Robert Kraft enjoyed his team's spending spree, but the six-time Super Bowl champion owner of the New England Patriots knows the core of his club's future won't come through free agency.
"In the end, if you want to have a good, consistent winning football team, you can't do it in free agency," Kraft said Wednesday, via the team's official transcript. "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."
Free agency is a good supplemental option to add depth or splurge here and there, but the teams that rely on that mode of player acquisition for the bulk of their roster usually are the perennial strugglers.
Kraft wants his team built through the draft. The Pats owner knows that's where Bill Belichick and his staff have stumbled the past few seasons.
"Really, the teams who draft well are the ones who will be consistently good," Kraft said. "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."
Belichick has been one of the greatest drafters in NFL history for the bulk of the Patriots dynasty. But the past four drafts have left New England shallow and without dynamic playmakers. The top picks in 2017 (Derek Rivers, Antonio Garcia) are no longer with the club. Two first-rounders in 2018 (Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel) have had ups and downs and struggled to stay healthy. 2019 first-rounder N'Keal Harry is the subject of trade rumors. And last year's draft class was without a dynamic playmaker, even if some potential solid players dot that group.
Those early-round misses haven't been supplemented by Belichick unearthing as many later-round steals as he did in previous seasons. As such, the Pats roster was a wonky mess, Brady or no Brady.
Some of the draft misfires were the impetus behind the free agency moves this season. Third-round tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene struggling led directly to the signings of Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry.
Kraft knows the misses are what led to the free agency frenzy out of Foxborough this season.
"We missed, to a certain extent, in the draft, so this was our best opportunity," Kraft said of the club's free-agent moves.
Knocking recent drafts is about as strong a rebuke as you'll hear from Kraft about Belichick and the rest of the staff's performance.
The 2021 NFL Draft is of the utmost importance to the future of the Patriots. Kraft is fully aware of that fact.