PHOENIX, Az - Though the NFL Owners meetings come in the dead of the offseason, well situated between the free agency frenzy at the start of the new league year and late April's draft, Patriots owner Robert Kraft spoke for football fans everywhere when he opened his remarks to the media on Monday with, "I miss football."
Yes, there's still a long way to go until the start of training camp and the opening of the 2023 regular season but thoughts of the gridiron are never very far from either the owner nor his rabid fan base.
Standing next to one of the rose and cactus gardens that accent the grounds of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, Kraft weighed in on a disappointing 2022 season but expressed optimism for 2023 as the Patriots rounded out their coaching staff earlier this offseason and began the team-building process with some intriguing free agency additions.
Kraft originally set the tone at the start of the offseason with a letter to season ticket holders, assuring them that changes would be made following the team's 8-9 season.
"I was very disappointed with the way our season went," said Kraft. "I thought changes had to be made, and I think we made some changes that, personally, give me hope for the upcoming season."
Kraft specifically highlighted Bill O'Brien's addition as offensive coordinator, while also putting his support behind Mac Jones.
"I'm a big fan of Mac," said Kraft. "I think that we experimented with some things last year that frankly didn't work when it came to him, in my opinion. I think we've made changes that put him in a good position to excel.
"He's in the stadium almost every day now in the offseason. I think bringing in Bill O'Brien will work towards his advantage. I'm very positive and hopeful about this upcoming year. I'm personally a big fan of Mac."
As the Pats continue team building in free agency, Kraft used the opportunity to instead focus on how critical draft success is. Yes, free agency splashes make headlines and give fans an off-season thrill, but it's really those three days in April where the consistent contenders are made.
"We had a little period where we didn't draft as well a few years ago. We're able to get that changed and I think we're doing much better," said Kraft before pointing out the folly of trying to buy your way to wins in free agency. "Two or three years ago I think we spent more cash than any team… and it didn't get the value that we hoped it would."
Despite the team struggling to notch a playoff win in four seasons, Kraft continued to put his support behind Bill Belichick, pointing out the team is in a new period now.
"I think Bill is exceptional at what he does and I've given him the freedom to make the choices and do the things that need to be done," said Kraft. "His football intellect and knowledge is unparalleled from what I've seen. Just when you talk to him, the small things analytically he looks at. But in the end, this is a business. You either execute and win or you don't. That's where we're at. I think we're in a transition phase."
Despite that ongoing transition, Kraft is eyeing a return to the postseason in 2023.
"I still believe in Bill," said Kraft, adding, "I'd like him to break Don Shula's record, but I'm not looking for any of our players to get great stats. We're about winning and doing whatever we can to win. That's what our focus is now. It's very important to me that we make the playoffs. That's what I hope happens next year"