting the position: a competitor like Tom [Brady]," Mayo said.

As for his interactions with Daniels and Maye, Mayo gave a lengthy answer about the good initial impression the North Carolina prospect made on the Patriots at the combine.

"Drake Maye had a fantastic interview at the combine. He brings a lot of energy. You can tell he has that leadership ability. The exciting part about a guy like Drake Maye is there really is no ceiling with a guy like that," said Mayo. "I know a lot of people look at the ceiling, but you also have to see how low is the floor? He has a lot of room to grow. He's a young guy."

Although the Patriots head coach didn't elaborate as much on Daniels's interview, Mayo said he was on the Zoom call when Daniels met with the Patriots brass in Indianapolis. Mayo, Wolf, and a Patriots contingent will also travel to LSU and North Carolina's Pro Days later this week.

"So, Jayden Daniels, I was on Zoom with him, but I met him before. Those guys have Pro Days coming up here soon. When I leave here, I'm going to LSU, and then I'm going to Carolina before I go back home. You have to do your due diligence," Mayo added.

The Patriots are leaving all options on the table a month away from the 2024 NFL Draft. After speaking with Mayo on Monday, Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft will also answer questions from reporters at the league meetings. Then, director of scouting Eliot Wolf will hold a pre-draft press conference at Gillette Stadium next month as the organization maps out its draft plans.

Based on Mayo's comments at the AFC coaches breakfast, New England is open to trading out of the No. 3 draft pick. That doesn't mean the Pats will trade the pick, but they could be hoping to receive a juicy enough offer to make a move down the board worthwhile, or the Pats brass could be using a trade as a smokescreen to hide their preferred quarterback choice.

For fans clamoring for a more competitive product on the field, Mayo recognizes a more deliberate approach that could include trading down would be a tough pill to swallow. To those fans, the Patriots head coach asks for their patience as they rebuild the roster.

"Look, I understand the frustration. I understand the expectations that have been built over the last 20 years. But at the same time, hopefully, the fans understand that we're trying to build this the right way. We're trying to build in pieces that we think are for the long term," Mayo said to begin his closing remarks. "I would ask Patriots fans for patience. Just sit back and let us do our job."

Although free agency didn't produce the fireworks many hoped it would, the lead-up to the draft over the next month will certainly be intriguing for the Patriots. Below are a few more quick-hitters that were notable from Mayo's media availability in Orlando:

Other Notable Quotes From Mayo

- The Patriots have had contract extension talks with standout DT Christian Barmore: "We've had talks with Barmore, and hopefully it works out."

- Mayo said the Patriots "want to keep" star pass-rusher Matthew Judon, who is entering the final year of his contract, but deferred to Wolf on any contract negotiations with the Pro Bowler.

- The Pats HC said OL Mike Onwenu will start at right tackle: "That's where he'll start. But, once again, Big Mike can play multiple positions…we got to have those conversations going forward."

- Mayo expanded on assistant coach Troy Brown's role with the team: "he has a skill development role with our staff. He'll work with the skill players and also work with the [offensive] scheme."

- Mayo on QB Jacoby Brissett: "he's a known entity. He's a guy that's been here before. Secondly, he's worked with a lot of guys on our staff…he's going to help as far as the install and things like that. He has the tools to be a good quarterback."

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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