If you’re worried that the Patriots are going to screw up with the No. 15 pick in this month’s NFL Draft -- or worse trade up and then mess up -- based on their recent track record, there might be a reason to put your mind at ease.
The full quote went as such:
“In the end, if you want to have a good, consistent winning football team, you can’t do it in free agency. You have to do it through the draft because that’s when you’re able to get people of great talent, whether it’s Willie McGinest or Tom Brady, you get them at a price where you can build the team and be competitive. Once they get to their [second] contract, if they’re superstars, you can only balance so many of them. Really, the teams who draft well are the ones who will be consistently good. I don’t feel like we’ve done the greatest job the last few years and I really hope and believe I’ve seen a different approach this year.
“In the end, it all comes down to what happens on the field and how people execute and you really don’t know how good a draft is for at least two years. Especially in the environment we’re in now, I’m not quite sure still what our offseason training and learning abilities will be. It’s something we’re working on very hard with the unions today. I think last year younger players were really disadvantaged because they didn’t have time to come, learn and be a part of it. To be frank, that also was what happened with Cam [Newton], that everything was new and when he got going he was playing pretty well. If you remember how things were at the beginning of the season, what happened at Seattle, and then unfortunately what happened for the Kansas City game. He’s more familiar with what goes on here. Just like the younger players from last year, we will see what happens this year.”
The Patriots’ flawed draft picks aren’t a secret. They’re still waiting to see if wide receiver N’Keal Harry (2019 1st round, 32nd overall) and running back Sony Michel (2018 1st round, 31st overall), among others, are going to reach a higher level of performance.
Breer believes the Pats’ “new approach” begins and ends with one man -- of course it’s coach Bill Belichick, who might be welcoming others into his decision-making process after some of their draft misses.
“Well, in the past, Bill Belichick’s had a very closed-off process and, in his defense, for the most part it’s worked. But it’s also led to personnel people feeling like they were actively cut out where other teams’ people weren’t. In essence, the Patriots’ scouts would do their jobs through the season and then hand off the process to Belichick and the coaches in February, with only a couple guys on the personnel side really consistently involved from that point forward.
“Where most teams had draft meetings with their scouts in February and April, the Patriots would have theirs with scouts in December and February. And at that early point, it’s tough to set the board, with 2 ½ of information still to come. … It also, as some saw it, led to misses like N’Keal Harry in 2019. Harry killed his 30 visit that spring and had a college coach, Todd Graham, who was close to Belichick. In that end, without more input from scouts who preferred Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown, the coach wound up leaning on his own experience with Harry, rather than the red flags his scouts planted, and lost a golden opportunity to fill a hole on his roster. …
“My sense right now is [the new approach Kraft wanted] has translated inside the building in a more collaborative Belichick, who’s listening not just to his top guys, Dave Ziegler and Eliot Wolf, but also those rising through the organization, like national scout Matt Groh.”
There’s no guarantee this new approach is unfolding to the extent Kraft wanted, and in the end Belichick could wind up overruling all his collaborators. Regardless of how they come to their decision, the Pats aren’t guaranteed to make the right one.
But it should please fans that even a six-time Super Bowl-winning organization is willing to be more flexible in the light of failure. And you can breathe a slight sigh of relief that the Pats are doing what they can to make sure they get their crucial 2021 draft picks right.