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USA Today Sports Media Group
Sport
Jordy McElroy

Vince Wilfork talks Bill Belichick, Jerod Mayo and No. 3 draft pick

Vince Wilfork might have stepped away from the game of football, but he is still very much dialed in on the happenings with the New England Patriots.

And plenty has happened in the last year with an organization that went from a perennial Super Bowl contender to one of the worst teams in football. After 24 years together, the Patriots parted ways with legendary coach Bill Belichick and promoted Jerod Mayo as the new head coach.

That seismic move followed in the wake of a shocking 4-13 finish from the architect behind the greatest dynasty in NFL history.

People have gone back and forth on whether or not owner Robert Kraft made the right decision in moving on from Belichick, but as Wilfork commented in a recent interview with Patriots Wire, all good things come to an end at some point.

“It was bittersweet, you know? Belichick being there for as long as he’s been,” said Wilfork. “When you think about the Patriots, you think about some things—when it was crappy, when they were the best team that the NFL had ever seen for two decades. I had the luxury to be a part of the 2000s in those decades of the winning. What we did, man, it’s going to be hard to do. The amount of winning and the amount of games and the Super Bowls, it’s tough.

“Bill Belichick, I love him. I was sad to see him go, but like I tell people all of the time, all good things come to an end. But it was sad to see him go because he’s done so much for New England, and [I’m] very grateful of him. I’m glad to say I’ve been coached by the greatest coach of all time. I played with the greatest quarterback of all time. I have that stuff to tell my kids and my grandkids when they’re reading about the Patriots of the 2000s. Their grandad can be like, ‘Yeah, I was part of that.'”

Belichick was under fire throughout the 2023 season, mostly for his front office work than his actual coaching on the field. Multiple draft misfires and free agent duds created a firestorm that not even the greatest coach in NFL history could survive.

Even with Belichick gone, that firestorm has continued in the form of the recent “The Dynasty: New England Patriots” docuseries, which caught heat from former players and coaches for leaning too hard on the negatives of the legendary coach’s run.

Rob Gronkowski, Rodney Harrison and Devin McCourty are just a few Patriots legends that have spoken out against the docuseries publicly. While Wilfork himself hasn’t seen the docuseries, he has heard the comments regarding the negative portrayal of Belichick, and he didn’t like any of it.

“I didn’t like the comments of how it went. I think Bill deserves a lot more credit than what was portrayed in there,” said Wilfork. “So I just stay away from it. I’m going to tell you like I tell everybody else. Bill Belichick is the best head coach that ever coached the game of football. People can sit down and talk about Lombardi and Andy Reid and all of that good stuff, but let me tell you something: Lombardi didn’t have to deal with salary cap. And Bill did that with the salary cap and the way the game changed.

“Andy Reid—I like Andy as a coach—but my thing is, I’m a Bill Belichick guy. He’s won it in New York, and what he’s done in New England, it speaks volumes. I’m going to always respect Bill, and I’m going to always be grateful of Bill Belichick for the career that I had and what he taught me on and off the field. I would tell anybody he’s the greatest coach of all time. Until somebody come and surpass him, that’s what it is.”

Belichick will be a tough act to follow for Mayo, who now faces the herculean challenge of supplanting the greatest coach of all time.

Wilfork spent many years with Mayo in New England, and he’s seen enough to give him confidence that the Patriots picked the right man for the job. He believes Kraft and even Belichick himself saw something in Mayo from the start.

“I’m happy for my brother, Jerod Mayo, because I think he’s ready for it. I think he’s going to bring a lot to it, and I’m excited for him,” Wilfork said. “He’s getting a shot, and it’s obvious that Mr. Kraft sees something in him. But Bill Belichick saw something in him as well. As a rookie, Jerod was a captain. He has the attributes to lead. He’s not anything shortage of a leader. So he’s going to hopefully get that team in the right direction.

“It may take him a little bit because he has to build a roster and do all of those things. So I don’t look for instant success, but I do see things heading in the right direction, and hopefully, he has the time to build that team and get us back the way we need to go.”

One way to ensure the team gets back on track is making the right decision with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft.

The Patriots have a rare opportunity to go after a potential franchise quarterback or trade down for more draft picks. There have been strong opinions on both sides.

Some view the quarterback position as too important to pass up, especially when a draft is as rich with talent as this one. However, others fear another Mac Jones situation if the offensive line and skilled positions aren’t drastically improved from the 2023 season.

If Wilfork was wearing the general manager hat, he knows exactly what he’d do with the No. 3 pick.

“Quarterback. I’d go quarterback because this quarterback draft is so strong. You don’t know next year what it is,” Wilfork said. “I’m going quarterback because I’m not going to get the receivers. I’m not going to get the top skilled position players coming to my team if I don’t have a quarterback. It’s hard to sell a program and an organization if they don’t have a quarterback.

“You can’t go out and land big receivers in free agency without a quarterback. It just doesn’t happen. I would go quarterback, absolutely. I would not trade out of it. Quarterback is my first pick. We have a lot of them there, and I think we’re going to be okay with the ones that are going to be available. And I would start my franchise back over with getting me a franchise quarterback.”

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