The New England Patriots began their 2023 offseason with a good beginning, trading free agent flop Jonnu Smith to the Atlanta Falcons. Unfortunately, they’ve taken steps backward after that one step forward.
No one should be surprised by the mind-numbing personnel moves under this regime. After the trade, they’ve moved to “shore up” their offensive tackle holes. They signing backup offensive tackles Calvin Anderson and now reportedly 34-year-old Riley Reiff. Right position, wrong players.
After grading the Smith trade an A++, the grade for these OT signings is a gift D-. More importantly, the Patriots before they’re through are now again on their way to spending millions on backup players that when aggregated, could have brought a good or maybe even a great player in.
All this leads to one question, how must Robert Kraft be reacting to this defective free agency strategy? Let’s explore this.
New England Patriots personnel operation is out-to-lunch
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is a top businessman and knows what makes sense and what doesn’t. When a competent man like Kraft sees his once-storied franchise going to heck in a hand-basket, he’ll take note.
Last year before an underwhelming draft, Kraft put the team’s football operation, read: Bill Belichick on notice by trashing the team’s recent drafting. He made it clear he wanted better.
He didn’t get it. The team reached way up for a guard in the first round, Cole Strange pegged by most as a third-round pick. Even Strange was surprised.
Additionally, the then-champion LA Rams hierarchy literally laughed out loud at that reach. Kraft’s operation was a laughingstock on national TV.
They compounded that mistake by reaching again in the second round for receiver Tyquan Thornton, a projected third or fourth-rounder. Strange was OK at a position where good players can be found in the third round or later. Thornton did little.
Even the Patriots were able to find All-Pro Joe Thuney in the third and Shaq Mason in the fourth rounds. Reaching for Strange stunk on a whole host of levels. He started the season, was benched by Belichick, and only resurfaced when the O-line was decimated with injuries.
Now Kraft is watching like the rest of us as Belichick spends millions on waiver-wire-level players like Anderson (a former 2019 Patriot cast-off no less) and Reiff.
New England Patriots Robert Kraft is stuck
Kraft’s real dilemma is that he knows Belichick has little ability to run an NFL team’s personnel operation. Also, now borne out by history, without Tom Brady who bailed out the lousy personnel administration for 20 years, he’s just another coach, nothing special.
The problem for Kraft is, he already foolishly allowed Belichick to broom Brady, the best player in NFL history. He surely doesn’t want to broom the supposed greatest coach of all time (emphasis “supposed”) to boot.
That’s Kraft’s dilemma. He knows he’s stuck with Belichick until he surpasses Don Shula’s wins record. That entails putting up with lousy drafting, poor free agency acquisitions, inbred coaching and player hires all over the lot, and worst of all, mediocrity, an owner’s worst nightmare.
Kraft is in a bind. But there may be a way out. That would be this. Kraft’s move is to mandate hiring a General Manager, a real football man from outside the Belichick “tree”, to run the player acquisition side, presumably “under Belichick’s supervision”.
If Belichick says no, he goes. If he says yes, you at least have the foundation of an operation that can actually do some things right. The choice here is obvious, it’s the tremendously impressive ESPN analyst, Louis Riddick.
Will that happen? It’s unlikely. But it may be Kraft’s only out until Belichick surpasses Shula’s record. That will take two or maybe even three years at this rate. Can the team turn this around?
Yes, maybe if they sign offensive tackle Orlando Brown, trade for Lamar Jackson (or both), and draft well. It will be trumpeted here if any of this happens.
Is it expected? Hardly. As they say in Foxborough, it is what it is.