Beware Patriots rumors during the NFL’s silly season

I promise this is not to pick on Tony Pauline.

No sir. Not at all.

This is to pick on the NFL calendar, where April Fool’s Day lasts longer than 24 hours. Try three to four weeks.

We have now entered the silly season; a time when draft reports and rumors, whispers, rumblings and buzz blend into an inextricable mix. Meaningful signals, the real football reporting, are almost inseparable from the noise. This blender is fed by all parties — media, scouts, executives and coaches — because it pours into the same trough where we all eat until draft day.

Teams feast on misdirecting their competition, while media gorge on filling time and space on television, radio, podcasts and news sites with content.

And let me tell you, Monday’s spread was strong.

Pauline, a longtime NFL Draft writer and media evaluator now with Sportskeeda, served up a juicy slice of “buzz” in his latest mock draft. He wrote that Patriots de facto general manager Eliot Wolf is “pushing hard” for Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy, and believes McCarthy “has as much upside as any quarterback.”

Hot damn! How about that?

Never mind McCarthy is not regarded as a top-10 prospect by most anyone studying this draft class, a group Pauline aligned himself with Tuesday during an NBC Sports Boston interview. Never mind that in the same interview, Pauline revealed it was opposing GMs who fed him the nugget about Wolf, not anyone from the Patriots.

New England Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf speaks during a press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine on Tuesday in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
New England Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf speaks during a press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine on Tuesday in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

“The feeling is that J.J. McCarthy — or at least Eliot Wolf is pushing for J.J. McCarthy, and that seems like it’s going to be the pick. I could understand the love for J.J. McCarthy,” Pauline said on the Patriots Talk podcast. “I don’t agree with it, but I understand it because whether it’s J.J. McCarthy or any of these Michigan kids, they have acquitted themselves well during the interview process.”

To back Pauline for a moment, one NFL executive told me this week that McCarthy tied Drake Maye for the most impressive quarterback interview at the combine. He was sharp and assertive, carrying a presence and recall expected of the game’s best quarterbacks. McCarthy met with the Patriots at the combine. Wolf, Jerod Mayo and others also flew to see him, among others, at Michigan’s Pro Day.

And, according to Mayo, it sounds like McCarthy will take a pre-draft visit to New England, just like projected top quarterbacks Maye and Jayden Daniels.

Still, I don’t buy it.

For one, Wolf knows how to play the media game and eat by himself this time of year. Officially, he’s been working in NFL front offices for 20 years. Unofficially, as the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame executive and ex-Packers GM Ron Wolf, he’s been assisting with NFL Draft prep for 30.

Wolf has also spent most of this offseason keeping his own front office in the dark about his supposed quarterback plan, as Herald reporting detailed at the combine. There have been no internal indications that’s changed.

Furthermore, if you’re drafting on No. 3, you need a difference-maker, not a care-taker. McCarthy rode shotgun for most of Michigan’s run to the national title last year, throwing four combined touchdowns in wins over Alabama, Washington, Iowa, Penn State and Ohio State. How much winning did he actually drive himself?

Now, McCarthy is accurate, exceptionally athletic, tough and an impressive leader. He may develop into a solid NFL starter, maybe above-average. Here’s hoping he does.

But as a prospect, McCarthy does not possess a single trait that projects to scare NFL defensive coordinators, or trumps both Maye and Daniels.

NFL Notes: 25 Patriots thoughts 25 days away from the NFL Draft

His arm talent doesn’t match Maye’s. He’s not as fast as Daniels. He risked turnovers at a higher rate than Daniels and Maye last season, despite playing with a better supporting cast. He’s not as creative as Maye, extending plays or finding throwing lanes. His accuracy is in the same neighborhood as Daniels’, and his pocket presence is, at worst, comparable.

But that’s what has Wolf smitten … pocket presence? Of course it’s possible Wolf lives alone on McCarthy Island. The Patriots might simply love the kid, and nothing else matters.

But it behooves the Patriots, just like the 31 other teams, to lie through their teeth right now; to the media, agents and especially opposing front offices and scouts. Because if they’re in love with McCarthy, that now means Minnesota — which executed a major move up to No. 11 overall, presumably for a quarterback — can’t make any old proposal for the No. 3 pick. They must come over the top with a Godfather offer because the latest buzz indicates McCarthy, their rumored target, may not make it to Arizona at No. 4.

And trading back, while adding three, maybe four first-round picks, is a fine Plan B for the rebuilding, quarterback-needy Patriots.

Again, this is not about Pauline. Yes, his track record of reporting on quarterbacks in the draft is spotty at best (2022 third-round pick Desmond Ridder having near unanimous first-round grades from teams, the Patriots aiming to trade up for Trey Lance or Justin Fields in 2021 and Sam Darnold going No. 1 overall to Cleveland in 2018, to name a few). But everyone misses this time of year, and especially this time of year.

Patriots 2024 NFL mock draft: Doubling up at wide receiver after trade up

That’s the silly season, and the draft. No guarantees. On draft picks, draft predictions, anything. Three years ago, I moved off Mac Jones and projected Justin Fields to New England in my third and final 2021 Patriots mock draft.


But let’s stay on Jones.

Fresh off his own national title run with Alabama, Jones was considered a virtual lock to San Francisco at No. 3 overall ahead of the 2021 draft. You heard this from the best of the best, including NFL insiders Adam Schefter and Ian Rapoport. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, an ex-scout for the Ravens, Browns and Eagles, also made the connection, but cautioned Jones was still the 32nd player on his board for plainly obvious reasons.

Jones was a fine, unthreatening quarterback well-regarded for his toughness and leadership, accuracy and decision-making. Sound familiar?

In retrospect, the Jones-to-San Francisco rumor made a lot more sense if you believe the 49ers knew the Patriots were high on Jones, whom they eventually selected at 15th overall. The Patriots had already called the Niners about trading for Jimmy Garoppolo that offseason, but didn’t meet their terms. If San Francisco leaked their supposed interest in Jones, the Patriots, with Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Fields expected to be gone by No. 15, would have to acquiesce to their trade terms to get Garoppolo.

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