LAS VEGAS -- Robert Kraft understands what this offseason means for his football team. The Patriots have a chance to set the long-term trajectory for their franchise with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft and oodles of salary-cap space at their disposal.
Kraft also understands a notion exits that there were times when he wasn't willing to spend during Bill Belichick's tenure as head coach and lead decision-maker in the front office. He met with reporters at the Wynn Las Vegas to push back on those critiques, indicating that he won't get in the way of the team shelling out the money it needs to spend to get back to contention.
“I know there’s a perception that we have held back on spending," Kraft said. "Let me just say, for our fans, that’s just not true. Look, we were blessed to have a coach in our system who was a great coach and also understood value. He ran a tight ship."
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New Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo said recently on WEEI that the Patriots had "cash to burn" on free-agent talent in the coming months. It continued a long-running conversation on Patriots finances that Belichick notably stirred up when he said after the 2022 season that, "Our spending in 2020, our spending in 2021, and our spending in 2022, the aggregate of that was we were 27th in the league in cash spending."
Over the last 10 years, the Patriots ranked last in cash spending ($1.62 billion), per ESPN.
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"They say we've been low spenders in the last 10 years, and that might be true," Kraft said Thursday. "But we had a pretty good record. And we won three Super Bowls. But our coaches have always had the ability to spend at whatever level they wanted. I think Bill was always thinking about the future and really understood value. But we never held back with any of the coaches we’ve had over the last 30 years.
"They’ve been able to get whatever they want. If cash spending became an issue for our family, and we couldn’t do it, then I would sell the team. Winning football games, after my family, is the most important thing in my life. Whatever we can do to help make that happen, we’re going to do."
Kraft's team has a projected $66 million in cap space available this offseason, according to Over The Cap. It's expected that the Patriots will take a collaborative approach to determining how to spend those resources, with director of scouting Eliot Wolf taking the lead role in the front office, per sources. Wolf and Mayo -- first-timers as leaders in the front office and on the sidelines, respectively -- will be put to the test as the decisions made in the next few months could chart the course for Kraft's franchise for the next five years or more.
But Kraft said it didn't make him nervous to have rookies calling the shots after Belichick's departure.
"I feel a sense of excitement and great opportunity to hopefully position the team to be special," Kraft said. "I’ve said this to our team, who I’m very proud of that they’re working together in a collaborative basis working hard and reaching out in a lot of areas, this is the first time in 31 years of ownership that we’re drafting at the position that we are, and have a chance to get some great players, and also have the cap room that we’ve carried over.
"So I hope it positions us for the next few years beautifully. I’ve said that to the team. It’s pretty exciting. Now we’ve got to measure nine times and cut once."
That measurement process is already underway. The Senior Bowl, Shrine Game and other college All-Star events have come and gone. The combine occurs later this month, and the official start to free agency follows soon thereafter.
Kraft insisted that if, after all that measuring, the team determines this is the offseason to spend freely -- as it did in 2021 when $222 million was shelled out for that year's roster -- he won't be an obstruction.
"I’m sorry this misconception has been out there," he said. "I think people should just look at our record. We’re privileged over the last 30 years to have the best win-loss record of any team in sports. We went to 10 Super Bowls. There are teams that haven’t gone to one.
"I can assure our fans that spending will never be held back or the reason that we don’t sign players. I’ve actually tried to get us to sign players who maybe would’ve cost more but wouldn’t have been the right players or value. So, we always leave that to the people we assign the responsibility to.”