Patriots owner Robert Kraft denied that the team’s unprecedented free agent spending this offseason was in response to watching Tom Brady win the Super Bowl with the Bucs.
Speaking with reporters, Kraft also blamed the poor results last season of Brady’s replacement, Cam Newton, on the coronavirus. Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, threw for only eight touchdowns in his first year with New England, tested positive, missed one game, then presided over three straight losses after he returned.
“I’m not sure (Newton) had the proper weapons around him, then he got (COVID-19, the disease cause by the virus),” Kraft said. “When he got going, he was playing pretty well. But he’s more familiar with what goes on here, just like younger players from last year. And we’ll see what happens this year.”
Winners of nine AFC titles and six Super Bowls in 19 seasons with Brady, the Patriots stumbled to a 7-9 record last year after Brady signed with the Bucs in free agency. Kraft said the Patriots could have maneuvered to keep Brady but it was “not the right thing” to do.
“Look, I would have loved for him to have retired as a Patriot. Everybody knew that. But in life, things just happen in a way that you have to balance a lot of things,” Kraft said. “After 20 years, I thought that he was entitled to make a decision that was best for him and where he was at. We gave him the ability to do that. It’s like marriages sometimes. Everybody on the outside doesn’t always know what’s going on.”
Kraft said watching Brady win the Super Bowl with the Bucs was not as painful as watching the Patriots flop. After winning 11 straight AFC East titles, and 16 of 17, New England finished third in the East and below .500 for the first time since 2000, coach Bill Belichick’s first season. “I love Tom Brady, and he’s great. But he’s moved on. What happened here last year was not something to our liking, and we had to make the corrections,” Kraft said.
“When you say ‘How did I feel?’ — it was horrible. After my family, the Patriots are the most important thing in my life. The bottom line here is winning. That’s what this business is, and when we don’t, it’s not a good feeling.”
The Patriots have shelled out almost $160 million in guaranteed money in free agency, an NFL record, ESPN says. Among the biggest names: linebacker Matthew Judon ($32 million guaranteed), tight ends Jonnu Smith ($31 million) and Hunter Henry ($25 million), and Berkeley Prep alum receiver Nelson Agholor ($15 million).
Kraft acknowledged it was uncharacteristic of Belichick to dive into the free agent pool so enthusiastically. He said the team’s 2020 results combined with an advantageous market to make this the time. He also said the team had “missed to a certain extent in the draft” and needed to make up for that.
“If ever there was a year, this would be a year to do it,” he said.
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