Robert Kraft is a busy man these days. Not only did he meet with reporters during the NFL’s annual meeting in Florida earlier this week, the New England Patriots’ owner also found the time to talk to Jeff Howe of The Athletic about the state of his organization.
The 80-year-old essentially echoed his remarks made at the league meeting: the Patriots have a talented team that has not reached its ceiling or fully met expectations, while quarterback Mac Jones has a bright future ahead of him.
Jones is, obviously, the key player on New England’s roster moving forward. Kraft’s statements this week are a reflection of that:
“This year will be very telling,” Kraft said. “To come into something as new as this, as established, I think he got beat up pretty bad, and he kept coming back and getting up and really doing some great stuff. Just the way he handles himself, he took some real beatings and hopped up. He has developed a good relationship with the whole cadre of receivers. I’m very happy with what I’ve seen. But this is a big year, the second year.”
The Patriots invested the 15th overall selection in last year’s draft to get the Alabama product aboard, and he quickly showcased the talents that made him one of the nation’s most productive passers during his senior year in college. As a result, Jones was able to earn New England’s starting spot and lead the team back to the playoffs.
Jones had his ups and downs, but his promise was on full display: he was clearly the best rookie passer in the NFL last year and showed himself capable of leading the notoriously challenging Patriots offense.
With one year of experience under his belt, the focus is now on the famous second-year jump. Kraft mentioned it as well, but along the way made an interesting remark about the overall talent of his team:
“Time will tell,” Kraft told The Athletic. “Part of it, in fairness, is the chemistry of the people around him. I hope that some of the free agents who we brought in who didn’t perform as high as we would have liked last year will (produce) this year because they’ve adjusted to the system. And we’re making changes to take advantage of what they do best. We have a lot of talent that hasn’t been tapped into yet in my opinion.”
The Patriots made some massive investments last year, spending a then-NFL record $163 million in guarantees. Among the players brought in were 2021 cornerstones such as wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, tight end Hunter Henry, and linebacker Matthew Judon.
However, not all of the investments paid immediate dividends. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor and tight end Jonnu Smith in particular were comparatively quiet this year.
Entering 2022, the goal for both is clear without Kraft needed to verbally set it: they need to show some proper improvement to give Jones the best possible supporting cast and environment in his second year. Time will tell whether they will do that, but the expectations are high.