Losing Jerod Mayo wasn’t an option.
That was the message the Patriots sent out Thursday night by putting out an unprecedented press release with the headline: “Patriots to extend Jerod Mayo.”
Yet the I’s weren’t dotted, and T’s weren’t crossed when they sent out that missive. According to a source, there were still some details that needed to be ironed out at the time. Still, it was clear the Patriots planned on retaining their former player and current linebackers coach long-term. They made a pre-emptive strike.
And with good reason.
Vince Wilfork, who chimed in on the Mayo situation while speaking with the Herald on Wednesday, provided the proper context.
“It would suck to lose such a staple in that organization as a player and as a coach,” the Patriots Hall of Fame nose tackle said. “That’s why I’m sure Bill (Belichick) has a plan.”
Judging by the latest news, that plan was to do whatever it took to keep Mayo in town for the foreseeable future. The wheels were clearly in motion by the end of the week.
It would have been a bad look, and then some, if Mayo wound up leaving for a defensive coordinator job because he couldn’t get that title in New England, even though he essentially performs the role.
A head-coaching job would be another matter. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots being able to counter that unless Mayo was given some assurances — wink, wink — that he would be in line to succeed Belichick down the road in New England.
Given how much Patriots owner Robert Kraft loves and respects Mayo, it’s not out of the realm for that to be in play. It’s also another reason why the Patriots swooped in and got ahead of the situation: Kraft was adamant about it.
In any case, by Friday, it seemed like a fait accompli that Mayo would be sticking around after some concessions were made on the Patriots end.
It’s no secret that Belichick isn’t big on titles. Mayo has essentially been performing the defensive coordinator role the past few years, leading the meetings all week and putting together the game plan, while Belichick’s son Steve has been the defensive play-caller on game days, and is also involved in game-planning.
Mayo reportedly turned down being the “co-defensive coordinator” prior to this past season. What was wrong with that title? If it meant he still wasn’t calling plays, that would continue to hinder him in terms of ultimately landing a head coaching gig, which is the desired goal. So what was the point?
That’s why the Patriots needed to step up, and enhance his role here and likely throw in some cash to try and keep him, which is very much in the works.
Either way, Wilfork hit the mark on why the Patriots had to keep Mayo and why he’s such an invaluable asset.
Along with being a good coach, tops on the list is his ability to relate to today’s player. That’s one of Mayo’s superpowers as a coach.
Wilfork says it’s an important quality to have, especially with all the Millennials and Gen Z’ers that fill up football locker rooms.
“Nowadays, you have to have coaches who can relate to this younger generation,” said Wilfork. “I’ve heard things out there that Bill doesn’t know how to relate to the younger generation. That may be true.
“But when you’re looking for a head coaching job like Jerod is, he relates to that younger generation,” said Wilfork. “You won’t have that gap with Jerod because he knows how to get through and relate to the younger generation coming in now.”
One of the ways Belichick has tried to evolve and deal with younger players is having coaches like Mayo (36) and Troy Brown (51), who are relatively young and also played the game. That’s one way Belichick, who has spent 47 years in the league as an NFL coach, has been able to close the gap.
The Patriots head coach spoke to that point when he told the media recently that he leaned on Mayo and Brown to help him deal with the Damar Hamlin situation because, as ex-players, they could relate.
“Two players in particular that carry a lot of weight with me are two staff members, Troy and Jerod. They’ve played the game at this level, I haven’t,” said Belichick. “They’ve lived a life of a professional football player at a very, very, very high level. Both from a training, maturity, performance, longevity, all of the above. Their input and guidance has been especially valuable.”
Clearly, it’s something Belichick doesn’t want to lose.
“Sometimes you have to evolve, or get left behind,” said Wilfork. “Bill can do a job where he can bring in coaches who can relate to the younger generation, and still keep the core of his foundation on his football knowledge and coaching intact.
“That’s why a guy like Mayo that played in the system, and coached the last three or four years as a defensive coordinator is so valuable. That’s why it’d be tough to lose him.”
That’s why the Patriots were proactive with Mayo, who Friday turned down the Browns interview to be their defensive coordinator, then Saturday, informed the Carolina Panthers he wouldn’t take their interview for a head coaching job.
He holds everyone’s attention in the room. Players respect what he has to say.
As Denver GM George Paton pointed out after interviewing the Patriots linebackers coach last year, Mayo has a “dynamic personality” and “lights up a room.”
Wilfork, who was a captain along with Mayo, agreed with that assessment. And having that ability to connect is tough to replace. Mayo’s importance to the Patriots was just one of many topics Wilfork discussed during a lengthy conversation with the Herald.
Quarterback Mac Jones was another.
During an appearance on NBC Sports Boston, Wilfork had voiced some consternation with Jones’ frequent displays of frustration in games, saying he was “tired of it” and the young quarterback needed to show more poise.
In the weeks since, Wilfork believes Jones made some strides in that area.
“I’m very glad we’ve seen a better Mac when it came to that. I like that,” he said. “It just goes to show that he’s listening, and he’s trying to be better, and he has to, because he’s a leader.
“He does have the passion. He just has to learn how to manage it.”
As for the team as a whole, which finished 8-9 and out of the playoffs, Wilfork doesn’t believe the sky is falling. Personnel-wise, they need to shore up a few positions. Wilfork listed the offensive line and the secondary as tops on the list.
“I don’t think they’re far off. But I do believe there’s positions they need to attack: they need depth in the back end, they need depth at linebacker,” said Wilfork. “I think they’re OK at defensive line but they need some depth on the offensive line. They need to straighten out the offensive line.”
Wilfork loves how well the defense played, especially up front where he made his living.
He’s a huge fan of Christian Barmore, and is hoping he’ll evolve into more of a three-down player.
“I just see so much talent there with him, so much upside,” Wilfork said of the second-year defensive lineman. “I think they’re better with him on the field, than on the sideline.”
Asked if he’d be willing to work with Barmore and others during various Patriot camps, Wilfork said he’d love to spend time helping the younger players.
“Absolutely. Bill knows that,” said Wilfork. “I’m an open book. I want the best for them. I want them to understand stuff. Players listen to players because we get it. Especially a player that played in the system. They pick my brain when I’m around, and I love that.
“If they want me to spend more time up there, come and talk to them, I’d love to do that.”
Wilfork has been co-hosting “NFL Tailgate Takedown,” a quirky new series where the Food Network and the NFL have teamed up to showcase the best tailgate chefs from around the country, and have them judged in a competition.
Two shows have already aired, as Wilfork and co-host Sunny Anderson head on-location to different NFL stadiums across the league, and guide tailgating duos through three cooking phases of competition, with the winner earning tickets to that day’s game.
Big Vince said he was somewhat apprehensive having never hosted a show before.
“I was anxious, I was scared, I was nervous, I was excited, I was all of the emotions,” he said. “I wanted it to be done right, and I wanted to be a perfectionist … they kept telling me, ‘Vince, don’t worry, you’ll be fine.’ ”
They were right. It’s hard to go wrong with his personality, and love of food.
“That first episode was me green, just thrown into the fire,” Wilfork said with a laugh. “But Sunny took me under her wing, and basically groomed me and showed me the ropes … it was smooth sailing, and it was fun working with a great group of people. The food was amazing. The creativity was amazing. We had a ball with that.”
Hoyer looking to return
Caught up with Brian Hoyer on Monday as the players cleaned out their lockers.
The Patriots veteran quarterback suffered a concussion against the Packers Week 4, and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve.
First off, he’s fine. While it was the fifth concussion he had suffered in his career, he said that while he had symptoms initially, he was symptom-free with no lingering affects.
“The last one I had was in 2015,” he said. “Although this was my fifth one, it was good because there was so much space in between them. After however long, I felt like I was pretty much back to normal.”
Hoyer, who got the Packers start with Mac Jones missing the first of three games with a high ankle sprain, was disappointed how things turned out.
“I felt really good about it going into it, then all of a sudden, to have it so quickly taken away was disappointing,” said Hoyer. “So I wish that wouldn’t have happened. I wish I would have stayed healthy and been able to play that time while Mac was out.”
That said, Hoyer, who has a year remaining on his deal, is focused on next season.
“I don’t want my last year to be spent like that. So I’m looking forward to thankfully having another year on my contract, and coming back and playing, and trying to help us win any way possible,” he said.
Punter for hire
As it turns out, Jake Bailey’s suspension lasted just one game. Questions, however, remain whether he will be the team’s punter going forward.
Bailey’s agent filed a grievance against the Patriots with respect to his client’s suspension. The Patriots had signed a lucrative extension that takes him through the 2025 season, so it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Should the Patriots opt to move on from Bailey, they could once again dip into the draft. Michael Palardy, who filled in with Bailey on IR, wasn’t the answer.
Another possibility is Matt Araiza … aka the Punt God.
He was a Buffalo Bills draft pick, but was released on Aug. 27, two days after a civil lawsuit was filed accusing him of having sex with a then-17-year-old high school senior, who was under the age of consent in California,
Araiza, however, was not criminally charged in connection with the alleged gang rape of the girl at an off-campus party when he played at San Diego State.
According to San Diego’s district attorney’s office, prosecutors did not “support the filing of criminal chargers and there is no path to a potential criminal conviction.”
The civil suit remains pending, but according to Araiza’s agent, Joe Linta, that might also resolve with his client in the clear.
“Teams are cautious because of the civil suit,” Linta said when reached last week, “but he’s done nothing wrong and his name is going to be cleared. And it’s not if, but when he’s cleared, he’ll be the best punter available.”
Araiza initially gained national attention in 2021, setting an NCAA single-season record by averaging 51.2 yards per attempt, including two covering 80-plus yards. He won the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter.
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