The wide receiver class in the 2020 NFL Draft was widely considered to be one of the deepest in recent memory. So after a season in which the New England Patriots offense looked anemic at times, some believed addressing that position would be a priority.
So much for that.
The Patriots did not draft a wide receiver. Instead, they selected a safety, three linebackers, three offensive linemen, two tight ends, and a kicker.
Bill Belichick's decision to pass on drafting a wideout was perplexing to many, including NBC Sports' Peter King. On the latest Michael Holley Podcast, King shared his thoughts on the Patriots' draft and why he was left confused by Belichick's approach.
King used last season's Super Bowl teams -- the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs -- as examples of teams emphasizing the importance of adding premier talent at the receiver position.
I'm pretty much mystified by that [Patriots not drafting a WR] ... I'm just saying, look at where the game is going. Last year, the 49ers with the 36th pick in the draft take Deebo Samuel. If you watched the Super Bowl, he's one of the five best players on the field. And now you look this year, and they trade up from 31 to go get Brandon Aiyuk ... So they have spent incredible draft capital the last two years on the receiver position, and that to me is where the game is going.
When I saw what the Patriots did in the draft this year, the first thought that went through my mind is, "Bill's trying to build a team that will win games 16-13.'
Despite being "mystified," King isn't about to start second-guessing Belichick's thought process.
In my opinion, Bill Belichick could take 10 punters this year in the draft. I'm not saying Bill Belichick doesn't know what he's doing. He does. Obviously, he does. So I'm not going to sit here and say what an idiotic draft, because it wasn't. He drafted the best players that he thought for his team. He deserves every benefit of every doubt.
NFL Draft week is here, and with it comes a burning question: Where will Tua Tagovailoa land?
The Alabama quarterback might be the most polarizing player in the 2020 draft; some insist he's a top-five pick, while others believe he'll slide to the middle of the first round due to injury concerns.
Could Tua really fall to No. 13? Joining host Mike Tirico on Monday's edition of NBC Sports' "Lunch Talk Live," King shared some intel that the Miami Dolphins would actually prefer to draft Oregon QB Justin Herbert over Tagovailoa with the No. 5 overall pick.
(The Tua talk begins at around the 7-minute mark of the video below.)
"Over this past weekend I talked to 12 general managers and several coaches," King said, " ... and I didn't find many people -- including some who know the Miami Dolphins pretty well -- thinking that (Tagovailoa) would go to Miami. ... A clear majority felt that the Dolphins are going to go with Herbert."
The QB-needy Los Angeles Chargers may consider Tagovailoa at No. 6. But if the 22-year-old QB slips through the cracks, King believes the bond between Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Alabama coach Nick Saban could be an X-factor in New England trading up from No. 23 overall to draft him.
Look at Bill Belichick's relationship with Nick Saban. Nick Saban loves Tua Tagovailoa. He loves his competitiveness, he loves his drive, his ability to come back from injury, he loves everything about him. And in my opinion, that's exactly what he would tell Bill Belichick.
And if you watch the tape of Tua when he's healthy, he's a great football player. So, then you decide, OK is maybe trading this year's (first-round pick) and next year's (first-round pick) to get a guy who could be a great player for the next 10 or 12 years in the NFL? You're taking a risk. You are. But it seems to me anyway the kind of gamble that Belichick very well may take.
As King points out, the Patriots may need to trade their No. 23 pick and possibly a 2021 first-rounder to move up 10 spots for a QB coming off hip surgery.
There’s a persistent belief that, before Tom Brady hits free agency, Robert Kraft will swoop in and make sure Brady stays right where’s he’s been for 20 seasons.
That’s not going to happen.
The Patriots, as we first reported Super Bowl Sunday are willing to “extend” themselves to get a deal done. And if the gap between Brady and the team is narrow, then Kraft will actively encourage both Brady and Bill Belichick to bridge that gap.
But we confirmed this week what we were told a month ago: that if it’s a chasm – and real negotiations have yet to begin – Kraft will not intercede despite his long-stated preference that Brady retires a Patriot.
Kraft opened the door for Brady to decide his future when he agreed the Patriots wouldn’t use the franchise tag on Brady in 2020. The owner is similarly committed to letting Belichick decide the football future of the team.
Kraft knows the fastest route to franchise dysfunction would be forcing the quarterback on Belichick for sentimental reasons.
The Patriots are what they are in large part because of Brady. His play. His leadership. His willingness not to be what the Patriots used to refer to as “a pig at the trough” when it came to negotiating contracts.
But the team-building, economic and cultural values Belichick laid down two decades ago are the real foundation of their success.
Belichick has shown time and again a willingness to make painful personnel decisions other franchises might not have the stomach for. Moving on from Brady is in a different universe than trading Logan Mankins or cutting Lawyer Milloy. He’s objectively the most successful player in NFL history.
Belichick won’t open a vein and bleed sadness publicly but it’s no doubt painful for him as well to envision Brady in a different uniform. But it is what it is.
If you’re paying close attention, you can already see the evidence of Kraft refusing to bigfoot Belichick on this.
When training camp opened last August and Brady was asked whether he’d earned an extension, he answered, “Have I earned one? I don't know, that's up for talk show debate. What do you guys think? Should we take a poll? Talk to Mr. Kraft, come on."
There’s no debate Brady thought he’d earned one. Since signing a very modest two-year, $41 million extension in 2016, the team had been to three consecutive Super Bowls, winning two. Brady threw for 505 yards in the one they lost.
Brady’s appeal fell on deaf ears. There would be no extension for 2019 and beyond. Just a modest pay raise. That outcome so rankled the Brady camp that the request was made to have the franchise tag option removed. Done.
Speaking to Peter King about the deal, Kraft said he “[Wanted] to do something elegant that would work for everybody. I had been talking to him off and on for maybe 18 months, about how I wanted him to finish his career here, and about how we both have to be smart about it. I just really want him to end his career a Patriot.”
So why – despite the fact Brady was desirous of a longer and more true-to-market deal than the one he signed in 2016 and never got one – is there a perception Kraft will intervene to ensure the soon-to-be-43-year-old Brady remains a Patriot?
Because people mistakenly believe that Kraft intervened before.
When I recently asked Kraft about people expecting him to step in now because of the belief he did in 2017, Kraft said of that report, “It’s a lie.”
While much of Wickersham’s story was spot-on about the tension present at that time, the mandate and other details in the story – such as Garoppolo being offered a four-year extension by New England that would have paid him around $17M annually – are suspect.
Despite that and Kraft’s pushback, fans and media don’t buy it. Which is an irritation for Kraft because it plays into a trope that Kraft is a meddlesome owner. The “cook the dinner, shop for the groceries” barb launched at Kraft by Bill Parcells 23 years ago hit its mark and left a permanent mark.
In Pete Carroll’s three-year run with the team starting in 1997, the owner was consistently lampooned in the local media as being overly involved. When Belichick took over in 2000, Kraft took a giant step back and let Belichick do his work which included lopping off valued veterans like Ben Coates, Bruce Armstrong, Drew Bledsoe and Milloy in quick succession. All for the good.