Quarterback Drake Maye, who the Patriots drafted with the third pick in the NFL Draft, is part of a youth movement in New England. Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

After winning Super Bowls, embarrassing the Jets, trading down in the draft, and exploiting loopholes in the league rulebook, you know what the Bill Belichick-era Patriots loved most?

Silver foxes.

Under Belichick, the Patriots annually fielded one of the NFL’s oldest rosters by average player age. Their averages were not anchored by the ageless Tom Brady and special teams sage Matthew Slater. They were boosted by mid-level veterans Belichick targeted in free agency or pick-swap trades, several of whom filled out his final Super Bowl teams: Chris Long, Martellus Bennett, Adrian Clayborn, Danny Shelton and Jason McCourty, to name a few.

The Patriots were a graying machine built to win now, through experience, smarts and versatility. As you know, the Patriot Way is gone. Belichick’s successors have paved right over it the last few months and have initiated a rebuild following a new method: The Packer Way.

The initial stages of a Green Bay-style rebuild involve quite the opposite: young players and growing pains. Director of scouting and de facto general manager Eliot Wolf, an ex-Packers executive, declared back in February that under the leadership of him and new head coach Jerod Mayo, the Patriots are headed for a youth movement.

“I think there’s just going to be a little bit more reliance on playing young players,” Wolf said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I think it’s really important in today’s football to be able to play young players and develop from within.”


Like Wolf, Mayo repeated the phrase “draft and develop” several times this offseason. It is the organization’s new mantra, as the front office strips its roster down to the studs and enacts a multi-year plan. Despite re-signing all of their highest-priced internal free agents, the Patriots still lead the league in cap space for 2024 and 2025, which could result in a concerted effort – one would hope – to spend big next offseason and the year after that, when the team is closer to contending.

In the meantime, here come the kids.

“You want to play younger players because, I mean, first of all, they’re cheaper,” Mayo said with a smile. “And then second of all, I want to say you want to have a good mix, though. You can’t have all 22, 23 year olds out there. You need that 30-year-old that can kind of settle everyone down that has that experience, too.”

In the process of turning back the clock, the Patriots parted with most of their 30-year-olds, including Lawrence Guy, Adrian Phillips, Ezekiel Elliott, Trent Brown and DeVante Parker. Now, there are just six players age 30 or older on the roster.

Long snapper Joe Cardona is the oldest at 32, followed by outside linebacker Matt Judon, quarterback Jacoby Brissett, center David Andrews, cornerback Jonathan Jones and defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale. Of that group, only Cardona is under contract after this season, meaning it’s possible the Patriots could field an entire team under 30 next season; especially if their new rookies hit.

The current roster has 18 rookies, including eight draft picks who all have clear pathways to a Week 1 roster spot; from Drake Maye to seventh-round tight end Jaheim Bell. Even sixth-round quarterback Joe Milton, a talented wild card with unimpressive college production, holds an edge over Bailey Zappe. He has time and traits, which Zappe does not.


Again, draft and develop.

Before he took over the Patriots’ front office, Wolf lost out on the Packers’ GM job in January 2018 to Brian Gutekunst, who still oversees the front office in Green Bay. Last year, the Packers made the divisional round of the playoffs while fielding the youngest team in the league. In February, he described the process known as the Packer Way.

“It’s about the work. There’s no shortcuts. It’s about putting in the time, boots on the ground to get to know these players and get to know the people who know these players. And then trusting the process and believing (in it),” Gutekunst said at the combine.

“And I think, we’ve all been kind of trained in the same way, and had a lot of faith and – not that we’re always trying to tweak and get better – but a lot of the foundational principles of what we are taught (are the same).”

Assuming Wolf is empowered long term with a new contract and the same roster control, the Patriots will be patient. They will plan and allow for growing pains. They will deploy their rookies and second-year players, possibly while even knowing veterans at the same position might offer them a better chance to win.

Get ready, rooks. Stay ready, Keion White and Marte Mapu. It’s go time, Tyquan Thornton, Marcus Jones, Atoni Mafi and Cole Strange.

Because that is how draft and develop works. That is rebuilding. That is the Packer Way.

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