The writing might have been on the wall, but the news that he was being traded still came as a surprise to Mack Wilson. In fact, as he told Nicole Yang of the Boston Globe, he was woken up by them.
Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry called Wilson while he was asleep to inform him he was sent to the New England Patriots. The 24-year-old was part of a transaction that also saw fellow fourth-year linebacker Chase Winovich move the other way.
“All I heard was, ‘We’re trading you to the Patriots,’” Wilson said.
“There were just a lot of emotions running through my mind. I broke down crying. It was a first for me.”
Wilson had originally entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft choice by the Browns in 2019, 78 selections after Winovich. He showed plenty of promise as a rookie, but saw his playing time decreased each of the next two seasons: it went from 88 percent during his first year as a pro to 43, and finally down to 21 in 2021.
Even though he was a valuable contributor as an off-the-ball linebacker and on special teams, the Browns decided to try to recoup some value. The Patriots, who are in the process of rebuilding their linebacker group, were a welcome trade partner.
As a result, Wilson will wear a new uniform heading into the final year of his rookie contract. He also will get an opportunity to prove himself after a quiet 2021 campaign.
“What excites me is getting a fresh start,” Wilson told the Boston Globe. “Obviously, the Patriots got a lot of history of winning. It’s well-disciplined over there, it’s super tough, it’s super hard, as far as what I’m hearing from other guys. Basically what they’re telling me is it’s just like another Alabama.”
Before leaving to join the NFL, Wilson had spent three seasons at the University of Alabama. Appearing in 33 games and registering seven takeaways, he proved himself a promising player — one who decided to take his talents to the pro level a year early, against the advice of head coach Nick Saban.
Now, he will get a chance to play in a similar atmosphere than the one he encountered with the Crimson Tide: the Patriots are led by Saban’s long-time friend and former boss, Bill Belichick.
Now set to play under Belichick, Wilson will try to return to the consistent playing time levels he experienced under Nick Saban at Alabama and early on during his time in Cleveland as well. He is not leaving anything up to chance, either, announcing that he moved back to his college jersey number 30 upon arriving in New England.
Whether or not the that move will help him return to his “glory days,” as he himself said, can be questioned. However, it is another reminder that Wilson is back in a familiar setting.
“I can feel the structure,” Wilson said about his first visit to the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium. “I can feel the hard work in the atmosphere because I feel like everybody is just there to work. There’s really no goofing around, there’s nothing to play about. When you enter that building, there’s only one mind-set and that’s to work.”