The New England Patriots offseason has already been one for the ages, at least the more recent
"ages" of the past quarter century or so. Owner Robert Kraft has decided to cut ties with his long-time and the winningest coach in franchise history, Bill Belichick. In the process, he has also jettisoned his de facto general manager of that same period.
One of these decisions would rock the Richter Scale while two amount to an earthquake of truly epic proportions, especially here in New England after 24 years of unprecedented success. The thought here was to retain Belichick as the Head Coach while shifting the general management function full-time to someone else. That idea didn't fly though Belichick seemed to indicate it might. Whatever.
While it would have been preferable here to see Belichick finish his coaching career here in New England and then retire, it wasn't to be. Mr. Kraft owns the club and he can do with it what he will. It's just a shame that his best two employees in history, one the best player in NFL history, and the other arguably the best coach, were both kicked to the curb with Kraft's approval.
With those two decisions in the bank, popular player and assistant coach, Jerod Mayo, now has the reigns of the coaching staff while seemingly there has been no change in the general management function. That is one of the two top remaining decisions that Kraft has to make this offseason.
New England Patriots have no apparent General Manager at present
Sending Bill Belichick the coach packing is over, a fait accomplit. No announcement has been made regarding who will make the even more important long-term decisions on personnel that have wracked this franchise for years. The thought is and has been that that decision is ultimately far more important than who coaches. The best coach ever can't be successful without good players to coach.
Currently, two Belichick assistants remain in place to exercise that function in the 2024 NFL draft. Rumors suggest that they will be allowed to conduct the upcoming draft, perhaps the most important one for the Patriots in 25 years or so. This has to rank as one of, if not the most important decisions for Robert Kraft this offseason. Hopefully, he can get this one right.
Kraft bears ultimate responsibility for allowing Tom Brady to walk after the 2019 season. That decision, one that was made after the 2018 season when Brady was allowed to sign a phony two-year deal without a franchise clause, was not a very good one, at all. He was gone right then and there.
How'd that work out for Patriot Nation? Not very well indeed. Brady went on to win another Super Bowl ring in 2020. The Patriots made one playoff in the succeeding four years and were blown out by a cold Buffalo wind in that one. Now Kraft has jettisoned his winningest coach and has yet to address who will be running the team's personnel function at all.
Since Belichick's personnel regime didn't exactly light up the room, that seems to be a perplexing decision, indeed. Belichick's drafts were substandard most of the time with top selections unable to to succeed all over the lot. The list is as long as your arm including recent draft reaches or flat-out misses like N'Keal Harry, Cole Strange, Tyquan Thornton, Marte Mapu, Chad Ryland, Devin Asiasi, and Dalton Keene to name a few.
Now Kraft is allotting the most important draft in recent history, with the team's highest pick in decades, the third overall, to the same group. Keeping executives on staff is one thing (and a very good thing). Yet, allowing them to run the show after several poor showings is quite another, indeed. If this group persists with their former drafting modus operandi, why should Kraft, or anyone else for that matter, expect any different results?
If this persists, the only logical answer is that Kraft must believe that the whole problem was Belichick, not only in coaching but also in general management and his assistants in personnel were merely towing his line. Whatever he may think, making a change (he has options and no one has to lose a job) or keeping the status quo is the most important decision Robert Kraft will make this offseason, bar none.
Robert Kraft's final big offseason decision involves his wallet
The New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has only one additional central, far-reaching, and potentially season-altering decision to make this offseason. That is, whether or not he will open his purse strings, spend whatever it takes in available cap dollars, and provide Head Coach Jerod Mayo with top free agents (who can play a bit) around whom to build his new offense and embellish his defense.
Of course, this decision is intricately intertwined with the previous decision noted, who makes the personnel calls. Coach Mayo will certainly have a major hand in all these decisions this offseason, but as Belichick himself noted, a Head Coach has his hands full just doing that job. Trying to do both jobs in the 2020's NFL is a fool's errand. It's just too big a task for any one man.
That notwithstanding, Kraft has to decide to either spend big, or not. It's actually as simple as that. Currently, the Patriots have a sizeable war chest of about $69.85M available according to patspulpit.com, and that number could rise to $85M, as they point out, if the team cuts ties with free agents like Lawrence Guy Sr., J.C. Jackson, and Adrien Phillips.
That's a nice "piece of change" as they say, and that can buy some pretty good talent on the free agent market, for certain. Options out there include wide receivers such as the top three rated by Nick Goss of Yahoo Sports, Tee Higgins of Cincinnati, Mike Evans of Tampa Bay, and Michael Pittman Jr. of the Colts. Any one would be a nice addition.
Players at other positions who'd be an upgrade over Patriots' incumbents would also be
able to bolster an offense that metaphorically "couldn't break an egg" in 2023 while defense-oriented coach Mayo will want a new toy or two on D, as well. The decision of whether and how much to spend, however, is Kraft's and his alone. How well they spend it will be determined by whoever calls the shots on personnel, in tandem with Mayo.
There they are, the two remaining key offseason decisions to be made by New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft. Kraft's decision-making of late has been less than stellar, to say the least, beginning with the atrocious decision to let Brady walk after the 2019 season.
With all that now firmly in the rearview mirror, we move on to 2024. Let's hope, for a change, that Mr. Kraft will get these remaining two critical decisions right. If not, to paraphrase Phil Connors in the movie Groundhog Day, "We're in for some long, cold winters."