It wasn’t exactly news when Patriots owner Bob Kraft said during the offseason that the team hasn’t drafted well in recent years.
There is no doubt that the team’s poor drafting – along with the departure of Tom Brady – played a major role in the Patriots missing the playoffs last year with a 7-9 record.
The New York Post a year ago rated the Patriots drafting the previous five years as 25th in the league and noted they were one of two teams to not draft a Pro Bowler in that span. It didn’t help that the Patriots twice didn’t have a first round pick and twice picked 32nd.
Still the fact that Kraft said it raised eyebrows. Kraft has always defended Bill Belichick the last two decades, mainly because he won six Super Bowls. He was in Belichick’s corner when the coach faced controversies including Deflategate and filming the opposing team’s signals. And when Belichick went nine years without winning a Super Bowl when Brady was in his prime.
Kraft also said, “I really hope, and I believe, I’ve seen a different approach this year.”
Kraft didn’t elaborate on what this different approach is and it is not in Belichick’s DNA to give any answers.
In his lone press conference of the offseason, Belichick only made the generic comment that the Patriots are always trying to do better.
He did list several staffers who are playing major roles in the draft, seemingly suggesting he is not a one-man band.
One theory is that the Patriots need a general manager because Belichick is spread too thin running the whole show.
In the past, Brady was the Great Eraser, rubbing out the Belichick mistakes by carrying the team. One theory is that he left because he didn’t feel he had a good enough supporting cast. He found one in Tampa and won his seventh Super Bowl.
Whatever the problem is, Belichick will be under the microscope this year. Nobody expects him to win another Super Bowl but missing the playoffs a second year in a row would raise more questions about whether Belichick can turn this team around and what Kraft will do if he doesn’t.
Belichick did make a major plunge in free agency, spending $56.25 million in guaranteed money to bring in the top two tight ends on the market in Jonnu Smith and Henry Hunter. That is $5.25 million more in guaranteed money than he spent the last three years. That will give the quarterback two new targets.
What Belichick will do at quarterback in the draft is another big question. He’s got the 15th pick. Does he trade up to draft one on the first round? Does he draft one at 15 or not draft one on the first round, which he has never done in 26 years running the drafts with Cleveland and the Patriots.
For now, the quarterback is Cam Newton, who went 7-8 last year with eight touchdown passes and 10 picks. But he didn’t join the team until July and had to deal with a bout of Covid. Will he play better this year with a year in the system under his belt? We’ll see.
The only certain thing is that this will be a pivotal year for Belichick. Complicating the situation is the fact the AFC East is no longer a punching bag. The Patriots went 1-3 against the Bills and Dolphins last year. For years, winning the division was virtually guaranteed.
All this helps explain why Belichick needs to have a good draft if the Patriots are to be playoff worthy. He no longer has the Great Eraser to wipe out his mistakes. And he has an owner willing to publicly note his drafting record in recent years.
Times have changed for Belichick and we’ll see if he can adjust.