How the Patriots decided QB Drake Maye was their future

Patriots QB Drake Maye's prospect profile (1:44)

Check out some of the top college highlights from new Patriots quarterback Drake Maye. (1:44)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Dressed in an off-white suit with a Carolina blue tie, Drake Maye walked into Gillette Stadium for the first time on Friday, still wearing a dark blue Patriots hat from the night before at the 2024 NFL draft in Detroit.

Owner Robert Kraft and team president Jonathan Kraft flanked him on each side, as Maye held up a blue Patriots jersey -- his name on the back, and the No. 1 underneath it, signifying his status as the team's first-round draft pick.

The Krafts have carried out this tradition for 31 straight years with their top draft picks, but there was something about this year that felt different; perhaps because Maye is the highest-ever selection in their tenure, No. 3 overall.

Kraft welcomed a group of approximately 60 media members, noting that he had seen the Boston Herald earlier that morning and how the words on the front of the newspaper caught his eye: Maye Day!

The words resonated and seemed appropriate -- his franchise has been in distress in recent years. Since quarterback Tom Brady left in free agency in 2020, the Patriots are 29-38 and have made the playoffs once, losing in the wild-card round. Coach Bill Belichick's 24 seasons as head coach and de facto general manager came to an end in January.

Now, with Jerod Mayo as coach, director of scouting Eliot Wolf given final personnel authority and Maye at quarterback -- a new era begins. The trio represent hope for a brighter future.

"It's pretty exciting," Kraft said.

It had been months (and years, for that matter) in the making.

The Patriots' last quarterback Mac Jones took the same photo as Maye as the No. 15 pick in the 2021 draft. After a promising rookie season where he looked like a capable successor to Brady, Jones was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars in March.

The offense was stagnant in 2023 -- scoring half as many points (236) than in Jones' first season in 2021 (462). He was replaced four times in favor of 2022 fourth-round pick Bailey Zappe and threw 12 total interceptions in the 11 games he played.

Many figured the Patriots would prioritize a quarterback in the draft, but there were still questions. Would they trade down from No. 3, gather more assets for a depleted offense, and do it later? Did they like Michigan's J.J. McCarthy as much as Maye? Who would Washington take at No. 2?

By 8:35 p.m. ET on Thursday, they made the official "Maye Day" call.

IN THE WEEKS leading up to the NFL draft, team sources acknowledged legacies would be tied to what they decided at quarterback. They were operating with the mindset that without a top quarterback, their regime wouldn't have a chance.

Mayo, a former linebacker who played with Brady from 2008-2014, had an up-close view of how Brady's impact resonated throughout the organization. As an assistant coach since 2019, Mayo has also seen first-hand how challenging it has been to fill Brady's void -- first with Cam Newton (2020) and then with Jones (2021-2024). Some of Belichick's decision-making with the hiring of offensive coaches, and personnel, contributed to the pain.

In March, Kraft said: "One way or another, I'd like to see us get a top-rate, young quarterback."

By the time their scouting process was complete for the 2024 draft, Mayo said the Patriots most liked three quarterbacks -- USC's Caleb Williams, LSU's Jayden Daniels and Maye. Thus, a trade package out of No. 3 would have had to blow them away to consider moving down to the next QB options.

A source said the New York Giants had offered the No. 6 overall pick and their 2025 first-round pick, while the Vikings were ultimately willing to part with No. 11 and No. 23, along with a 2025 first-rounder, in exchange for the third pick and two mid-round selections from New England.

But clearly neither of those proposals met the criteria for the "bag" that Mayo said the Patriots would have needed to be OK with trading the pick, and explains why the Patriots called Maye immediately when they were on the clock at No. 3.

"There were different points throughout the process where there were [offers]. All along, we knew we were in a unique opportunity to get a quarterback that we liked," Wolf said.

A key stretch for the Patriots and Maye was a 24-hour span between March 27-28.

That's when nine members of the organization -- coaches and scouts -- traveled to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, as Maye prepared to go through drills at his pro day on March 28. He performed well, yet it was the time around his on-field work that was equally, if not more, important in the Patriots' evaluation.

"They all sat down and interviewed Drake separately," North Carolina coach Mack Brown recalled. "I wasn't involved in those interviews -- I don't think that's my place; I think kids need to be able to sit down with the coach and share whatever they need to share. [Drake] had said it went really well."

The Patriots' contingent included Wolf, Mayo, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, quarterbacks coach T.C. McCartney, senior assistant Ben McAdoo, director of player personnel Matt Groh, senior personnel advisor Patrick Stewart, senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith and national scout Matt Evans.

"We started to feel more comfortable with him as we spent more time with him and visited with him at North Carolina," Wolf acknowledged. "Really just getting a chance to know him, see what he's about, see what his family is about and getting him on the board and seeing his high football intellect."

As part of the visit, Mayo also met privately with Brown, which Mayo said "really helped me get the full picture."

At that point, Mayo had already been intrigued after initially meeting Maye at the NFL combine in late February. Mayo called it a "fantastic interview," in part because of the composure the 21-year-old Maye showed.

"A lot of teams put up all the good plays, but Eliot and his group put tape together that had a lot of bad plays. He took a lot of that blame on himself when sometimes it wasn't his fault. A very accountable man," Mayo said.

While Maye's response registered favorably that day, Mayo had already come to appreciate his toughness on the field through film evaluation.

"The thing that most impressed me about him is that he would get smashed and just get right back up," he said. "I'm not saying he's Tom Brady, but just that mentality. Same thing with Joe Burrow. Those guys just keep getting back up and continuing to play at a high level and that was like the 'aha!' moment for me."

Maye said later he was equally impressed with Mayo.

"He's such a player's coach. I can see how all the guys attract to him."

The third notable meeting between the Patriots and Maye came April 5 at Gillette Stadium. That provided Van Pelt, among others, an extended opportunity to connect with Maye.

Van Pelt and Maye watched old tape of Aaron Rodgers from the Packers, when Van Pelt had been on the Green Bay coaching staff. Van Pelt detailed to Maye the "outside zone scheme" he plans to run in New England, and some of the play-action elements that can complement it, using Rodgers as an example.

As Maye envisioned what it would be like to play in Van Pelt's offense, the coaches also were assessing how Maye's footwork and fundamentals might look in the scheme, as that was an area Maye sometimes struggled in 2023. With Patriots coaches gaining more comfort, it strengthened Maye's position on the team's board as part of a collaborative process.

"Meeting with Coach Van Pelt, Coach McAdoo, Coach McCartney and talking through some of the development that he needed, some of the things they thought they could tighten up or fix in some cases, in the end we felt comfortable," Wolf said.

"Drake is a relentless worker from all indications that we have, and he's going to be able to overcome some of the things in the areas that he needs to improve."

WOLF HAD KNOWN for weeks how things would unfold Thursday, so all that was left was ensuring there was no surprise in the order of Williams No. 1 to the Bears and Daniels No. 2 to the Commanders -- or a big trade offer at the last minute.

Things went according to plan, and when it was their turn at No. 3, Wolf -- along with Mayo and Robert Kraft -- called and told Maye he was going to be a Patriot. The pick was followed by a round of applause in the draft room.

"The more exposure we had with Drake, the more comfortable we felt," Mayo said. "Honestly, not to talk about other players, but those top three guys -- we were comfortable with all three. It just happened to be Drake.

"We had time to think through the process. We went through various scenarios with the coaches and scouts. The organization was happy with Drake at 3."

Wolf also noted how the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Maye elevated his teammates at North Carolina over the last two seasons, which is a top trait he looks for in quarterbacks. Maye started 26 games over the last two seasons and was 618-of-952 for 8,018 yards, with 63 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

As for how quickly he might be in position to do so in New England, Mayo is leaving all possibilities open, pointing out the team signed veteran Jacoby Brissett to a one-year, $8 million deal in March. He views Brissett as a capable starter and mentor.

"I go back to Bill [Belichick's philosophy]; I don't think many rookies are ready to just jump in and play," Mayo said. "At the end of the day, our philosophy is the best players will play. Jacoby understands. He's very smart, has great leadership skills, and hopefully Drake can learn something from him as well. We will compete all spring, during training camp, and the best player will start."

Wolf added that part of supporting Maye is putting better players around him. Along those lines, the Patriots selected Washington receiver Ja'Lynn Polk in the second round (No. 37) and Central Florida receiver Javon Baker in the fourth round (No. 110), and also drafted two offensive linemen, Penn State offensive tackle Caedan Wallace (third round, No. 68) and Texas A&M guard Layden Robinson (fourth round, No. 103).

"A guy like Drake has all the natural ability that you want. He can make all the throws," Mayo said. "Really it's about getting to the playbook; it's going to be a different scheme. We're going to be a game-plan offense and will tailor our game-plan to whoever the quarterback is. We'll see how that pans out."

The uncertainty surrounding who will suit up in Week 1 doesn't faze Maye.

"I'll prepare and be ready to be the starter, but at the same time, as a young guy coming in there, it's not given to you. You've got to earn it. My job is to go in there and earn guys' respect, help whoever is the starter, if I'm not, be the best player they can. And help this team win."