New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Player personnel director Matt Groh and his staff have a lot of work and time ahead of them in building the Patriots roster. (Photo by Bob Socci)

The succession plan for Bill Belichick as the head coach of the New England Patriots was quick and simple. Just about 24 hours after announcing they were parting ways with Belichick, the Patriots had named Jerod Mayo the 15th head coach in franchise history.

As for replacing Belichick as the team’s de facto general manager? That process has been a bit more convoluted.


There could still be a Belichick presence on the Patriots’ coaching staff in 2024
Jerod Mayo could turn to a familiar face to run his offense
What’s next for Bill Belichick?

After initial reports suggested a wider-ranging search for an external GM, the tone seemed to shift over the weekend. In his Sunday notes column, ESPN’s Mike Reiss noted that “history suggests that any hire is unlikely to be a GM who is given authority to run the entire football operation. Instead, the Krafts will be looking for someone to oversee personnel and work in concert with new head coach Jerod Mayo.”

Who might that be? Reiss said that “interviews with external candidates are still in play” but that “with the current staff remaining in place at least through the draft…the Krafts seem to be taking the view that there is no need to rush.”

SI’s Albert Breer shared a similar report on Monday. “The Krafts do believe they’ve got good people in scouting, and people they know Mayo can work with,” Breer wrote. “So, for now, director of player personnel Matt Groh, director of scouting Eliot Wolf, senior personnel adviser Pat Stewart, pro scouting director Steve Cargile and college scouting director Cam Williams will run free agency and the draft, as the Patriots consider how they want to reshape the department.”

Breer added that while owner Robert Kraft could add an outside perspective at some point down the road but “for now, he’s going to watch how the personnel department works in a new setup, where big decisions will be theirs.”

  • Jul 26, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh speaks at training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Jul 26, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh speaks at training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Fans may certainly disagree with the decision to not at least add externally to the personnel staff, if not blow the whole thing up. That’s another very fair conversation, but a move that doesn’t appear to be on the way in reality. So for now let’s talk about what to expect from this staff as constructed.

    The answer to that is far more complicated than it may initially seem. None of the staffers Breer lists have run their own personnel department in the past (Wolf was the closest, as the assistant general manager of the Cleveland Browns from 2018-2019). They’ve all spent their time in New England working under Belichick, who had final say in personnel matters.

    Given that, it’s difficult to say what any of their priorities for philosophies are when it comes to team building. Will they pick right back up where Belichick left off? Or start doing things differently, with ‘final say’ now belonging to someone else (as for who exactly that is, that’s another big question)?

    There’s some evidence it could be the latter. Late last week, Breer wrote a column on the final years of the Belichick era in New England in which he noted that Belichick had started overruling scouts when it came to the draft, specifically citing the first round of the 2019 draft, when Belichick selected Arizona State wide receiver N’Keal Harry on recommendations from the Sun Devils’ coaching staff, rather than the receivers his scouts preferred – Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown.

    “It was—to the scouts—another example that they weren’t being heard and that Belichick was taking the information he’d gathered instead of what they’d spent months and months compiling,” Breer wrote.

  • FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 13: N'Keal Harry #15 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 13: N’Keal Harry #15 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Is it possible that some of those staffers that Belichick overruled are now in line to have much more sway when it comes to the team’s personnel decision making? Groh, in particular, seems like somebody who could take a different approach at the wide receiver position in particular.

    Part of what makes projecting the new Patriots front office so tough is none of the group have spoken much – if at all – with the media on the topic of team building. However, Groh did an interview with Evan Lazar of ahead of last year’s NFL Combine where he discussed his philosophies on building up a number of positions. In particular, his answer on wide receivers stands out now, almost a year later.

    “With any of these positions, certainly at a playmaker position, there’s a price you have to pay for these guys,” Groh said. “So whether that’s allocating cap space or allocating a high draft pick, to be aggressive, if you want to have those dynamic playmakers, you have to pay the price for them.”

    That aggressive approach to the wide receiver position certainly goes counter to how the Patriots have operated the last few years. In addition Groh spoke with Lazar about the need to capitalize on the flexibility afforded by having a quarterback on a rookie contract (can be heard just before the 40:00 minute mark of the below podcast), something the Patriots came up short on in regards to 2021 first-round pick Mac Jones.

  • Groh also spoke at length about the wide receiver position during a rare training camp press conference last summer. Taking questions from reporters, he was asked for his definition of ‘a No. 1 wide receiver.’

    “We typically – in scouting, we typically define a number one wide receiver who’s a three down guy,” Groh explained. “If that player’s got inside-outside, outside-inside versatility, that’s great. But it’s a player who can go out there and – it’s typically an ‘X’ – who we think of as a guy who can go out there and get open on his own. And then the hallmarks that that we have here – get open, catch the ball and gain yards after the catch. The more that they can do size wise, to be involved in the run game, that’s all important as well.”

    Asked as a follow up if he believes the Patriots had a player at the time that fit that description, Groh talked around the question. “I think we’ve got a great group,” Groh replied. “I know [wide receiver coaches] Troy – coach Brown – and Ross – coach Douglas are working hard with those guys, and I’m really excited about what they’re going to be able to do.”

    Now, this isn’t all to defend Groh in the context of the personnel mistakes the Patriots made the past few years – for which he’s taken a lot of heat. Rather, these past quotes are important context for the team moving forward. If the decisions of the new-look front office reflect what Groh has said in the past, it would represent the change many were looking for from the post-Belichick-era front office, even without an external presence in the room.

    What would that look like in practice? The Patriots could take advantage of a strong free agency class at the position highlighted by players like Tee HigginsMike Evans, and Michael Pittman. This is also a deep wide receiver draft class, and even if the Patriots pass on Marvin Harrison Jr. at the top of the draft they’ll still have a chance to draft guys with instant play-making potential with their second pick (which could include trading back up into the first round).

    For what it’s worth, Groh also discussed a major current Patriots need in that interview – offensive line. Here’s what he had to say about the tackle position…

    “Tackle is always a popular position right behind quarterback and edge rusher. Those guys are often right up at the top of the draft boards,” Groh said. “You talk about traits for a left tackle, you talk about traits for a right tackle, kind of put them in two different buckets. But ultimately, they have to block the same guys. T.J. Watt, he’s not just going to the same side every time. Those guys, first and foremost, they have to be able to pass protect and keep the quarterback upright, keep the pocket clean. Then, you’re looking for a guy who’s got a certain kind of playing style to come in and fit what we’re looking for, so those are certainly two things that are important.”

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].

Sign me up for the 98.5 The Sports Hub email newsletter!

Get the latest Boston sports news and analysis, plus exclusive on-demand content and special giveaways from Boston's Home for Sports, 98.5 The Sports Hub.

By clicking "Subscribe" I agree to the website's terms of Service and Privacy Policy. I understand I can unsubscribe at any time.