New England Patriots front office deserves some credit for 2021 season

Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /

New England Patriots Head Coach/de facto General Manager Bill Belichick was voted as the Pro Football Writers of America Executive of the Year for the 2021 NFL season earlier this week.

This is a nice award for the Patriots head football honcho who has been at the helm of this dynastic operation for 22 years now. It’s the first time that he has won that award.

This space has been critical of the Patriots personnel operation in the past, but 2021 was certainly not a year in which to be negative.

The award was well-deserved and there’s lots of credit to spread around. Let’s take a quick look at some of the key players involved in making this award, and the successful season, possible.

New England Patriots key figures in 2021 personnel success

It’s only fitting to start with the guy who won the award, Mr. Bill Belichick. As the unquestionable top man in the football organization, all things football go through Belichick.

The ultimate glory or blame rests on his shoulders. He’s been in the business for some 40 years now, and he has the thick skin necessary to have had such longevity in this league.

Related Story. What Josh McDaniels potential departure means for the Pats. light

Belichick oversees personnel, as he does all the other aspects of the football operation. He was the person who hired Dave Ziegler as his new personnel director once Nick Caserio left to take the open general manager position with the Houston Texans.

Ziegler entered the scene as the top personnel guy under Belichick with high expectations in this space, and he has exceeded them so far.

Personnel departures provided an opportunity to be bold and aggressive, and Ziegler and his team, armed with owner Robert Kraft’s cash (more on that later) brought the right suggestions to Belichick for implementation.

Ziegler helped engineer free-agent acquisitions like Matthew Judon, Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry, Kyle Van Noy, Ted Karras, Jalen Mills, and others who improved the lackluster 7-9 2020 team and transformed them into an AFC East Championship contender at 10-7.

They didn’t hit on all the acquisitions, but without those free agents, the 10-7 season would not have happened. No one hits on all attempts at adding players.

In addition, Ziegler also knocked the 2021 NFL draft out-of-the-park by hitting on three top contributors. Such a return is unusual to say the least under Belichick, but Ziegler pulled it off in his first try.

He delivered the team’s starting quarterback in the first round pick in Mac Jones who had an excellent rookie season at the helm pf the Patriots offense.

Then, he added possible future star defensive lineman, Christian Barmore, through a trade-up in the second round. Barmore is the best defensive lineman seen in these parts since the great Vince Wilfork. The sky is the limit for this young man.

Then, in the fourth round, he finally delivered the big running back the Patriots have needed since the departure of LeGarrette Blount. That would be Rhamondre Stevenson who also had a very nice rookie season.

This was the Patriots best draft in years and has been touted as the No. 1 draft in 2021 by Pro Football Focus. That is an anomaly for certain, but a nice one.

In fact, Ziegler has done such a fine job as Director of Player Personnel that he has been touted recently for a possible General Manager role with the Las Vegas Raiders. His loss would be deeply felt.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft got the ball rolling

The 2021 success, though it ended poorly with the playoff drubbing at the hands of the Buffalo Bills, was in no small part also attributable to the New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft.

Mr. Kraft made two major contributions to this personnel renaissance. He made it abundantly clear after the 2020 season that he expected two things from the team’s football operation.

Uncharacteristically for him, he publicly stated he wanted a good draft and he also wanted a quarterback (presumably a young one) around whom to build the next generation of success.

Next. Expectations for the Patriots offseason should be tempered. dark

To assist, Kraft opened his wallet and guaranteed a whopping $155M in salaries to his free-agent class. That’s what’s called commitment. Both of these objectives (or perhaps mandates?) were indeed achieved in 2021 by Belichick and company.

So, Belichick got the award, but his owner, his new Director of Player Personnel, as well as many other staff and scouts, contributed significantly. Congratulations to Bill and all.