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Who’s To Blame For The Patriots’ Post-Brady Struggles?

Patriots fan Cam Giangrande gives his take on who is at fault for the Patriots’ failure to land DeAndre Hopkins, and the rest of their post-Tom Brady woes.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 30: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts during the first half against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on October 30, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Following DeAndre Hopkins signing with Tennessee, there has been a ton of talk around New England as to why DeAndre Hopkins is a Titan today and not a Patriot. Many are blaming Bill Belichick’s resistance to spend money. Some are blaming him for being too rigid with his philosophy on team building, sticking to his valuations of different positions without deviating for star players.

Belichick has a certain philosophy surrounding the percentage of the salary cap that any one player should earn, and a cap on even his quarterback’s percentage of the team’s payroll. Even Robert Kraft has come out in the past saying that it’s as important, if not more important, to evaluate every position so that the 48th through 53rd players on your roster are valuable. You can’t achieve that by overpaying for players one to six.

Some have even cited Massachusetts’ “millionaires tax,” an added tax for anyone in the state earning over a million dollars per year. The state’s tax rate spikes to 9%, above the state’s 5% rate. For a sports figure who makes well over a million dollars per season, this can be a detractor, but I’m here to tell you the real reason DeAndre Hopkins isn’t a New England Patriot today, and it has nothing to do with tax code.

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It comes down to one person … owner Robert Kraft. When Tom Brady was in town, Kraft often said that Brady and Belichick were just tenants, but he was the owner, meaning both were merely temporary guests, while he would be around long after they were each gone. Kraft is getting long in the tooth, so he may not be around much longer himself, but his family will.

Ultimately EVERY decision that runs through Foxboro is Kraft’s decision. He has ceded a certain amount of control to his HC/GM Belichick, but Kraft still writes the checks. Even after Belichick spent a record amount in free agency a few years ago, he pointed out, when challenged, that over a three-year span the team was 27th in spending. In real spending this season, the Patriots enter the year 31st at $210M. The league average is $245M, and the top-spending team, the Cleveland Browns, are sitting at $301M. Sixteen teams have spent over $250M this season.

You may know that I am no fan of Bill Belichick, and I do think he’s made enough egregious errors to have been relieved of his duties, but in this case, I cannot blame him. I 100% blame Kraft. From Kraft’s perspective, he probably believes the team has enough talent to win, and he doesn’t need to reach deeper into his checkbook. And he’d be right … if Tom Brady were still his QB. He hasn’t fully recovered from that loss, and probably never will. The way Orson Wells’ last word in Citizen Kane was “Rosebud”, Kraft’s will probably be “Tommy.” If Brady were still a Patriot, having Rhamondre Stevenson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki and Hunter Henry would probably be enough to win 11 games. But with Mac Jones at the helm, Vegas has the team at 7.5 wins.

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If we compare the spending habits of Kraft to those of another Boston sports owner, John Henry of the Red Sox, they are awfully similar. Henry’s GM, Chaim Bloom, has a $181M payroll on the 26-man roster, which is currently 12th in the league. And their 40-man payroll of $221M sits at 11th. In 2018 and 2019, they ranked first in each category. It isn’t a mistake that payroll is down. It is a result of direct orders by Henry to Bloom to lower the payroll. It was he is why he was hired and what he has done.

Kraft and Belichick have the exact same dynmaic. Of course, both Kraft and Henry want to win, but they are businessmen first. They believe that their combined 10 championships in the 21st century should be enough to create goodwill with their fan bases.

They are wrong. As Janet Jackson sang, “What have you done for me lately?” The fans shouldn’t let either owner off the hook, and as much as we want to blame Belichick and Bloom, they have bosses, and they do not write the checks. They have been tasked with producing winners with fewer resources.

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That’s on ownership, not them. In a big market like Boston and the New England region, it is appalling and unacceptable. Would Hopkins have put the Patriots over the top? He absolutely wouldn’t have, and Kraft obviously doesn’t want to throw good money after bad. But that’s on him. He’s spending $250M on a new video board and a 22-story lighthouse. By the way, this is more than he spent to acquire the team.

The bottom line is this: Throughout history, companies have risen and fallen due to bad business decisions. Ultimately, this goes back to long before Hopkins chose Tennessee. It goes back to Belichick making two defensive coaches offensive coordinators for a second-year QB. It goes back even further than that, with Kraft choosing to retain Belichick over Brady. It goes back even further than that, with Malcolm Butler getting benched in the Super Bowl and Jimmy Garoppolo traded away for only a second-round draft pick.

Ultimately the Patriots current situation is due to one man, and one man only … owner Robert Kraft.

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