We had eight openings for about 24 hours. Now we’re back down to seven …
If I were them, I’d have gone through a search, even a nominal one. The opportunity to gather information from other teams through such a process, after not swimming in those waters for a quarter century, was a golden one. Plus, there’s always the chance that someone would really move you, the same way Mike Tomlin moved the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007 to diverge from the expectation that they’d just hire offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt or assistant head coach Russ Grimm to replace Bill Cowher.
But I’m pretty certain the Patriots would’ve wound up where they are now and, again, I think that’s the right place, with Mayo—the second-highest draft pick of the Bill Belichick era, a defensive signal-caller, a seven-time captain and a five-year assistant for the franchise—taking the baton from the guy who developed him as a player and coach.
Why do I feel that way? I can give you a personal anecdote. Through the Patriots’ Super Bowl season of 2018, I shared a television set with Mayo. I’ve worked with a lot of former players in that capacity before. Many have the tools to do it but need a lot of polish, be it learning to talk with the proper intonation, speak in sound bites or learn to deliver their deep insight in a way that’s digestible for the general public.
I’ve worked with two TV rookies who I thought got it right away, and this is no affront to anyone else. One was Nate Burleson, back when I was at NFL Network. The other was Mayo, who was such a quick study that I remember telling him, and I’d known him as a player, too, that he could be really good at it if he wanted to pursue it. (At the time, he was juggling his media work with a job in finance.)
Months later, Mayo was lured into coaching by Belichick, and by that spring at OTAs, he was already wearing the headset. Mayo was getting a run in practice as a defensive play-caller, while the head coach mulled over how he was going to replace Brian Flores that fall.
Point is, Mayo is like your buddy from growing up who everyone loved, but also resented a little bit—because he’s good at everything he does and capable of achieving in whichever field he steps into. That, I think, is what the Kraft family has always seen in him, and why they started to lean into the idea of making him Belichick’s successor a few years ago—and got it in writing last year to prevent him from taking a head coach interview with the Carolina Panthers.
Will there be bumps for Mayo? I’m sure there will be. And, again, I’d have gone through the process for the reasons I outlined above.
But I can very much see why the Krafts did this. I also agree with the move.
• So what’s next for former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel?
I don’t think it was a sure thing that New England would have been the former Patriot’s first choice for a variety of reasons. And there is something tying Vrabel to another job—a tie that’s probably stronger than any he has left in Foxborough.
Last Friday, sources say, Tom Brady was present for the Las Vegas Raiders’ final full practice of the 2023 season. It was the first time he’d appeared at the team’s facility since Josh McDaniels was fired in late October, and it got everyone’s attention. Brady spent time on the field talking to interim GM Champ Kelly. And the simple fact that he was there stoked the idea that he'd advise owner Mark Davis on the looming coach and general manager searches.
Brady reached an agreement last year to buy a minority interest in the team and become a limited partner to Davis. The sale hasn’t gone through with the league yet—mostly because other owners weren’t O.K. with the price relative to the percentage of the team Davis was going to give Brady (since that could affect the valuations of all teams). But it’s fair to say Davis wants Brady aboard and will likely find a way to get him in the ownership group, and also that Brady isn’t getting involved only to not be involved in football matters.
This is where we’ll tell you that Brady and Vrabel were very close over eight years as teammates and have maintained a relationship since. Brady’s respect for Vrabel would likely put him at the top of any list he’d give Davis. And the Raiders, of course, could offer Vrabel a roster that got to 8–9 despite all the tumult this season, with key veteran pieces aboard and the chance to bring a GM like Ryan Cowden with him to build the program.
Now, if Vrabel were a little leery after seeing what Davis just did with McDaniels there, after his own experience with Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk, that’d make sense too. But the Brady-Vrabel link is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
If I had to guess where Belichick will land now, I’d say with the Atlanta Falcons.
Just as interesting to me is how Belichick could bring an All-Star staff wherever he winds up going. My guess would be McDaniels, Bill O’Brien, Joe Judge and Matt Patricia will be in play to join the 71-year-old in his next landing spot. It’s also fun to consider, realistic or not, the idea that Nick Saban, who told ESPN that it was the rigors and complications of college football recruiting that wore him out (not the coaching itself), could go too.
There are two coaches, though, who I’d say probably won’t go with Belichick—his sons. Patriots linebackers coach/defensive play-caller Stephen Belichick has a close relationship with Mayo, and younger brother Brian (the team’s safeties coach) is on great terms with the new boss in New England, too. So I think there’s a good shot that they’ll both stay in Foxborough.
• The Washington Commanders’ hire of Adam Peters to lead their football operation is a smart, sensible pick to invest in a guy who’s been on the rise for a while.
The 44-year-old came up through the Patriots, Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers organizations, and got to Super Bowls in his time with all three teams. His last step in San Francisco was as John Lynch’s right-hand man over the previous seven seasons (the first four as VP of player personnel, the last three as assistant general manager).
If you want a feel for his work, the Niners’ roster is a pretty good place to start, with his strong reputation as an evaluator proven out in the players that San Francisco is putting on the field on a weekly basis. But beyond just that, Peters’s people skills have also stood out to those around him over the years, an indication he’d grow well into a GM job. “He can relate to people well. He connects,” said one former coworker of his from Denver. “So he should be able to create a good, positive culture.”
Titles are titles, and for right now, Peters’s title will be general manager. But Harris has communicated that the Commanders would be set up like his other teams, with a head of business and a head of that sport’s operations. Team president Jason Wright is the former, and now Peters is the latter, with both reporting to Harris.
Next up for Peters are a coaching search and a press conference Tuesday.
• Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has emerged as a very hot candidate—and it’s rare, in where we are right now in the NFL, to say that about a defensive coach who’s never been a head coach before. But here we are, and Macdonald has requests from five teams (Falcons, Titans, Commanders, Panthers) that have open jobs.
There are two reasons. One, quite obviously, is that he’s coming from Baltimore. Having been developed as a coach through that program over two stints, he offers the chance to bring a version of that innovative, forward-thinking program with him. Two, the scheme he’s running (the same one Jesse Minter is running for John Harbaugh’s brother at Michigan) is one that NFL teams are going to be after as they fill out staffs over the next month.
(That should make former New York Giants and Ravens coordinator Wink Martindale a hot name for teams looking for a defensive play-caller, too.)
• Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn continues to be the guy to watch for the Seattle Seahawks’ job. And I think that could be the one he’ll finally leave Dallas for, due to his history in Seattle. But he’ll continue to be judicious about making his next move, and one potential drawback regarding Seattle is the prospect that the team could be sold within the next couple of years.
• Giants assistant GM Brandon Brown interviewed for the Los Angeles Chargers’ GM job Thursday, and I’m gonna call that one to watch. Brown happens to have a very solid relationship with Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh.
• As of right now, there have been no real discussions about moving either the Kansas City Chiefs–Miami Dolphins or the Buffalo Bills–Steelers games this weekend due to weather. That can always change, but it’d take a lot for the league to move a playoff game.
• Two guys who I think should be getting a lot more traction in GM searches: Detroit Lions assistant GM Ray Agnew and Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant GM John Spytek.
• Being named a unanimous first-team All-Pro is a pretty awesome honor that can go overlooked. So congratulations are due for 49ers LB Fred Warner and RB Christian McCaffrey, and Dolphins WR Tyreek Hill as the guys who earned that distinction this year.