Bill Belichick is always looking for ways to improve his organization and add people he believes can help the Patriots win a Super Bowl, whether it’s a player, coach, or executive.
And if another team can pay that person's salary, even better.
Over the last several years, New England has become a haven for smart football minds and friends of Belichick who have been cast aside by other teams: Michael Lombardi after he was fired as Browns general manager; Bret Bielema after he was fired by Arkansas; and this offseason, Brian Hoyer after he was released by the Colts and Eliot Wolf after he was relieved as Browns assistant GM.
They each had guaranteed money coming from their former teams, and in the case of the three non-players, multiple years left on their contracts. But they come to the Patriots for a couple of years and essentially work for free.
And when the contract runs out, well, thank you for your service.
“It still works out pretty well for everyone, if you think about it,” an agent for one of the parties told me.
For the Patriots, they get another trusted voice in the building, at little to no cost. Belichick’s coaching and front office staffs have been poached significantly over the last half-decade. It is important for Belichick to have people he can bring in and trust.
For the coach/executive/player, he gets to stay in the game for a couple of years instead of sitting on the sidelines. And while it doesn’t end with a permanent job in Foxborough, his résumé gets a nice bit of polish by adding “worked closely with Belichick and the New England Patriots.”
In February of 2014, the Browns fired Lombardi as their GM, even though he had two years left on his contract. Later that year, Belichick brought his longtime friend (they worked together in Cleveland in the early ’90s) to New England as an “assistant to the coaching staff” for the 2014 and ’15 seasons.
Lombardi did special research and scouting projects and got to be a sounding board for Belichick. He also got a Super Bowl championship out of it.
In 2018, the Patriots hired Bielema as a “consultant to the head coach” when he was fired after five seasons at Arkansas. Bielema’s agent is Neil Cornrich, who is also the agent for — you guessed it — Belichick.
Earlier in 2018, Arkansas’ Razorback Foundation negotiated a settlement with Bielema that would pay him $11.935 million over a three-year period ending in 2020. Per the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Bielema was an unpaid volunteer for the Patriots in 2018.
For the 2019 season, the Patriots promoted Bielema to defensive line coach, though it is not clear whether the Patriots paid him a salary. A legal dispute brewed last fall in which Arkansas stopped paying Bielema his monthly payments of $320,000 because it believed he had violated the settlement by not actively pursuing another job.
After spending two seasons in Foxborough — and winning a Super Bowl in 2018 — Bielema joined the Giants this offseason as their senior assistant and outside linebackers coach.
This year, New England was a soft landing spot for two other people who found themselves out of work. One was Hoyer, who is entering his 12th NFL season and third stint with the Patriots (2009-11, 2017-18). Hoyer could have sat at home this year doing nothing and made more money than 99 percent of Americans.
Hoyer was released by the Colts on March 21, even though he had a $2 million fully guaranteed roster bonus. Four days later, the Patriots signed him to a one-year, nonguaranteed deal for the veteran minimum, $1.05 million. The Colts will pick up the rest, $950,000. Hoyer also has $2 million in playing-time incentives.
The other newcomer this year is Wolf, a longtime Packers scout and executive who is the son of Hall of Fame executive Ron Wolf. The younger Wolf spent 14 years rising up the ranks in Green Bay, and the last two in Cleveland as assistant GM. At 38, he is considered an up-and-coming GM candidate.
When the Browns hired Andrew Berry as the new football boss in January, Wolf and the Browns parted ways, even though he is under contract until 2022, per a league source. He joined the Patriots this offseason, and is expected to help out Belichick with special projects and scouting work similar to what Lombardi did for two seasons.
Wolf is “outstanding at organizing scouting and setting up systems,” one NFL front office source said.
And the Patriots are more than happy to have Wolf helping out while another team pays his salary.