Robert Kraft

Patriots Notes: Kraft, Newton, Stidham, Free Agency

The Patriots went 7-9 during the inaugural season of the post-Tom Brady era, making it the first time New England had missed the postseason since 2008 (when the team was forced to rely on Matt Cassel in place of an injured Brady). Robert Kraft and the entire Patriots brass are focused on getting back to the playoffs, and they made that clear when they handed out an NFL-record $165MM in guaranteed money during the early parts of free agency.

“What happened here last year was not something to our liking. We had to make the corrections,” Kraft said (via ESPN’s Mike Reiss). “In all the businesses we’re involved in, we try to take advantage of inefficiencies in the market. We were in a unique cap situation this year and it allowed us to try to [fix] things we missed, to a certain extent, in the draft. So this was our best opportunity.”

While Bill Belichick and the Patriots front office were able to patch some holes by spending in free agency, Kraft also acknowledged that this strategy isn’t a recipe for long-term success.

“In the end, if you want to have a good, consistent, winning football team, you can’t do it in free agency. You have to do it through the draft. I don’t feel we’ve done the greatest job the last few years and I really hope, and I believe, I’ve seen a different approach this year,” Kraft said.

Tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, linebacker Matt Judon, and wideout Nelson Agholor were among the Patriots’ major free agent acquisitions.

Let’s check out some more notes out of New England:

  • Kraft seemed to excuse quarterback Cam Newton‘s uneven play in 2020, noting that the veteran was joining a new team during an abbreviated preseason, had COVID-19, and dealt with an inconsistent receiver corps. “In fairness to Cam, I’m not sure he had the proper weapons around him last year,” Kraft said. “I really do believe Cam getting COVID, and what it did to the team, it changed a lot. Now we’ll get a chance to see…Players on the team, in the locker room, really love the guy. In the end, I trust Coach Belichick’s ability to build a team, and put the right players in the best position to succeed.”
  • While the owner seemed to hint that Newton would be under center next season, he also kept the door open for former fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham, who was expected to receive more playing time during his sophomore season. “I don’t know that Jarrett has ever really gotten a fair shot,” Kraft said. “We have to wait and see what happens, and we still have the draft. … Quarterback is the most important position on the team. One way or the other, we have to get that position solidified.”
  • While the Patriots certainly had the ability to spend on free agents, Reiss writes that Belichick’s “cachet” was a major reason why the Patriots were able to recruit players. “This opportunity couldn’t be passed up because of the prestige, being coached by some of the best coaches in the NFL,” said linebacker Raekwon McMillan. “Coach Belichick told me that he’s been watching my career. For a player, you’re talking to a Hall of Fame coach, that really inspired me.”
  • Former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia rejoined the organization this offseason as an assistant, but Reiss notes that the coach’s role has continued to evolve. Patricia has spent recent weeks helping to negotiate and finalize contracts, thus serving “as an added layer of support to Belichick,” per Reiss.

Extra Points: Coaches, GMs, Schedule, OTAs

After the NFL expanded the Rooney Rule this offseason, it has a “ready list” of minority candidates for head coaching jobs, offensive and defensive coordinator positions and GM candidates, according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. Beyond some of the big names — Eric Bieniemy, Marvin Lewis, Todd Bowles, Leslie Frazier among them — coaches like Clemson OC Tony Elliott, Penn State HC James Franklin and Michigan State HC Mel Tucker appear on the HC portion of the list. On the GM side, some first-time candidates include Bills pro scouting director Malik Boyd, Raiders pro scouting director Dwayne Joseph, Ravens exec Vincent Newsome and Chargers player personnel director JoJo Wooden. Former Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson — now the franchise’s pro scouting director — also appears on the GM portion of the list. The Rooney Rule now mandates teams interview two minority HC candidates and expanded the rule to include coordinator positions. Franchises must also open their senior-level executive jobs to minority and female candidates.

Here is the latest from around the league:

  • Normal NFL offseasons feature several weeks’ worth of OTAs preceding a June minicamp, but the NFLPA would like a schedule that looks closer to this year’s virtual offseason. Union executive director DeMaurice Smith said “there is absolutely no reason” for the NFL to return to full-scale OTAs, per Sports Business Daily’s Ben Fischer (subscription required). Having seen no decline in performance after this atypical offseason, union president J.C. Tretter agrees with Smith. This would be a stretch for coaching staffs, which have steadily seen their time with players cut back. The past two CBA agreements have significantly limited offseason and padded training camp workouts, and 2020’s COVID-19-altered offseason created steeper acclimation challenges for young players.
  • The NFL has agreed to a formula for its 17th regular-season game, making it increasingly likely this season will be the last one of the 16-game era. In what will be the first shift to the league’s scheduling setup since 2002, the 17-game schedule will feature a fifth interconference game. The schedule will pit an AFC division winner against an NFC division winner, and on down the line within each division, but the extra interconference game will not feature two teams who played the previous year, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. In the event the NFL moves to the 17-game season in 2021, the Chiefs and Buccaneers could not play again next season; the earliest such a regular-season rematch would occur would be 2022.
  • Roger Goodell may well be on board with shortening the preseason slate from four games to two. The commissioner “seemed in favor” of halving the preseason schedule at last week’s owners meetings, according to ESPN.com’s Seth Wickersham, but some high-profile owners are not. Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, John Mara and Art Rooney II dismissed the idea of going from three preseason games — the new number as of the 2020 CBA — to two, according to ESPN. No vote occurred on the matter, though Goodell discussing the idea publicly points to it remaining an issue going forward.

Brady Fallout: Bucs, Belichick, Colts, Hoyer

The Buccaneers‘ signing of the most accomplished free agent in NFL history triggered a ripple effect in several cities. That started in Charlotte. Although neither Bruce Arians nor Jason Licht spoke to Tom Brady until Wednesday of last week, the Bucs believed they had a “shell of a deal” with Brady by Tuesday, Peter King of NBC Sports reports. This was hours before the future Hall of Fame quarterback announced he would no longer return to the Patriots. The Bucs’ discussions with Brady’s agent, Don Yee, Tuesday prompted them to bow out of the Teddy Bridgewater pursuit, King adds. Bridgewater’s Panthers offer prompted the Bucs to give him an answer, and they chose to stay in the Brady pursuit without a full commitment. The Bucs had been linked to Bridgewater for weeks.

At February’s end, the Bucs’ quarterback hierarchy went Brady-Bridgewater-Jameis Winston, King notes. Tampa Bay had also been linked to Philip Rivers in February, but it became clear the Colts were his top option.

Here is the latest fallout from the Bucs’ Brady signing:

  • Brady’s camp expressed interest in the Colts, but King notes the interest was not mutual. The prospect of a Rivers-Colts partnership surfaced shortly after the Chargers revealed they would not re-sign him, and while the notion of Rivers-over-Brady sounds interesting based on the veterans’ accolades, Stephen Holder of The Athletic tweets the Colts’ preference of going with a one-year quarterback arrangement probably did not align with Brady’s hopes of a multiyear commitment. Rivers signed a one-year, $25MM deal; Brady became a Buccaneer for two years and $50MM fully guaranteed. Brady also expressed interest in the 49ers, and the Titans were a long-rumored suitor. These franchises joined the Colts and Raiders in leaving the Brady race early.
  • Early this offseason, Brady’s camp put out feelers to other teams, and ESPN.com’s Seth Wickersham notes many executives around the league viewed the quarterback as being driven by ill will toward Bill Belichick that they could not tell if he wanted out of New England or merely wanted Robert Kraft to step in and broker a new Pats deal. Belichick refused to give Brady the extension he sought last summer, and Wickersham adds that a Brady-Belichick conversation in late 2017 about the quarterback’s future with the Patriots ended with a “blowup.” This meeting appears to have happened just before Wickersham’s “tension in New England”-centered report that indicated Kraft’s intervention helped drive the Jimmy Garoppolo-to-San Francisco deal. The Patriots gave Brady an incentive package in 2018, leading to his extension-in-name-only 2019 contract.
  • As for the Patriots‘ plans, they may actually be planning a Brian HoyerJarrett Stidham quarterback battle. Hoyer could have earned more money elsewhere but wanted to return to New England because he was told he will have a chance to vie for the starting job, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com adds (video link). The Patriots, as of now, do not have Andy Dalton on their radar and are viewed as being high on Stidham, who has attempted four NFL passes.

Latest On Tom Brady: Kraft, Bolts, Titans

We still have more than a week remaining until the legal tampering period opens. That means the Tom Brady rumors still have plenty of news cycles to fill. Here is the latest from the Brady free agency front:

  • Robert Kraft‘s potential intervention in the Patriots‘ effort to retain Brady has loomed over the franchise’s process, to some degree, and NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran helped set some parameters for the owner’s role here. If the financial gap between Brady and the Pats is considerable, Curran notes Kraft will not intervene and force Bill Belichick to retain the 20-year veteran quarterback. However, if a small gap exists between Brady and Belichick, Curran adds that Kraft will encourage both to bridge it and keep the future Hall of Famer in New England. Brady and Belichick spoke recently, and with nine days remaining until the tampering period opens, the size of the chasm between the two parties should be known by now.
  • While the Titans seem to have emerged as the most serious threat to the Patriots for Brady, one NFL source does not believe they would cast off Ryan Tannehill after he piloted Tennessee’s 2019 iteration to the AFC title game. “They’re not going to do Ryan Tannehill like that,” a source close to the Titans’ coaching staff told the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin. The Titans have been discussing a deal with Tannehill for months but are now plotting a Brady plan as well, and the team may be quite confident in said plan.
  • The Chargers have gone quiet on the Brady front, but Volin notes a source indicated the 42-year-old passer’s only realistic option outside of the Patriots would be going to Los Angeles. That is an interesting description of Brady’s market, pointing to some of these suitors not being as high on the legendary quarterback as other reports would indicate. The Bolts’ lack of history regarding these types of moves in free agency, however, leads the Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer to question how serious the Chargers’ pursuit of Brady will be.
  • In case you missed the latest team to move into the Brady rumors, the 49ers are now connected to the Bay Area native.

AFC East Notes: Brady, Winters, Brown

Tom Brady‘s impending unrestricted free agency will be the largest story of the offseason. It remains unclear whether he will be returning to the Patriots or looking for a new home outside of New England. One important element of negotiations revolves around Brady’s relationship with owner Robert Kraft.

A source tells Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that he “wonders” if Kraft will instruct head coach and president Bill Belichick to do whatever is necessary to keep Brady in a Pats uniform. While little is known about Brady’s own preferences, the power dynamics within the organization itself could very well play a role as well.

  • Many expect Jets guard Brian Winters to be released to make $7MM in salary cap space, but Rich Cimini of ESPN notes that the organization might want to find a way to retain the guard at a reduced salary through a restructure. Winters, a seven-year veteran, has spent his entire career with the Jets and started 9 games for the team last season.
  • Former Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown appears to be taking a larger role on the team’s coaching staff, per Mike Reiss of ESPN. Reiss noted that Brown, who has been on the Pats coaching staff in a limited capacity, was involved in meetings with prospects at the scouting combine.

Kraft: Patriots “Plan To” Keep Tom Brady

As expected, Tom Brady rumors have picked up steam over the past couple of days. It has been clear for some time that the chance of a split between the future Hall-of-Famer and the Patriots is as great as it’s ever been, but a return to Foxborough is still on the table.

And team owner Robert Kraft wants to see Brady back with the Pats for his age-43 season. Kraft was asked by a TMZ reporter on Tuesday if the Patriots are going to re-sign Brady, and Kraft said, “we plan to” (h/t Doug Kyed of NESN.com).

Of course, we recently heard that Brady is looking forward to exploring free agency, and even if he ultimately remains with the Patriots, it will not be before he has first had the opportunity to test the market. The Chargers continue to be mentioned as a possible landing spot for Brady, and the Colts and Raiders have also been named as speculative fits.

Brady is not the player he once was, but the fact that he is still playing is remarkable in and of itself. In 2019, the Pats were driven primarily by their defense, as Brady posted a fairly pedestrian 88.0 QB rating. But with a very underwhelming collection of talent at wide receiver and tight end, he still threw for over 4,000 yards and 24 TDs against just eight interceptions.

The Chargers boast much more receiving talent than the Patriots do at the moment, and they also have a running back in Austin Ekeler who is adept at catching passes out of the backfield (assuming the Bolts bring Ekeler back, which they almost certainly will). With a strong supporting cast, there is no reason to think Brady cannot play at a starter level for one or two more seasons.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC East Notes: Gronkowski, Darnold, Folk, Dolphins

It’s no secret that the Patriots have been searching for a weapon to replace the production they received from now retired tight end Rob Gronkowski. Wide receivers Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown both looked like solutions at various points earlier in the season, but neither remain on New England’s roster. However, it appears the team’s owner Robert Kraft still hopes to get Gronkowski back on the field.

When Gronkowski was cleaning out his locker after announcing his retirement in March, Kraft told him the team would remain hopeful that he would return late in the season for another playoff run, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. While it has been known that the organization hoped Gronkowski would change his mind, no one had reported Kraft’s involvement.

Rapoport notes in his story that, according to sources, Gronkowski remains content with his decision, but if he wants to return this season he has to decide soon. The deadline for retired players to return during the season and play is November 30. New England will obviously plan ahead without him, but they surely will be hoping for a change of heart.

Here more from around the AFC East:

  • Kicker Nick Folk has meshed into the Patriots locker room well, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. Folk already knew the man he replaced, Stephen Gostkowski, and offensive lineman Joe Thuney and Ted Karras. All four had been enrolled in some of the same classes as they worked toward master’s degrees in past offseasons. Folk was signed after Gostkowski suffered a torn labrum in his left hip. Reiss also notes that Folk suffered the same injury in 2009 and could offer Gostkowski valuable insight during his recovery.
  • Jets quarterback Sam Darnold is “taking charge” in the locker room, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com. After Darnold’s poor performances against both the Jaguars and Patriots, he has become more assertive in meetings with the coaching staff. Cimini reports that Darnold had previously been very deferential to head coach Adam Gase, but now offers feedback and his own opinion more readily.
  • NFL draft experts and scouts were watching this weeks game between LSU and Alabama closely. The Dolphins sent an especially large contingent, which included two scouts and general manager Chris Grier, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter. Miami has long been tied to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa through the #Tank4Tua trend. However, even if Miami does have the top pick in the draft, some experts are beginning to place LSU’s quarterback Joe Burrow above Tagovailoa. It appears Miami’s top brass got an up-close look at both players on Saturday.

Antonio Brown Rumors: Kraft, Suitors, Cap

Antonio Brown‘s latest stay in free agency is, as expected, lasting longer than his brief unattached period between his Raiders and Patriots stints. He remains unemployed as Week 3 Sunday nears. Here is the latest from the Brown rumor mill, beginning with more on the Patriots’ decision to cut him:

  • Robert Kraft became “enraged” while learning the details of Brown sending texts to a woman who accused him of sexual misconduct, and Jeff Howe of The Athletic reports (subscription required) he and Bill Belichick then spoke of the receiver’s status in New England. The two Pats power brokers agreed Brown had to go, after only 11 days with the team. The report from SI.com’s Robert Klemko about the messages broke late Thursday night, and barely 12 hours later, Brown had seen a third team part ways with him in less than seven months.
  • While the Patriots are expected to have an avenue to avoid paying Brown anything beyond his Week 2 and Week 3 base salaries, Field Yates of ESPN.com notes (via Twitter) the receiver is still counting $4.5MM on New England’s cap. As it stands currently, Brown represents a $4.5MM cap hold on the Pats’ 2019 and ’20 cap sheets.
  • If and when a Brown grievance comes regarding his $9MM signing bonus — which was set to be paid in two installments, Monday and then in early 2020 — Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap writes a Patriots victory in that setting would give them more than $5MM in 2020 cap credits.
  • The Seahawks have already come out and said they are not interested in Brown this time around. Another suitor who was interested earlier this month is bowing out this time, too, per NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (video link). This may be a common refrain, as Brown is dealing with far more troublesome issues than he was when the Raiders cut the cord.
  • It would be hard to imagine the Redskins pursuing Brown, considering what Jay Gruden saw his brother go through over the summer in trying to manage the mercurial talent, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes the NFC East franchise should not be ruled out. This is the team that placed a waiver claim on Reuben Foster when no one else did, and Florio adds this could be more of a Dan SnyderBruce Allen decision. Foster had been arrested on multiple occasions when Washington claimed him, and it does not appear an arrest is in the cards for Brown. The Redskins are also 0-2 and thin on skill-position talent. For now, the 31-year-old superstar is in the clear to seek NFL employment, though a commissioner’s exempt list stay may be on the horizon if he signs anywhere. That will hurt his chances of playing for another team in 2019.

Caserio Fallout: Pats, Texans, Kraft, Staff

The complex process that has taken shape since the Texans fired Brian Gaine still leaves the franchise without a GM, and, as of now at least, it looks like the Patriots will need to prepare for a front office shakeup in 2020.

Although the Texans are no longer pursuing top GM target Nick Caserio, and the Patriots have since dropped the tampering charges, the longtime Pats player personnel director is reportedly prepared to leave New England after his contract expires in 2020. The Texans are considering going without a GM this year, likely in hopes of landing Caserio next year, but they obviously run the risk of another potentially GM-needy team swooping in for the long-coveted executive.

Caserio may not be the only Pats exec on the market. Patriots college scouting director Monti Ossenfort‘s contract is believed to be up after this year as well, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. The Patriots made the unusual move to block Ossenfort from what would have been a major promotion last year, when the Texans requested to meet with both he and Caserio for the GM job that went to Gaine. Ossenfort has been with the Patriots for 15 years, having served in his current position for five.

The report about Caserio’s Patriots contract containing language that forbids him from meeting with another team, due to a raise the team gave him at some point, appears to be accurate. Not only does Caserio’s contract have this clause, but the Patriots offered a similar deal to members of their scouting department to try to keep the group intact, Breer adds. The Texans opted not to challenge this clause and thus take on Robert Kraft.

Another possible reason for the Patriots blocking Caserio from becoming the Texans’ GM: executive VP Jack Easterby‘s situation. Easterby left the Patriots to take a job with the Texans earlier this year and did so in part because Kraft was charged in the Florida prostitution sting, Breer reports. The ex-pastor and former Patriots character coach has become a key organizational voice early in his Houston tenure. Both he and Bill O’Brien have extensive Caserio ties.

The Texans have not conducted any GM interviews since the Caserio mess began, and Breer expects O’Brien to spend a year essentially running the team. Player personnel director Matt Bazirgan and college scouting director James Liipfert join Easterby as key Texans executives whose roles would stand to grow in a GM-less year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Kraft, Patriots, Bengals

Patriots owner Robert Kraft might not be out of the woods just yet. We heard a few days ago that a judge had ruled in favor of Kraft’s legal team to suppress video evidence in his case that had allegedly been obtained illegally. It was a major procedural win for Kraft, and indicated he might get out of his situation without being convicted of anything. That being said, the government isn’t going down without a fight. Prosecutors are appealing the judges decision, and are looking to get the video evidence reinstated, per T.J. Quinn of ESPN.com.

Kraft’s attorney William Burck celebrated the news, saying it was a sign that the government’s case was very weak without the tape. The lead prosecutor is “acknowledging he has no case without the illegal video recordings that four Florida judges have now found to be unconstitutional,” Burck said. “No evidence means no trial. So the state had only two options — drop the case or appeal. They chose to appeal, but we are confident the appellate court will agree with Judge Hanser and the other judges who threw out their illegally obtained evidence.” Even if Burck is right and the state eventually drops the case, the Patriots boss could still face discipline from the league. How likely Roger Goodell is to issue punishment without a conviction is anyone’s guess. We’ll keep you updated when a ruling on the appeal comes in.

Here’s more from the AFC on a quiet Sunday afternoon:

  • Speaking of the Patriots, they now have a very crowded running backs room. James White, Sony Michel, core special teamer Brandon Bolden (who just got $2MM guaranteed to return to New England), and last month’s third round pick Damien Harris all seem like locks to make the roster and be active on game-days. As such, Rex Burkhead could be the odd-man out, writes Jeff Howe of The Athletic. Howe doesn’t think the Pats will cut Burkhead as long as he’s healthy, but he could be facing an uphill battle to be on the active-46 on Sundays. Howe points out that Bill Belichick is usually pretty steadfast about keeping only four running backs active, but he could make an exception if Burkhead’s special teams prowess is deemed too valuable. Burkhead is heading into the second year of a three-year extension he signed in March of 2018, and it’s not inconceivable he could be cut this offseason. Injuries limited him to just eight games last year, and ten in 2017.
  • John Ross didn’t participate in the Bengals’ veterans voluntary minicamp last month due to “tightness,” per Geoff Hobson of the team’s official site. This isn’t necessarily major news, but it’s notable because of Ross’ lengthy history with lower body injuries. Groin issues forced Ross to miss a few games last year, and he only played in three games as a rookie due to shoulder and knee issues, so it’s troubling he’s dealing with any sort of “tightness.” The ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft has proven he can be a burner, but not much else. We heard back in February the team was shopping the young wideout, but the Bengals pushed back on those reports soon after. New Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor has promised Ross a fresh start, but he’ll need to stay healthy to get that. He’ll have his work cut out for him carving out targets behind A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, who are entrenched as the first and second options. If he wants to avoid being labeled as a bust, he needs a big 2019.