Robert Kraft confirmed an important bit of news Wednesday afternoon: The Patriots do, in fact, value the quarterback position.
“Look, the quarterback is the most important position on the team. We know that,” Kraft said on Wednesday afternoon, holding his first press conference with Boston media in more than a year.
The rest of the NFL has always viewed the quarterback as the most important position, but it wasn’t always clear that Bill Belichick and the Patriots did.
They made life unbearable for Tom Brady even though he helped them win six Super Bowls. They squandered the best depth chart in the league, letting Brady walk away for nothing, giving Jimmy Garoppolo away for a second-round pick, and trading Jacoby Brissett for a backup receiver. Their solution in a post-Brady world was to wait for the last quarterback available, then sign Cam Newton to a near-minimum contract.
But Kraft acknowledged Wednesday in a 30-minute conference call that the 7-9 record of 2020 was “horrible,” and that the Patriots need to find a solution at quarterback.
“One way or another, we have to get that position solidified,” Kraft said. “The bottom line is we want to win, and when we don’t, we’re not happy.”
Kraft doesn’t seem thrilled that all of his splurging this offseason – the Patriots committed to $175 million in full guarantees to more than 20 free agents – didn’t include spending big on a quarterback. The Patriots paid big bucks for two new tight ends, two receivers and several new defenders, yet their only move at quarterback so far was to bring back Cam Newton on another low-paying deal ($3.5 million guaranteed). Newton and Jarrett Stidham, who could barely get on the field last year, are the only quarterbacks on the roster.
Newton and the Patriots finished 30th in passing and 27th in points scored last year, and all of that money Kraft spent on free agents this month won’t mean much if the Patriots don’t get better quarterback play this season.
Kraft is doing his best to remain optimistic.
“Look, Cam is a terrific guy. I really enjoyed getting to know him last year,” Kraft said. “I’ll tell you this — players on the team in the locker room really love the guy. And so in the end, I trust coach Belichick’s ability to build a team and put the right players in the best position to succeed. Over the last couple decades, he’s done OK.”
Kraft is right — the players do love Newton. But it’s not an overwhelming endorsement when you are asked if you are comfortable with Newton as the starter, and the best thing you can say is that at least the guys in the locker room like him.
Kraft said most of the right things on Wednesday about Newton, Stidham, and of course, Brady. Kraft said he would have loved to keep Brady for his entire career, but “after 20 years I thought he was entitled to make a decision that was what he thought was best for him.”
“Like marriages sometimes, no one knows on the outside everything going on, and you try to balance a lot,” Kraft said. “And you know, it is what it is.”
Kraft also said that this spring’s free agent bonanza had nothing to do with Brady winning the Super Bowl with the Buccaneers and the Patriots going 7-9. Many people, of course, believe otherwise.
“To be frank, no. This is about what’s doing right for our team,” Kraft said. “I love Tom Brady, and he’s great, but he’s moved on.”
Kraft was being magnanimous, but he may have revealed his true feelings a few minutes later. He was asked if he had wished that the Patriots had done things differently toward the end of Brady’s career so he would have wanted to remain with the Patriots.
“I’ll make this commitment to any player in the future,” Kraft said. “Anyone who spends 20 years with us and helps us win six Super Bowls …” he said before trailing off. Kraft didn’t finish the sentence, but it seems clear where he was heading: “We won’t make the mistake of letting him finish his career with another team.”
But Brady is gone and not coming back, and the Patriots have to figure out how to get themselves out of quarterback limbo.
It’s certainly possible they make a bold move for one next month in the draft. For now, Kraft is forced to put his faith in Newton and Stidham.
Kraft did make valid points about Newton’s performance last year, while also taking backhanded shots at Belichick.
“In fairness to Cam, I’m not sure he had the proper weapons around him last year,” Kraft said. “And then he got COVID, and there were a lot of things that happened.”
Newton played well in the first month of the season as the Patriots began 2-1. But he got COVID before the Week 4 game at Kansas City, and it threw him and the Patriots into disarray over the next month-plus. Kraft believes that a second year in the Patriots’ system will benefit Newton.
“I really do believe that Cam getting COVID, it changed a lot when we were in a good place,” Kraft said. “But he’s more familiar with what goes on here, and just like younger players from last year, we’ll see what happens this year.”
Kraft even praised Stidham, who was one of the Patriots’ biggest disappointments last year in that he could never wrestle the QB job away from an under-performing Newton. Stidham, now entering his third year, has been organizing unofficial workouts with his Patriots teammates in California this offseason.
“I don’t know that Jarrett has ever really gotten a fair shot,” Kraft said. “One thing I liked is he showed great initiative in putting these workouts together on his own out in California… I’m not sure he’s really been tested. I’m a very big fan of his.”
The Patriots went from having “the best quarterback situation in the league” in 2017, as Belichick put it then, to one of the worst situations in the NFL today.
The good news is that the team’s brain trust at least admits that the quarterback position is important. They don’t think they are smarter than everyone else in that regard.
But did the Patriots do enough to put the team back in championship contention? Is spending $175 million guaranteed on the pieces around Newton enough to make him a better quarterback?
Kraft is putting on a good face, but he seems as skeptical as the rest of us.