Robert Kraft Calls out Patriots ‘Who Didn’t Perform’ to Expectation

Getty Robert Kraft

The New England Patriots spent a boatload of money on free agents in 2021, and Robert Kraft wants a return on his investment.

The Patriots and their owner Kraft aren’t accustomed to losing or any level of mediocrity. The franchise that dominated the NFL for the better part of 20 years has been dealing with a touch of both the last two seasons (17-16 with an 0-1 postseason mark in 2020-2021). It is safe to say, Kraft has had just about enough of this side of the NFL life.

In a recent interview with The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, Kraft explained his expectations for the upcoming season, which included something of a challenge to the team’s expensive 2021 free-agent class to step up their games.

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Robert Kraft Challenges the Underachievers

“Time will tell,” Kraft told The Athletic. “Part of it, in fairness, is the chemistry of the people around him [Mac Jones]. 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.”

A quick breakdown of this quote, which was mostly offered in response to a question about quarterback Mac Jones’ growth, reveals Kraft’s expectations for more production from the likes of Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor.

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Neither Smith nor Agholor had seasons anywhere close to what was expected of them when they signed for four years, $50 million and two years, $22 million, respectively.

If you’re trying to determine which free-agent acquisition delivered the least impact between Smith and Agholor, it’s a tough call. Smith’s 28 receptions for 294 yards and a career-worst 1 TD was pretty putrid considering the 26-year-old was coming off a 2020 season with the Tennessee Titans that saw him snag 41 passes for 448 yards and 8 TDs.

Ideally, Smith and fellow free-agent tight-end-signing Hunter Henry were supposed to give the Patriots and Jones something of a dynamic duo at their position. Instead, only Henry did his part with 50 receptions, 603 yards and a team-leading 9 TD catches. Henry’s production only further exposed Smith’s lack of impact.

Agholor’s year was similarly disappointing. After establishing himself as one of the NFL’s top deep threats, specifically on vertical routes per NextGenStats during the 2020 season with the Las Vegas Raiders, Agholor didn’t show any of that ability in New England.

Agholor went from 48 receptions, 896 yards and 8 TDs with the Raiders in 2020 to 37 catches for 473 yards and 3 TDs with the Patriots. On the flip side, another of the Patriots’ wide receiver additions ahead of the 2021 season, Kendrick Bourne had a career season.

Like Henry, Bourne seemed to thrive with Jones and in New England. In addition to his infectious energy on the sidelines and field, Bourne dwarfed Agholor’s production by pulling in 55 passes for 800 yards and 5 TDs.


Smith and Agholor Have to Perform

It isn’t fair to take these numbers in a vacuum because there are multiple factors: playcalling, the arm strength and experience of the quarterback delivering the ball to both Smith and Agholor. The Patriots’ offensive coordinator in 2021 was Josh McDaniels, who has since become the Raiders’ head coach, he had a notably tame approach to downfield throws for the rookie signal-caller. That approach would specifically impact Agholor who earned his deal with the Patriots largely due to his ability to be effective on deep throws.

Smith had spent his career mostly catching passes from Ryan Tannehill, and likewise, Agholor pulled down throws from Derek Carr in 2020 before signing with the Patriots. Both Carr and Tannehill are far more established than Jones, and had seemingly earned more trust from their coaches.

However, at the end of the day, when a player signs the sort of hefty deals that both Smith and Agholor accepted, there will be high expectations. When the deals come from an organization as used to winning as the Patriots, you can add an exponent next to those expectations.

As Kraft mentioned, “time will tell,” but the call to action for Smith and Agholor is pretty clear.

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