NFL offseason power rankings: No. 31 New England Patriots start over with Drake Maye and Jerod Mayo

Preview focus: Life after Bill Belichick begins in New England with a new head coach and QB

The last time the New England Patriots played a game without Bill Belichick as their head coach, it was right after Y2K.

On Jan. 2, 2000, the Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens, but Pete Carroll was fired as head coach anyway. The day before, Tom Brady played his final college game. There are many ways to illustrate how life has changed since then, but in the Patriots' world, this is what matters: They went from one of the NFL's forgettable franchises to winning 17 AFC East titles, nine AFC championships and six Super Bowls with Belichick. They had the greatest dynasty in NFL history and perhaps sports history. The dynasty ended when Brady left, and Belichick is gone too after an unceremonious end.

It will be strange to see Jerod Mayo as the Patriots' head coach. Mayo was 14 years old when Belichick coached his first game for the Patriots. Mayo was drafted by New England in 2008, after Belichick already had three Super Bowl rings as the team's head coach. Mayo had a very good eight-year NFL career at linebacker. Belichick then coached eight more seasons after Mayo retired as a player.

But it was time for a change. The relationship between Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft had frayed, as it had with Belichick and Brady, and more importantly, the Patriots had fallen into serious disrepair.

For as great as Belichick was, he left the Patriots in ruins. Years of bad draft picks and misguided signings left the Patriots with arguably the worst roster in the NFL. They went 4-13 last season, and Belichick's masterful defensive coaching — they managed to have the No. 9 defense in DVOA despite plenty of injuries and not much star power — stole a couple of those wins. The one parting gift Belichick gave New England was finishing with the third-worst record in a deep quarterback draft.

The Patriots drafted North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye, who, along with Mayo, will lead the Patriots into a new era. The fact that multiple teams, including the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings, were very excited to trade up for that third-overall pick should tell the Patriots that staying put and drafting Maye was the right thing to do. The Patriots need to restock the roster, but you don't turn down a potential franchise quarterback. New England's rebuild gets a lot easier if Maye is a hit.

Maye had plenty of buzz. He was the QB1 in this draft class for Yahoo Sports' Nate Tice. He has the entire package of skills to succeed, as long as his aggressive nature doesn't become a big problem with turnovers. One issue is the Patriots still didn't do much to improve the offense around him. They tried to get free-agent receiver Calvin Ridley, and while Kraft said Ridley chose the Tennessee Titans because his girlfriend wanted to be in the South, Kraft's comment that "part of it might be the quarterback situation as well" was probably more accurate. The Patriots aren't a destination yet. That will take time. The first step has to be Maye becoming the type of QB other players want to play with.

There are a few players still around from the Patriots' glory days — Mayo is also a key link to the dynasty — but the dominance of the Patriots is long gone. It wasn't that long ago the Patriots were ruling the NFL, but it seems like it has been a lifetime. The good news for the Patriots is that as quickly as they lost their grip atop the NFL, they can get it back. It doesn't take long for teams to build back up, but you usually have to hit big at coach and quarterback like the Houston Texans did a year ago. Maye and Mayo are unlikely to come anywhere close to Brady and Belichick, but if they're a success, the past couple of terrible seasons can become a quickly forgotten memory, too.

(Amy Monks/Yahoo Sports)
Rookie quarterback Drake Maye may not be Tom Brady, but he's the face of hope for a franchise that has seen a rapid fall from grace in recent years. (Amy Monks/Yahoo Sports)

The Patriots' draft class will carry the offseason grade. Drake Maye is an exciting quarterback who fell to New England with the third pick. Second-round pick Ja'Lynn Polk is a debated receiver prospect, but he has a chance to become the Patriots' No. 1 target right away. Some believe fourth-round pick Javon Baker could end up being better than Polk. The Patriots didn't accomplish much in free agency. Antonio Gibson can be a solid pass-catching running back, Jacoby Brissett is an important veteran quarterback addition if the Patriots want to let Maye sit and learn. Receiver K.J. Osborn can play the slot, though he won't solve New England's problems at that position. And linebacker Sione Takitaki was a fine low-cost addition on defense. There's nothing to get excited about in that free-agent class, though the big moves were re-signing offensive lineman Mike Onwenu for a three-year, $57 million deal and retaining safety Kyle Dugger for $58 million over four years. The Patriots also traded quarterback Mac Jones to the Jaguars, which didn't affect the 2024 roster but was a disappointing end for Jones' time in New England after a solid start.

Grade: C-

The Patriots have a new look, but when it comes to starting Maye right away, Mayo might rely on an old approach from Belichick.

“I think to go back to Bill, I don’t think many rookies are ready to just jump in and play,” Mayo said, via NBC Sports.

Mayo seems serious when he says Maye will compete with Brissett through training camp for the starting job. That's not the worst idea. The Patriots don't have a lot of talent to help Maye. Even the offensive line will be without 2022 first-round draft pick Cole Strange, who could be out until midseason due to a knee injury, according to NFL Media. Brissett is a top-end backup and can be a functional starter in the short term. We'll likely see Maye at some point this season — it is very rare for a first-round quarterback to not start at all as a rookie — but it might not be Week 1. Given the state of the Patriots' offense around the quarterback position, that might help him in the long term.

Are the Patriots going to be the worst team in the NFL? The betting market believes so. The win total for the Patriots at BetMGM has moved from 5.5 to 4.5, giving the Patriots the lowest total on the board. The Carolina Panthers' total is 5.5. Only one other team, the Denver Broncos, has a total under 6.5. The Patriots have a long way to go toward becoming respectable again. It's also telling that Maye is eighth in the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year odds at 20-to-1. Quarterbacks have an easier path to awards than any other players, but the Patriots' subpar situation (and the fact that Maye isn't a lock to start Week 1) puts him behind three quarterbacks and four receivers in the OROY odds.

From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "It can be daunting to select a fantasy back from a losing team. Game flow will often be your enemy, and it logically follows that weaker teams won't score as many points. But Rhamondre Stevenson still has some fantasy juice to offer as the featured back in New England.

"First of all, Stevenson has little competition for carries. The second back in New England's room is Antonio Gibson, more of a satellite player. Kevin Harris and JaMycal Hasty are merely depth options. And the Patriots' offense is now helmed by OC Alex Van Pelt, who was part of a run-first regime in Cleveland. Stevenson might not have tons of profit room as the current RB20 off the Yahoo board, but if he has a reasonable health runout he can at least recoup your investment."

The Patriots' leading receiver last season was rookie Demario Douglas, who had 561 yards. He didn't score a touchdown. That sums up how unwatchable the 2023 Patriots offense was. In 2022, everyone blamed the offensive woes on Bill Belichick's unfathomable decision to let Matt Patricia be the coordinator, but Bill O'Brien didn't do any better running the offense last season. The Patriots scored seven or fewer points in six games, with two shutouts. There wasn't enough talent on the offense. Quarterback play was horrible, the receiver group might be the worst in the NFL and while Stevenson is a talented back, he suffered through injuries and was fairly disappointing, too.

The concern here is that not enough has changed around the quarterback to help Maye. When the Patriots make a decision on when to start Maye, they'll have to weigh the potential damage that can be done to him playing with a subpar supporting cast.

Mayo was considered a strong head-coaching candidate for a couple of years, but he couldn't have found himself in a much tougher spot for his first job.

Mayo takes over for perhaps the greatest head coach in NFL history. He does so with a roster that is nowhere near being able to compete for a playoff spot. And his coaching résumé is thin, with just five years as an inside linebackers coach. Not that being a coordinator or previously a head coach is a prerequisite for success, but it's asking a lot for such an inexperienced coach to step in for a legend.

Mayo is considered a players' coach, which will be a big change from Belichick. Players were excited to play for Mayo, who will bring new ideas and energy. But the fan base isn't used to losing, and while Mayo was a standout linebacker for the Patriots, he hasn't built up any goodwill as a coach yet. How patient will New England be as Mayo guides a rebuild?

There's some world in which the Patriots' players feel free, enjoy playing football and the results get better. For as great as Belichick was, playing for him was a grind. Mayo has a brand new style for New England. The defense shouldn't be bad, especially if edge rusher Matt Judon returns strong from a torn biceps. Perhaps Maye is one of the rare rookie quarterbacks who stars right away — he has the type of skills that could play very well in the NFL — and the Patriots' future suddenly looks bright. It's hard to buy the Patriots as a playoff team, even in the most rosy outlook, but the season is a success if the Patriots feel like they've reversed their downward spiral.

All six teams that drafted a quarterback in the first round feel good about it. But we all know not all six are going to be good. If Maye is a bust, the Patriots start back at square one. He is, by far, the shining light on the Patriots' roster. The hope is that he's very good and New England can start building around him. What if he's not good? We probably won't know that answer in Year 1, but it would be disheartening if he looks overwhelmed. The same can be said for Mayo. There's not enough of a track record to know if he'll be a good head coach. If Mayo and Maye aren't good enough to lead a rebuild, look at the rest of the Patriots' roster. It's not like there are any other reasons for optimism.

The Patriots are going to be bad. There's some fantasy world in which Maye is C.J. Stroud, Mayo is DeMeco Ryans and the 2024 Patriots are the 2023 Texans, but last year's Texans had a better roster and an easier division. And a rookie like Stroud is extremely rare. The measure of success for the Patriots will be Maye looking like he belongs and not being ruined by a bad situation around him, and Mayo showing he's the right leader for the future. Both of those things should happen. And then the Patriots will be drafting very early in 2025, with things looking brighter moving forward.