Robert Kraft spoke to media yesterday about the New England Patriots' whirlwind of an offseason that featured an uncharacteristic spending spree in free agency. One thing he said that has driven several discussions on the morning sports talk studio shows was about the Patriots' recent draft history.
When asked about the discrepancy between teams that spend big in free agency and teams that don't, Kraft voiced his belief that consistent winning cannot be found via free agency. The draft is where good teams find long-term contributors that make up the foundation for winning football. Having great players on cheap contracts for years at a time makes it easier to fill out the rest of the team with bigger contracts. It is harder to do it the other way around.
Pretty straightforward, right? Nothing too crazy. This is Team Building 101 stuff. But Kraft raised some eyebrows with his follow-up comment:
"I don't feel we've done the greatest job the last few years and I really hope, and I believe -- I have seen a different approach this year," Kraft added. "In the end, it all comes out to what happens on the field and how well people execute. You really don't know a draft — how good a draft is — for at least two years. And especially in the environment we're in now where I am not quite sure what our offseason training and learning abilities will be. It's something we're working very hard with the union today and I think last year younger players were really disadvantaged because they didn't have the time to come and learn and be part of it."
His comment about New England's recent draft failures spurred many a discussion today, including on Get Up, in which Jeff Saturday argued passionately that Kraft is taking a shot at Bill Belichick, the man responsible for drafting, by speaking these thoughts in a public forum.
If there is anything we know about Belichick, it's that he is perhaps the greatest objective judge of talent in regards to when his team is on the field in NFL history. If a guy is falling off, Belichick will see it and trade him before anyone else realizes what happened. If an undrafted rookie is outperforming a veteran on a massive contract in training camp, Belichick is going to play the rookie and have zero regrets. If some scheme or personnel grouping isn't working in the middle of a game, Belichick will change things up immediately. We've seen those exact situations play out over and over for two decades, to great success.
That is not the same as Belichick being one of the best drafters in NFL history. It is much easier, relatively speaking, for Belichick to watch his team in practice and decide who is good and who is not than watching college tape and predicting who will be good and who will be bad in a Patriots uniform. In terms of net impact, Belichick is certainly a good drafter. He's found a lot of great players. But he is not perfect because the draft is a crapshoot most of the time.
Pairing that with the knowledge that Belichick is unafraid of harsh judgements of his own decision-making and teams, I don't know how you can interpret Kraft's comments as shade and believe that Belichick will be displeased about it. Because the last few drafts have been objectively terrible for New England. The best player Belichick drafted from 2017-2019 is probably Jake Bailey, a punter. First-round picks Isaiah Wynn and N'Keal Harry are busts for different reasons. Sony Michel helped the team win a Super Bowl but isn't a foundational player crucial to long-term success. There have been a few fine players-- Ja'Whuan Bentley and Chase Winovich come to mind-- but there have been no Richard Seymours or Dont'a Hightowers or Rob Gronkowskis to be found recently.
Saturday's argument that Kraft is being unfair because Belichick is a good drafter would be true if Kraft said the Patriots have not done a good job drafting as a whole. But he specifically mentioned the last few years. Belichick clearly agrees because he just handed out hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed money to fix the positions he failed to address in the draft. He spent two picks on tight ends in 2020 then turned around and signed the two best players available in that position. He added two new receivers after realizing Harry wasn't going to do anything in a Patriots uniform. Belichick gave Matthew Judon a huge deal because he hasn't found an impact edge rusher in the draft since Trey Flowers in 2015.
Kraft was just stating facts. Facts that Belichick will not dispute, as evidenced by his spending spree. Let's not make this more than what it is.