Speaking to reporters for the first time since the Patriots fell to a 7-9 record in the first year of the post-Brady era, Kraft addressed the team’s quarterback game in 2020 and his need for a plan to move forward.
He believes Brady’s replacement Cam Newton was hampered by a poor supporting cast and a COVID-19 diagnosis in early October that sidelined him for two weeks. And he’s not quite ready to give up on 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham just yet.
“Right now we’re trying to do what’s best for us,” the Patriots owner said on a conference call Wednesday. “I think, to be fair to Cam, I’m not sure he had the proper weapons around him last year and then he had COVID and there was a lot of stuff that happened. And I don’t know if Jarrett ever really had a good chance, so we have to wait and see what happens. And we still have the draft, so there’s a lot that can happen. ”
Newton, who signed three months in free agency last offseason, was a productive runner for the Patriots (592 yards, 12 touchdowns) but threw more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (eight, including three occurred at week 17) and was benched. thrice. He re-signed with New England last month on a one-year contract that will pay him replacement money unless he wins Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors or the Patriots don’t. reach the playoffs with him as a starter.
The Patriots were 2-1 when Newton landed on the reserve / COVID roster, with wins over the Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders and a last-second loss on the road to the Seattle Seahawks. They lost their next four games – including one pitched by Brian Hoyer – and never climbed above 0.500.
“I really believe Cam getting COVID and what he did to the team, it changed a lot when we were in a good position,” said Kraft, who said it was “horrible” to see his team finished with their worst record since 2000.
When asked if he would be comfortable starting the season with Newton as the team’s best option at QB, Kraft fired head coach Bill Belichick.
“Look, Cam is a great guy,” Kraft said. “I really enjoyed knowing him last year. I’ll tell you this: The players on the team, in the locker room, really like this guy. So at the end of the day I have confidence in Coach Belichick’s ability to build a team and put the right players in the best position to be successful. Over the past two decades, he has done well. When I have the privilege of having good managers… we give these people autonomy and we let them do their jobs.
As for Stidham, he’s now two years into his Patriots career and has yet to make his first NFL start. The 24-year-old Auburn product made five relief appearances last season, failing to break through the starting lineup even as Newton struggled and New England were knocked out of the playoffs. Playing primarily in the flinging fourth quarter, Stidham completed 22 of 44 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions.
Kraft praised Stidham, praising him for hosting a recent round of off-season pitching sessions with Patriots passers in California. nicknamed “Pats West”. Over half a dozen wide receivers and tight ends attended, as did Newton.
“I think he’s a great young man, and I know he can’t wait to compete and look for an opportunity to play,” Kraft said. “One thing I like is that he showed great initiative in organizing these training sessions in California himself. I don’t know how public it is – if you follow him on social media I guess you can see it – but a bunch of guys went over there and did that. And I’m not sure it has really been tested. I am a huge fan of him.
Stidham will have another chance to compete for the starting position this summer. But the Patriots are probably not done adding to the quarterback position and could use a high draft pick next month. They might need to trade for a chance on Justin Fields, Trey Lance, or Mac Jones, but could reasonably do so after having met almost all of their immediate needs through free agency.
“We all know in the long run that we have to find a way, whether it’s Jarrett Stidham or someone new that we’re bringing in,” Kraft said. “But it’s not something where you get algebraic formulas. Think of all the whistles from the staff who passed six laps on Tom Brady in 2000. No one knows what’s going to happen, so we had to balance everything out.
“Look, the quarterback is the most important job on the team. We know that. He touches the ball over 70 times per (game), so somehow we have to solidify that position.
Photo miniature via Paul Rutherford / USA TODAY Sports Images