If you had been asked three weeks ago which team would spend an NFL-record $159.6 million in guaranteed money in the first 10 days of free agency, the New England Patriots would be nowhere near the list of usual suspects. Over the past 15 years, the Patriots have been incredibly thrifty when it comes to free agency. They have historically elected to promote from within to maintain their team, rather than give out big contracts to outsiders.
The Patriot Way. Do Your Job. Front offices around the league have looked to the Patriots as the gold standard for what they aspire to be. What caused this meteoric shift in how the Patriots do business? Two words:
Even owner Robert Kraft has talked about it: “Really, the teams who draft well are the ones who will be consistently good,” Kraft said recently. “I don’t feel we’ve done the greatest job the last few years and I really hope and I believe I’ve seen a different approach this year.”
Regarding Kraft’s assessment of “the last few years,” here are some key takeaways from their last seven drafts:
1 All-Pro and 1 Pro Bowler: their punter, Jake Bailey
5 first-round picks: N’Keal Harry (WR), Isaiah Wynn (OT), Sony Michel (RB), Malcolm Brown (DT), Dominique Easley (DT)
Of these five, only Wynn and Brown have been full-time starters
Easley didn’t finish his rookie contract with the team and Brown didn’t get a second contract from the Patriots
7 second-round picks:
0 of those players has been a full-time starter for even one season
Jimmy Garoppolo was traded for a second-round pick that was later traded a few more times. They ultimately drafted Joejuan Williams (CB). Williams played 7.9% of defensive snaps as a rookie in 2019 and 16.8% of defensive snaps in 2020.
○ The Patriots have drafted three second-round corners in the past seven years. Combined, they have started just three games.
12 third-round picks:
Of those 12 players, only seven seasons of starter play have been accumulated on any NFL team.
Two of those seasons came from Jacoby Brissett with the Colts
The other five were from Joe Thune, who just signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Of the nine players drafted in Rounds 1-3 from 2014-2016, 0 re-signed with New England.
Overall, the Patriots have drafted 62 players since 2014. In 2020, just 10 of them played more than 50% of possible snaps on their side of the ball; only three (all offensive linemen) played more than 64%.
This lackluster drafting is what forced the Patriots to attack free agency so aggressively this offseason. Looking at the positions they spent the most on in free agency, it’s easy to make the connection:
New England spent a combined $104.5 million on four-year deals for Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. From 2014-2020, New England drafted four tight ends: Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, Ryan Izzo, A.J. Derby.
New England spent a combined $21.25 Million guaranteed over the next two seasons for Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. From 2014-2020, New England drafted five receivers: N’Keal Harry, Braxton Berrios, Malcolm Mitchell, Devin Lucien, Jeremy Gallon.
The Patriots signed free-agent Matt Judon to a four-year, $54.5 million deal. From 2014-2020, they drafted eight outside linebackers: Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise Jr., Kamu Grugier-Hill, Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers, Xzavier Dickson, Zach Moore
Of the 17 drafted players, only 1 was a clear starter: Trey Flowers, who started 2.5 of his 4 seasons for the Patriots before being signed by the Lions for his second contract.
To say the Patriots drafting has been poor over the past seven years might be an understatement. They have used early picks on questionable players who are graded low, and they aren’t afraid to cut bait with them before their rookie contracts expire (see Jordan Richards and Duke Dawson, second-round players traded for seventh-round picks). Now they’re in a position in which they had no choice but to spend a significant portion of money on free agents due to the lack of talent these drafts have left on their roster.
It’s not exactly the Patriot Way.
Below is a list of the players who have been drafted by the Patriots over the last 7 drafts.
|Year||Player||Pos||Rnd||Pick||2020 Snap %||Years a starter|
|2017||Deatrich Wise Jr.||DE||4||131||55.60%||0|