Has Eliot Wolf done enough to be named the Patriots’ GM? Decision looms for Robert Kraft

When New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft decided it was time to split with Bill Belichick, he moved quickly to find his replacements. He made Jerod Mayo the team’s next head coach via a secret succession plan that had been in the works for nearly a year. And, in a move that received less attention, he handed over control of the roster to executive Eliot Wolf.

That was cause for celebration for Wolf, a football lifer, the son of a Green Bay Packers legend who worked in draft rooms before he could drive. In a lot of ways, it felt like the next step for the 42-year-old Wolf, a former scout.

Wolf was given the power to overhaul the Patriots’ grading system for prospects and became the one who negotiated with key free agents. He had final say over the team’s most important draft in decades.

But, curiously, one thing didn’t change for Wolf: his title. His business card, if such things still exist, reads “Director of Scouting.”

That’s because, while the Krafts had been impressed enough by Wolf to give him control of the roster, there were still a lot of unknowns for them. Belichick oversaw all football operations for the last two decades. After things had been done Belichick’s way for so long, the Krafts wanted to see them done differently while reserving the right to change course after free agency and the draft.



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That’s why on Monday, the Patriots began their official search for a leader of the front office, though the title that comes with the job is still to be determined. Many around the league view it as a formality to give the job (general manager? vice president of player personnel?) to Wolf. Maybe that’s why there are already three reports of candidates turning down a chance to interview (including one currently without a job) and only one known external candidate who reportedly has said yes to the Patriots’ inquiry.

But even if Wolf is the odds-on favorite, how do the Krafts decide whether Wolf’s work in free agency and the draft is enough to earn him the full-time gig, a move that would typically come with an official promotion and a new title?

On the one hand, it’s easy to argue Wolf did everything you would’ve wanted for the Patriots. As they kick off this post-Belichick rebuild, he didn’t overspend on free agents, maintaining plenty of cap space for next year. He kept several homegrown players around with second contracts, showing promising young players that there’s a reward down the line for them if they do what they’re asked. He got the Patriots a quarterback with the No. 3 pick, just what they needed to jump-start this process. And he spent seven of the team’s eight draft picks on offense, addressing their obvious weaknesses while trying to support new quarterback Drake Maye.

On the other hand, it’s also fair to look at this roster and wonder what outside of the rookies is all that different. Wolf was unable to land the franchise’s most highly coveted free agent, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, and his biggest outside free-agent signings were receiver K.J. Osborn and offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. The team’s wide receivers still rank among the worst in the league. An offensive line that was bad last season returns four starters while getting worse at left tackle, swapping Trent Brown for some combination of Okorafor and rookie Caedan Wallace, a third-round pick who played exclusively on the right side in college.



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That’s the trouble with trying to make a decision based on the process of Wolf’s work with no real sense of how the results will shake out. It’s too early to know how those decisions will look in hindsight.

But that’s the decision the Krafts must make now as they try to determine whether Wolf’s work thus far warrants a promotion that fits the job he’s already doing.

The Patriots haven’t given anyone the title of “general manager” since Kraft purchased the team 30 years ago. There has been one main reason why that wasn’t necessary. But he and the six Super Bowls he helped bring to New England are no longer part of the equation.

Perhaps that’s all about to change with Wolf. The Patriots can’t name Wolf the general manager without a full search that adheres to the Rooney Rule. Maybe this is the setup to give the keys full time to the guy who has already been driving the car. Or maybe there’s a candidate out there who comes in, impresses the Krafts and makes them change course.

When the Patriots ended things with Belichick, they embarked on a period of massive change within the organization. They were quick to name a head coach. But they wanted to see how a top decision-maker (in this case, Wolf) would handle the roster-building phase of the offseason. It was an audition of sorts.

Now it’s time for the Krafts to decide whether that audition was good enough to earn the part.

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(Photo: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

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