Patriots moving forward with search for de facto GM following Bill Belichick's departure after 24 seasons

robert kraft

The New England Patriots have a new coach and new quarterback for 2024. And soon enough, they may have a new head of personnel.

Sources tell CBS Sports the Patriots are moving forward with a search for their next top football executive, a role that would amount to what’s typically known in the NFL as a general manager. It’s unclear what the title would be, but sources believe the position would outrank all other football positions in the building.

For years, Bill Belichick not only served as head coach but what is known technically at the NFL league office as the “primary football executive.” Following his departure in January after 24 years as head coach, the Patriots had a vacant primary football executive, as that title did not transfer over to new head coach Jerod Mayo, sources told CBS Sports in February.

Eliot Wolf, the Patriots’ director of scouting, has been at the controls of the team’s personnel department since Belichick’s departure. He is considered a candidate for this role, and his work over the past four months will be key in his evaluation.

But team owner Robert Kraft couldn’t simply name Wolf the primary football executive even if he wanted to. League rules dictated the team had to go through the process to, at the very least, comply with the Rooney Rule, which meant the Patriots must interview at least two external minority candidates in person before hiring someone.

Kraft said in January he planned to stick with his internal group for the time being but never ruled out an eventual search.

“We have a lot of people internally who have had a chance to train and learn under the greatest coach of all-time and a man whose football intellect is very special,” Kraft said. “So, in the short-term, we’re looking for collaboration. Our team has a tremendous opportunity to position itself right, given our salary cap space, and we’ve never drafted, in my 30 years of ownership, we’ve never been drafting as [high] as we’re drafting.

“So we’re counting on our internal people, whom we’re still learning and evaluating. So we’re going to let that evolve and develop, and before the key decisions have to be made, we will appoint someone.”

There was plenty of doubt around the league that a search would even take place this offseason.

Typically teams make changes at the top of their personnel department at the conclusion of the season, but it’s not unheard of for teams to wait until after the draft to make the switch. In 2017, the Bills hired Brandon Beane after that year’s draft. In July of that same year, the Chiefs parted ways with John Dorsey as their GM, just a few months after he engineered a trade with the Bills to move up in the first round and draft Patrick Mahomes.

But Kraft hasn’t had to run a coaching or GM search in a quarter century. Mayo had a provision in his contract that allowed him to ascend to the head-coaching spot once Belichick left, which is what took place in January. And while several men have aided Belichick in personnel matters, not one has had an official GM title, nor has there ever been an official search.

Even the 2000 search for a head coach that resulted in Belichick landing in New England was hardly a search at all, with Kraft identifying Belichick early in the process and eventually working out a trade with the Jets for the coach.  

Wolf took over and quickly hired Alonzo Highsmith for a senior personnel role. Highsmith and Wolf knew each other from their time in Green Bay, and CBS Sports reported Highsmith came to help the Patriots transition their grading system for players, among other roles.

Wolf navigated free agency for New England, too. He signed offensive lineman Mike Onwenu (three years, $57 million), tight end Hunter Henry (three years, $30 million), safety Kyle Dugger (four years, $58 million) and defensive tackle Christian Barmore (four years, $92 million) in the largest non-Tom Brady contract in franchise history.

And in April’s draft, Wolf rebuffed offers from the Giants and Vikings for the No. 3 overall pick, and the Patriots used the selection to draft future-of-the-franchise Drake Maye at quarterback.

All of those moves will impact the next several years of Patriots football, and now this search could result in someone else being at the top.

Two names are out of the mix. Former Cardinals vice president of player personnel Quentin Harris has declined an interview with the Patriots for their head of football operations job. He has previously interviewed for three general manager jobs. Also, Bengals senior personnel executive Trey Brown has also declined a request to interview for the Patriots position, according to NFL Media.

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