Robert Kraft admits Patriots used to laugh at teams that spent big in free agency

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Henry McKenna
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The New England Patriots changed up their game plan for the 2021 offseason. While Bill Belichick tended to stand on the sidelines during NFL free agency, the coach entered this league year with ample cap space — and a team that looked extremely lackluster in 2020.

After roughly 24 hours of negotiating with free agents, the Patriots’ plan was clear. They targeted a handful of top-end free-agent additions on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. New England strengthened its front seven with the additions of linebacker Mathew Judon and defensive linemen Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson. The Patriots also added pass-catchers Nelson Agholor, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry.

When the dust settled, New England had guaranteed roughly $175 million in two days. Even owner Robert Kraft acknowledge it was a uncharacteristic offseason.

“I just want to compliment our staff, our organization, Bill, all the scouting and personnel people, for a real team effort,” Kraft told MMQB’s Albert Breer. “Look, we’re not going to know till the fall—we always used to make fun of the people who won the headlines in March—but here I believe we really improved our team.”

Big spending in free agency are not correlated to success. It can work out. The 2020 Buffalo Bills, for example, were partially a product of strong work in free agency. It can fail. The Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets are chronic overspenders in free agency. But there’s reason to believe this year is different. The Patriots lucked out with their timing: they had a huge amount of cap space in free agency when others did not (because the NFL decreased the salary cap with the pandemic impacting the league’s financials). As a result, there were better players in free agency and fewer teams able to sign them.

“We had the second or third-most cap room at the start of free agency,” Kraft told NBC Sports’ Peter King on Friday. (It was third, at $69 million.) “This year, instead of having 10 or 12 teams competing for most of the top players, there were only two or three. And in my 27 years as owner, I’ve never had to come up with so much capital before.”

“It’s like investing in the stock market,” Kraft said. “You take advantage of corrections and inefficiencies in the market when you can, and that’s what we did here. We’ll see. Nothing is guaranteed, and I’m very cognizant of that. But we’re not in the business to be in business. We’re in this business to win.”