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NFL Notes: Mayo, Wolf Look to Establish Culture

By re-signing many of their own players, the Patriots will look to build a strong culture inside the locker room in Jerod Mayo’s first season in New England.

Patriots Head Coach Jerod Mayo
Patriots Head Coach Jerod Mayo

The immediate aftermath of the hiring of Jerod Mayo brought a good deal of excitement. Talk of more collaboration and communication, followed by indications of a willingness to spend money in free agency in an effort to rebuild a sagging roster had fans and media intrigued by what was to come.

But when the new league year began last week, the Patriots strongly resembled the same organization we've seen for the better part of the past 20 years. Rather than investing heavily in the open market, Mayo and his de facto general manager Eliot Wolf took a page out of Bill Belichick's playbook and opted for the more conservative route.

Like Belichick, Mayo and Wolf sought versatile veterans like Antonio Gibson, Sione Takitaki and K.J. Osborn in free agency, signing them to short-term, modest deals in an effort to add some depth. More importantly, they chose to retain a more than a half dozen of their own players, which is what Belichick often did during his tenure.

Patriots OL Mike Onwenu
Patriots OL Mike Onwenu

The most notable – and expensive – re-signing was Mike Onwenu. His $19 million average annual salary was by far the largest deal the Patriots have signed thus far. It was a move similar to Belichick opting to keep standout guard Shaq Mason back in 2018 when he re-signed the young standout a year ahead of free agency to a five-year, $50 million deal. He followed that by using the franchise tag on Joe Thuney in 2020, locking up two key pieces of the offensive line with big money.

The Patriots chose to hang on to some other players they felt were worth keeping around. In addition to Onwenu, Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry, Jalen Reagor, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings all re-signed and Kyle Dugger was given the transition tag. Most of them agreed to modest deals that shouldn't impact any potential moves going forward.

In recent seasons the Patriots were content to say goodbye to some veterans looking for a second contract, and clearly Mayo and Wolf did not want to do that.

The knee-jerk reaction hasn't been positive. Retaining players that were a big part of a 4-13 team is curious to be certain. But with the roster full of holes, it was important to keep some pieces and eliminate the need to fill additional ones.

From afar it certainly seems like Mayo and Wolf were also interested in trying to create a culture within the locker room. With uncertainty all over the roster, they chose to keep as many players that they were familiar with as they try to establish a new regime behind players that know and understand. It might not lead to immediate success in the win-loss column but if the Patriots can emerge with an identity of how they want to play and operate it may be almost as important in the long run.

Belichick loved to lean on players who understood and more importantly dispersed his message. Mayo himself was one of those guys during his playing days. So, it's not overly surprising to see him want to try to find some veterans who will be on board with his methods as the organization tries to rid itself of the at times toxic environment that permeated the locker room over the past two seasons.

That said, it has been disappointing that New England hasn't been able to add substantial talent to what was already here. Entering free agency the hope was that Mayo and Wolf would find at least one player to fill a major need at quarterback, wide receiver or tackle in order to lessen the pressure of landing all three in the draft.

They tried to fill one with Calvin Ridley and that did not happen. The failure to fill any of the three will be hard to overlook as the draft now appears to be the lone avenue for any discernible improvement. There's still a long way to go, and with the third overall pick the Patriots have the assets to make some franchise-altering moves next month. But it won't be easy.

Trading places?

Minnesota made headlines over the weekend by acquiring a first-round pick from Houston, giving the Vikings the 11th and 23rd picks in the first round of next month's draft. That set off immediate speculation that the Vikings were stockpiling in an effort to move up in the first round to find a quarterback.

Naturally around New England the idea was for the Patriots to move down from No. 3 and pick up 11 and 23 plus additional picks, but that idea would only make sense if Mayo and Wolf weren't interested in either Jayden Daniels or Drake Maye, the two quarterbacks expected to join Caleb Williams in the top three.

Wolf has spoken glowingly about the top three quarterbacks, citing their toughness among other assets, so the idea of trading out of that spot seems unlikely. However, the Vikings may want to slide up to the Chargers spot at 5 if they're interested in J.J. McCarthy since Jim Harbaugh already has Justin Herbert in place. Of course, Harbaugh coached McCarthy at Michigan, which should create some added drama if such a scenario unfolds.

Bears QB Justin Fields.
Bears QB Justin Fields.

Playing the Fields

Pittsburgh's decision to trade a conditional sixth-round pick (it can become a fourth-rounder if Fields meets playing time requirements) made plenty of sense on the surface. The Steelers recently added Russell Wilson as their starting quarterback, but his sagging play over the past three years, as well as his age (35) makes him a risky proposition at best.

Fields offers a similar style of play at a cheap cost and he may offer some upside to the position moving forward if Mike Tomlin and the Steelers brass likes what it sees during the offseason, training camp and into the 2024 campaign.

What didn't make much sense were the immediate reports that the job was Wilson's and Fields' arrival would not be changing that. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweeted that Fields was told he was brought in to be the backup, and there would be no true competition.

Why would anyone in the Steelers camp make such a declaration? What if Fields outplays Wilson from the start? Both will be learning a new offense, and it's certainly within reason that Wilson's recent slide is more than just a slump. Field could take to the new system and emerge as the better option, but Pittsburgh is saying that's not an option?

That seems like a very strange announcement, especially at this juncture of the year. The guess is that the organization is trying to ease Wilson's mind heading into the offseason, knowing that the talented quarterback was often accused of being overly sensitive in his Seattle days. But Tomlin and the Steelers should be very much open to a true competition with the best option earning the job.

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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