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Man on a mission: NFL great Alan Page's quest for justice in football and beyond

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Man on a mission: NFL great Alan Page's quest for justice in football and beyond

MINNEAPOLIS — A few times each month, Alan Page visits Justice Page Middle School, one of two schools named in his honor.

As the first African American to become a Minnesota Supreme Court justice and the first African American elected to a statewide office, Page goes to inspire students. In their upturned faces and wide eyes, he sees opportunity. He is there to show them possibilities that might have never occurred to them and to encourage hopes and dreams.

He does not go to sign autographs. But the requests always come for the former Vikings defensive tackle.

There was a time when Page, as a pillar of the Purple People Eaters, routinely turned down autograph requests. “It made me nuts,” he says. “All the people who wanted a little piece of you.”

He couldn’t figure out why anyone wanted his autograph. What is an autograph, anyway? And what had he done by being a football player to merit being put on a pedestal? He struggled to understand the overinflated value of football in culture.

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From time to time, he acquiesced to a request. And he noticed the reaction. It started him thinking.

“What else could I do that would give somebody that kind of joy?” he wondered. “I figured maybe it could be one of my tools to make the world a better place.”

And so at Justice Page Middle School, the kids line up, a stream of them. And Page signs.

He writes his name on day planners, notebooks, phone cases, backpacks and on and on.

There are smiles and gratitude. There is joy.

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One signature at a time, Alan Page makes the world a better place.

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A consensus All-American who played on an undefeated national championship team at Notre Dame, Page was chosen by the Vikings with the 15th pick of the 1967 NFL Draft.

At the end of his first training camp, the players threw a party. Jim Marshall, then a veteran defensive end and team leader, placed a beer on the table in front of Page.

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“Chug,” he said.

Page didn’t drink alcohol then and doesn’t now. He told Marshall no. This was the tradition, Marshall countered. All rookies were required to chug beer. Page refused again. Marshall tried to persuade him, telling him he needed to go along to stay on good terms with his teammates. Page was steadfast. Marshall relented and told him he could chug Cokes instead. Page wouldn’t do that either. The atmosphere grew tense. Marshall told him either he had to drink or leave.

Page walked out, the first of many hard stands he took in his professional life.

Page would earn acceptance with his play. As a rookie, he tackled the quarterback for losses 8 1/2 times (sacks were not yet a statistic) to lead the Vikings. The following year, he began a run of nine straight Pro Bowl appearances. In his fifth season, he was voted the NFL’s most valuable player, which only one other defensive player has won.

His success was remarkable. How he attained it more so.

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Page didn’t do things the way others did.

He didn’t always take the rush lane he was supposed to take. He followed his instincts, which were beneficial more often than not. Freelancing usually doesn’t sit well with coaches, but Page got away with it because he kept making plays.

Other defensive tackles of the day wore pounds of pads and fortified their joints with rolls of tape. Page wore shoulder pads less bulky than those in some suit jackets and a flimsy T-shirt under his jersey — nothing more. For the first six or so years of his career, he never taped his joints. Multiple ankle sprains eventually led him to tape his ankles.


Alan Page helped the Vikings reach four Super Bowls, including Super Bowl XI against Ken Stabler and the Oakland Raiders. (Focus on Sport / Getty Images)

All about quickness, Page was one of the first players to watch the ball at the snap instead of the blocker in front of him. It’s one of the reasons he always appeared to be the first player moving when a play began.

Sometimes, it resulted in Page being flagged for being offside. It happened in a 1971 game against the Lions. Page maintained he did not commit a penalty, and let the officials know about it. Then on the next play, he was penalized for the same infraction. Page protested verbally, then with his play. He made two tackles for losses, sacked the quarterback and blocked a punt, recovering the ball for a safety.

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“It didn’t matter why they called what they did,” Page says. “They were simply wrong. And it had me wired to the ball, literally.”

It wasn’t about football. It was about justice.

“He stood up for what he believed,” Marshall says. “He had, and still has, a mindset of justice. And just as important, a will to pursue justice.”

Page became the Vikings’ union representative in 1970 and two years later was elected to the NFLPA’s executive committee, becoming one of the faces in the fight for free agency. In 1974, he was a leader in a five-week strike, picketing outside Northwestern’s Dyche Stadium, where college all-stars were practicing for a game against the Dolphins. He carried a sign that read “PEOPLE, NOT PROPERTY.”

The following year, labor unrest continued and Patriots players led a movement to strike for the final preseason game. Five NFL teams and one player struck. Without a single teammate beside him, Page walked out for one day.

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The Rozelle Rule stated that a player with an expiring contract could not sign with another team without compensation. Page was an original plaintiff in the lawsuit that challenged the rule. In 1976, the Rozelle Rule was ruled an antitrust violation, which paved the way for free agency.

Players also had to bargain for the right to wear beards. When the NFL finally allowed it, Page became the first on his team to grow one, which he maintains to this day. A beard, he said, never would have occurred to him if someone had not told him he couldn’t have one.

In those days, Page drove a 1971 Dodge Charger Super Bee with a 383 cubic inch V-8. The color was “Plum Crazy,” with the word FREEDOM in large, gold capital letters on the side.

“We were still in the middle of the civil rights struggle,” Page says. “We were talking about freedom as football players. The spirit of the message was fitting.”

Head coach Bud Grant might not have thought so. Page and Grant often found themselves on opposing ends of a viewpoint. Page says he didn’t have much of a relationship with his coach, but Grant claimed he talked more with Page than any other player because Page questioned so many things.

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Grant once fined Page $50 for being late to a meeting. Page filed a grievance with the union. Then he filed another, alleging Grant had not given the team the required time off during the week.

“Alan could talk all day to beat a $50 fine,” Grant said, according to the Bill McGrane book, “All Rise: The Remarkable Journey of Alan Page.”

In 1975, Page competed in ABC’s “Superteams” competition with teammates in Honolulu. In the mornings, he and his wife, Diane, walked on the beach. The morning walk became a habit. Then it morphed into a morning run, which became a shared passion between husband and wife.

Dancers don’t power lift and defensive tackles don’t run. It’s just the way it is. But Page didn’t care. He ran and ran and ran, eventually participating in eight marathons, including a 62-mile ultramarathon.

“I wasn’t trying to make some point other than, ‘This is who I am, and I can live with the consequences of that,’” he says.

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Page’s initial NFL playing weight was 270. It dropped to about 245 in the mid-1970s. And then, when he committed to running, he weighed as little as 220.

It became a source of contention with Grant, and it didn’t help that the Vikings’ defensive scheme had changed, requiring defensive linemen to take on blockers. Six games into the 1978 season, Page, then 33, didn’t have a sack.

On Oct. 11, the headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune read, “Vikings fire a legend, waive Alan Page.” The night before, a teammate had shown up at his house with his belongings in a box.

“Alan can no longer meet the standard he set for himself,” Grant said then. “He just can’t make the plays anymore.” The coach also said Page was not strong enough to rush the passer and had to be taken out in short-yardage situations.

Defensive end Carl Eller was quoted as saying, “I think there’s a lot behind this besides the way Alan is playing.”

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Alan Page, No. 82, thrived with the Bears after the Vikings released him. (Focus on Sport / Getty Images)

Just one team claimed Page, the team that knew him best. Jim Finks, who drafted Page as the general manager of the Vikings, had become the general manager of the Bears. Neill Armstrong had gone from defensive coordinator of the Vikings to head coach of the Bears. After coaching the defensive line in Minnesota, Buddy Ryan was the defensive coordinator in Chicago.

Page was embraced in Chicago to the point he once said the best part of his career was the three and a half years he spent on the Bears. His contentment showed in his production. Playing at 220 pounds, Page had 11 1/2 sacks in 10 games in his first season with the team. In 58 games as a Bear, he led the team with 40 sacks. He also blocked 12 kicks (he had 28 in his career).

By 1981, Page was bored with football — not the games, but everything else around them. And football always seemed to be a means to something more, anyway. By then, he had started 215 games in a row, having never missed a game to injury, and had 148 1/2 sacks (including those that were unofficial), still the most ever by a defensive tackle. Grant called him the greatest defensive player he ever saw.

Before Page left, he had one more imprint to leave. It was obvious that Bears owner George Halas intended to replace Armstrong at the end of 1981, Page’s last season. At Page’s suggestion, Bears safety Gary Fencik wrote a letter to Halas asking that Ryan be retained by the new coach. The letter was signed by 21 defensive players, including Page. Halas subsequently hired Mike Ditka as head coach with the understanding Ryan would be his defensive coordinator.

Page walked away from the game after setting the table for the great Bears teams of the 1980s, while also making it possible for the Vikings to play in four Super Bowls between 1969 and 1976 and leading the fight for players to gain free agency.

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Page was about 8 when he bought a toy car at a five-and-dime store in his hometown of Canton, Ohio. He threw away the receipt and took the car into another nearby five and dime. As he left the second store, he was stopped and accused of stealing the toy car.

“What stuck with me from that day was being accused and not being believed,” he says. “The unfairness of it.”

In the same time frame of his life, Page remembers more unfairness and how it was dealt with. In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court said segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. The following year, there was the lynching of Emmett Till and the protest of Rosa Parks.

Even at the age of 8, Page read the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Canton Repository every day. He still can visualize the headlines and photographs about the Brown decision, which moved him so much he believes it directed his path.

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His father, Howard Sr., owned a bar with a gambling parlor in the back, as well as a record store. His mom, Georgiana, carried a flame for justice before her death at 42 when Alan was 13. The family, which included Alan’s older sisters Marvel and Twila and his older brother Howard Jr., had daily discussions about current events like the Brown ruling.

“You have to remember in 1954 if you were Black, you understood that, even as an 8-year-old, you were considered ‘the other,’” he says. “You were considered ‘less than.’”

He watched “Perry Mason.” He heard racial epithets from passing cars. He saw signs like “Coloreds Only.”

Before Page was in fifth grade, he decided to become a lawyer.


Alan Page at the Minnesota Attorney General’s office in St. Paul in December 1991. He was sworn in as a Minnesota Supreme Court justice just over a year later. (Jerry Holt / Star Tribune via Getty Images)

Who he is now is who he was then. That isn’t to say he has not evolved through life’s seasons, but there always has been this light in him.

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“My dad always said (Alan) was different than the rest of us,” says Marvel, who is five years older. “He did everything he was supposed to do. He was always good.”

In 1978, Page received his law degree from the University of Minnesota. In 1979, while still playing football, he started working as a lawyer for Lindquist & Vennum, which specialized in employee labor issues. He later joined the attorney general’s office, representing state agencies in employment litigation, and eventually became assistant attorney general.

After 14 years as a lawyer, he set his sights on a Supreme Court seat. His first attempt to run, in 1990, was blocked by Governor Rudy Perpich, who was intent on appointing a candidate of his choosing. His second attempt was met with similar resistance when Governor Arne Carlson tried to thwart Page by extending the term of a sitting judge. Page subsequently sued Carlson and won the right to run.

During the campaign, there were blocks below the knees, as there often are in politics. Page was accused of being a legal lightweight and capitalizing on his fame, but he won with 62 percent of the vote. Wearing a purple bow tie — his collection of bow ties is in the hundreds — Page was sworn in as a Minnesota Supreme Court justice on Jan. 4, 1993.

Page was re-elected three times and spent 22 years on the court before stepping down at the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2015. Unsurprisingly, he often presented dissenting opinions.

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For much of what he accomplished, he credits Diane, who died in 2018 after 45 years of marriage.

“She inspired me,” Page says. “She taught me things and influenced me a great deal. I’m not sure I would have been in the position to be able to become a Supreme Court Justice without her.”

At his initial swearing-in, Diane arranged for a group of fourth graders to attend.

At Page’s induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988, he didn’t talk about football. He spoke of education and explained his commitment to improving the educational system. The year of his induction, he and Diane started the Page Education Foundation to reward Page Scholarships to students of color and then required the recipients to mentor younger children. He says the foundation has awarded nearly 9,000 scholarships and taken in approximately $16 million in grants.

“Education is a tool that overcomes poverty,” he says. “The more education, the less likely someone will find themselves in a position like George Floyd found himself in. To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., people who have hope want to build. And education gives hope because it empowers.”

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For much of what he accomplished, Alan Page credits his wife, Diane, who died in 2018 after 45 years of marriage. “She inspired me,” Page says. (Jerry Holt / Star Tribune via Getty Images)

Early in their relationship, Diane began collecting African American paintings, sculptures and artifacts of slavery and segregation. Page has more than a thousand pieces now, including a branding iron and a Ku Klux Klan robe, and has shared them publicly in various exhibits. Some of the art decorates the home they purchased 51 years ago that he still lives in.

In 2018, Page was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Trump. Page thought about turning down the award, considered the highest honor that can be given to a civilian. Page had been publicly critical of the Trump administration for “playing to people’s racial insecurities” by failing to reject the support of white supremacy groups and using racially coded language. He has other issues with Trump as well. “The way he treats people and talks about people, it’s just a bad example,” says Page, who speaks slowly, pauses often, and is comfortable with silence. “It’s manifested itself in the way we as a people are starting to treat one another.”

Ultimately, though, he saw the honor as recognition for the impact he and Diane tried to make, so he accepted the medal in a ceremony that also honored Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth and Antonin Scalia.

“I couldn’t think of someone better to represent the team, Minnesota and Black people,” says former Viking John Randle, who continued the Vikings’ tradition of great defensive tackles.

In “All Rise,” the late Notre Dame president Theodore M. Hesburgh called Page a “beacon to young people of color,” and said, “He is what they can be.”

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These days, Page writes children’s books with daughter Kamie Page, one of his four kids. They already have published four, the most notable of which, “Alan and His Perfectly Pointy Impossibly Perpendicular Pinky,” is about a boy who connects with Page after asking about the mangled little finger on his left hand. The pinky is the only telltale sign that he was somebody before he was “Grandpa,” “Justice Page” and “Counselor.”

His presence is so peaceful that it’s difficult to imagine that Page was once known for slamming opponents to the ground.

Page, 78, doesn’t revel in past glories. Invitations to football reunions and Hall of Fame functions usually are respectfully declined. He doesn’t watch much football, though the Vikings usually entice him to attend a game every season.

When he played, he rankled coaches by refusing to lift weights. Now, he lifts three times a week. He does Pilates, too, and walks four or five miles every morning, bringing a fanny pack full of dog treats for “the regulars” who look for him.

Page understands there are grand ways to make a difference. And there are modest ways.

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With grandchildren Amelia, Theo, Otis and Esther, Page plays board games, cooks and bakes, goes to the mall and eats ice cream. He sometimes reads the books they are reading so they can discuss them. They compare Wordle and Spelling Bee experiences.

When the kids need a dropoff or pickup, he plays the role of “Gruber” — Grandpa Uber. Those precious drives are opportunities to talk about their world, his world, our world.

And so, one car ride at a time, Alan Page makes the world a better place.

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(Top photo: Dan Pompei / The Athletic)

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Rangers' Matt Rempe makes immediate impact in 1st postseason game: 'I think I'm built for the playoffs'

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Rangers' Matt Rempe makes immediate impact in 1st postseason game: 'I think I'm built for the playoffs'

New York Rangers rookie Matt Rempe set the tone early for the team in their 4-1 Game 1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon.

Rempe scored the team’s first goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The score came in the second period. And before anyone knew it, the Rangers were up 3-0 by the time the game was in its second intermission.

New York Rangers’ Matt Rempe is seen during the third period in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals, April 21, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The forward, who has become a fan favorite during the year, heard his name chanted across Madison Square Garden. It only amplified his performance even more and appeared to give him the confidence to do it again through the rest of the postseason – as long as the Rangers are in it.

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“I know my game. I know I can skate well and be physical. I think I can be a real pain to play against down low, protecting pucks and going to the net,” Rempe said, per ESPN. “I think I’m built for the playoffs. I think that that’s where you want to play, and I was happy how tonight went.”

Rempe didn’t only turn the heads of fans at the Garden, but he made an even bigger believer of his veteran head coach, Peter Laviolette.

Rangers celebrate

The New York Rangers celebrate after winning Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals, April 21, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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“That was a big goal to put energy in the building, maybe because it was him, too, put a little more extra juice in the building,” Laviolette said. “And then be able to get another one right after that. That was a turning point in the game.”

Rempe’s score came off the stick of Jimmy Vesey, who also scored in the second period.

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“(Rempe) scoring sent the fans crazy, and we scored two more goals in the next few minutes,” Vesey said. “He definitely gets the crowd into the game and, as the team with home-ice advantage, you’re going to try to feed off that energy in the crowd.”

Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider also scored for the Rangers.

Jimmy Vesey breaks away

New York Rangers’ Jimmy Vesey, center, races for the puck with Washington Capitals’ T.J. Oshie, left, and Dylan McIlrath during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in New York.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Washington’s Martin Fehervary put the Capitals on the board in the second period.

Game 2 is set for Tuesday night in New York.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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The Lakers weren't as good (or as bad) as you thought in Game 1

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The Lakers weren't as good (or as bad) as you thought in Game 1

There was a feeling around the arena and in the media room Saturday night that the Lakers had fired their best punch and that, maybe, it just wasn’t good enough.

But fresh eyes on Game 1 combined with some time gave coach Darvin Ham and the Lakers the ability to properly contextualize what happened in their 114-103 loss to the Denver Nuggets in their first-round Western Conference playoff series.

“We got great looks that we just didn’t knock down. Shots that we’ve been knocking down. And then our pace is off,” Ham said in a call with reporters Sunday. “There’s no question, we just watched with the team, of us walking up and down, walking back toward the offensive end and not getting in and out of our actions quick. We’re a completely different ball club when we’re sprinting up the floor. Even after a made basket, we have to have urgency offensively.

“That has to be a part of our defense as well. How to defend this team is to put more pressure on them on offense. Try to put them on their heels too.”

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The Lakers’ Game 1 offensive woes were overshadowed, in part, by the 59 combined points of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but the two also had nine turnovers (seven by James).

And the Lakers shot eight for29 on three-pointers, scoring only 103 points. During the regular season, the Lakers were held to 103 or fewer only eight times. D’Angelo Russell, in particular, was one-for-nine shooting from three-point range after making 41.5% of his shots from deep in the regular season.

Denver coach Michael Malone even pointed out Sunday the quality of shots the Lakers got — and missed — in Game 1.

Ham said he thought the Lakers’ half-court defense in Game 1 looked better on film — the bigger issues coming in transition.

“They made some tough shots, but we didn’t do a bad job defensively. We forced them into some tough shots,” Ham said. “They made a couple tough shots. But our biggest problem was transition defense, getting back, getting matched up so we weren’t crossmatched.

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“We didn’t do that as well as we should and obviously giving up second-chance points and some untimely turnovers on our part.”

Those problems in the playoffs, especially against a team that’s as good as Denver, are critical.

“So it’s the intangible game and that’s the game you really have to fight with good teams like Denver, championship teams like Denver. The little things matter,” Ham said. “The details and the discipline. It’s more so that than anything else, than the big stuff or the post coverage or pick-and-roll coverage. It’s the intangible things.

“So that’s what’s what really came to light as we went back to the hotel after the game and rewatched the film.”

Regarding Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, a two-time league MVP, Ham said the Lakers have a practically impossible task.

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“It starts with trying to limit his touches, which is damn near impossible,” he said. “But that’s what it takes if you’re trying to win.”

Wood nearing a return?

A report from the Athletic’s Shams Charania said reserve big man Christian Wood is “planning to return to action” for Game 3 on Thursday in Los Angeles. Wood, who has been out since the All-Star break because of a knee injury that required surgery, isn’t with the team in Denver.

“All I say is he’s still going through his recovery process from injuries, rehab process,” Ham said. “…Obviously, he has size, he has length, he has rebounding capabilities, he can stretch the floor. But first and foremost, he has a couple more boxes to check before we even consider that.”

The team is still without forward Jarred Vanderbilt, who is recovering from a foot injury suffered on Feb. 1.

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Patriots looking for 'unprecedented deal' to move out of No 3 pick in 2024 NFL Draft: report

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Patriots looking for 'unprecedented deal' to move out of No 3 pick in 2024 NFL Draft: report

The New England Patriots are “open for business” with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, but they want an “unprecedented deal” to move out of that slot, per ESPN. 

With director of scouting Eliot Wolf saying this past week that the Patriots’ phone is being watched to hear about potential offers at No. 3, the only way they’re going to move is if another team blows them away with a deal. 

The Patriots understand that a top-three selection in the NFL Draft is a franchise-altering pick – for better or for worse – and a “blockbuster” deal is the only way they would want to leave it. And considering the Patriots need a new franchise quarterback after Mac Jones was traded away to the Jacksonville Jaguars, it only makes sense for them to stay put. 

New England Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf speaks to the media during the NFL Combine at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis on Feb. 27, 2024. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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Many evaluators have had the Patriots taking one of three quarterbacks: LSU Heisman winner Jayden Daniels, North Carolina’s Drake Maye, and national championship winner J.J. McCarthy from Michigan. 

Wolf and Jerod Mayo, who is taking over as head coach for Bill Belichick, both understand the importance of the pick, and everyone in the NFL knows that a team is usually as good as their quarterback play. 

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ESPN added that Mayo and “some top decision-makers” acknowledged that this No. 3 pick will be tied with their legacy in New England.

Where the Patriots decide to go with the pick, granted they stay put, will be determined by what the Washington Commanders do at No. 2 overall. The Chicago Bears, owners of the top pick, are expected to go with USC’s Caleb Williams.

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Jerod Mayo smiles

Jerod Mayo of the New England Patriots speaks during a press conference at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on Jan. 17, 2024. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Commanders are expected to also take a quarterback despite going with Sam Howell last season. 

But what if a team like the Minnesota Vikings, desperate for a quarterback but own the No. 11 and No. 23 picks, wants to jump other potential competition like the New York Giants at No. 6 to get the signal-caller they want? Could they come calling the Patriots to give them those first-round picks and more? 

This is what makes the NFL Draft so much fun, especially the week of the draft when general managers and owners take calls left and right to hear what other teams have to offer. 

Teams like the Cincinnati Bengals in 2020 didn’t bother to entertain a trade when they went with Joe Burrow out of LSU at No. 1 overall, but the Patriots are taking a different approach. 

Patriots helmet

(Winslow Townson/Getty Images/File)

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It doesn’t hurt to pick up the phone. We’ll see if Wolf and the Patriots hear an offer they can’t refuse when it’s their time on the clock Thursday night in Detroit.

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