New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft denied on Wednesday that the team’s unprecedented free agent spending spree this offseason was in response to watching Tom Brady win the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay.
Speaking with reporters, Kraft also blamed Cam Newton’s poor results last season on COVID-19. The 2015 NFL MVP, who threw for only eight touchdowns in his first year with New England, tested positive for the disease and missed one game, then presided over three straight losses when he returned.
“I’m not sure he had the proper weapons around him, then he got COVID,” 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 as quarterback, the Patriots stumbled to a 7-9 record last year after the three-time NFL MVP signed with the Buccaneers. 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,” Kraft added. “Everybody on the outside doesn’t always know what’s going on.”
Kraft said watching Brady win the Super Bowl with the Buccaneers was not as painful as watching the Patriots flop. After winning 11 straight AFC East titles -- and 16 of the previous 17 -- New England finished in third place in the division and below .500 for the first time since 2000, coach Bill Belichick’s first season with the team.
“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,” he said. “The bottom line here is winning. That’s what this business is, and when we don’t, it’s not a good feeling.”
Hence, the spending spree.
The Patriots shelled out almost $160 million in guaranteed money in free agency -- an NFL record, according to ESPN. Among the biggest names: linebacker Matthew Judon ($32 million guaranteed), tight ends Jonnu Smith ($31 million) and Hunter Henry ($25 million), and 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.
Also signing: Newton, who got a $3.5 million guarantee for one year despite throwing for just 2,657 yards, with 12 interceptions to go with his eight touchdowns. He did run for 12 TDs and broke Steve Grogan’s 42-year-old single-season franchise record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 592.
“In the end, I trust coach Belichick’s ability to build a team and put the right players in position," Kraft said, adding that he expected better things this season from both Newton and Jarrett Stidham, a 2019 fourth-round draft choice from Auburn who lost the backup job to journeyman Brian Hoyer last season. “I’m not sure Jarrett has ever really gotten a fair shot.
“Long term, we have to find a way for Jarrett Stidham or someone new we bring in -- one way or another, we have to get that position solidified,” Kraft said.
“This isn’t someone where you‘ve got algebraic formulas” to figure it out, he said. “Think of the personnel wizards who passed on Tom Brady. No one knows what’s going to happen.”
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