New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft speaks with Coach Bill Belichick before the team’s final game of the 2022 season against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y. Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

The New England Patriots are heading into a critical time.

The NFL’s Scouting Combine is on tap in Indianapolis this week, followed by free agency a few weeks later in mid-March. Then as free agency starts to die down, everyone kicks it into gear for the NFL Draft in late April.

So if the Patriots have a plan to help get them back to contending for championships beyond what they’ve done with the coaching staff, it’s about to unfold.

More to the point: we’re going to see how much more team owner Robert Kraft factors into the team’s decision-making and what other strings he may be willing to pull.

Already, the offensive coaching staff got a bit of a face lift with Bill O’Brien hired as the new coordinator. Adrian Klemm was brought in to help mend the offensive line, while Will Lawing, an offensive analyst who worked with O’Brien at Alabama and with the Texans, will likely take over as tight ends coach following the departure of Nick Caley. The move away from Matt Patricia and Joe Judge – both Belichick guys – has Kraft’s fingerprints all over it.

So does keeping Jerod Mayo in New England on staff, not to mention announcing his contract negotiations. Kraft also sent out a pointed letter to season ticket holders, and even met with local reporters at the Super Bowl for an off-the-record chat ostensibly to try to steer the narrative. He’s been out front, trying to spin positivity on the recent moves, hinting at more to come.


Clearly, the Patriots owner wasn’t happy about the product on the field last season. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise given how an entire season was wasted in terms of Mac Jones’ development.

He also couldn’t have been pleased that the Patriots have slipped in terms of their competitive stature in the league, especially since the slippage coincides with Tom Brady’s departure.

Former Patriot Damien Woody, an ESPN analyst, understands the dynamic at work when it comes to Kraft stepping in to help right the ship, and regain the fans’ trust, but believes the work is not done.

“I know this has to be eating Mr. Kraft up, that the Patriots are basically irrelevant,” Woody said. “I know it has to. So go out there and make a couple of splash moves. Bring some spice and some relevance back to the Patriots. Make it interesting.”

Unlike Red Sox owner John Henry, Kraft gets it. He cares about maintaining relevance and putting out a competitive product. Mediocrity or worse, isn’t in his DNA. So it will be interesting to see how it plays out from here, and if Kraft has more up his sleeve, and can continue to push the envelope with Belichick.

For the Patriots to get their mojo back, they need to build a more talented roster, specifically on offense.


They have to do things they haven’t been willing to do, prioritize positions that haven’t been priorities and that starts with either spending on a legitimate No. 1 receiver and game-changer, or having the guts to try again with a receiver in the first round of the draft.

Woody agreed.

“I think they made a step in the right direction bringing Billy O back, because that was madness what they were doing last year,” said Woody. “So I’m glad they got a guy who knows what he’s doing. But they need weapons. They need difference makers on offense. It’s not good enough just getting Billy O’Brien back. They need actual guys on the field that will make a difference.”

So we’ll see if the Patriots will be willing to trade for Tee Higgins, DeAndre Hopkins, Jerry Jeudy, or even Chris Godwin, if any of the above prove to be available.

As for the notion of trading Jones, speculation that gained some traction last week, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Jones is still on a rookie deal, and after last season’s debacle with Patricia and Judge calling the shots, the Patriots need to see how he develops with a coach who actually knows what he’s doing.

They need to see what he’s ultimately going to be, what level he can reach.


“This is exactly what Mac needs,” said Woody. “He embraces this type of coaching that’s coming from Billy O. He’s had that his whole career. He needs people who know what the hell they’re doing.”

Would Belichick want to trade Jones because of how he disrespected the coaches by whining and flipping his arms in the air during a few games, and making some not-so-subtle jabs during press conferences?

Maybe. It sure seemed like Belichick soured on his quarterback as the season played out. It’s also possible Belichick has already seen enough and doesn’t think Jones is capable of getting them to the promised land.

It’s just hard imagining Belichick giving up on a first-round draft pick after one promising rookie season, and a disastrous season that largely wasn’t his fault. If there are questions about Jones, then dip back into the draft with a developmental quarterback, much like the Eagles did with Jalen Hurts when they weren’t certain about Carson Wentz. As mentioned here last week, that’s the way to go.

Plus, Kraft remains a champion of Jones at this stage. And right now, with Kraft exerting some influence, that’s what counts the most.

So the quarterback isn’t going anywhere, and this year should truly tell the tale of Jones, especially if he’s surrounded by a better cast.


“All that trade Mac nonsense? Stop it. That’s just crazy,” said Woody. “Get the man some legit weapons on the outside. Mac’s on his rookie deal. Make some splash moves.”

With Kraft seemingly more involved, and motivated to get his team back in the circle of elite teams, there’s certainly an expectation for the Patriots making bigger, bolder moves in the days ahead.

At the very least, there’s more than a little curiosity to see how the Patriots spend their money in free agency, and what they actually have up their sleeve to improve the team going forward.

And make them relevant once again.

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