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Kraft talks Butler, new additions

PHOENIX – He looked every bit like a man whose team recently won its fifth Super Bowl.

After a busy morning with his NFL colleagues, Patriots owner Robert Kraft appeared fresh-faced and eager to spend a few moments taking media questions during a midday break at the league's annual meeting.

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Kraft's Patriots have been the talk of the offseason, and not solely because of their latest triumph on the field. New England hasn't rested on its laurels, making several high-profiles acquisitions since the 2017 league year officially started earlier this month.

However, among a variety of topics he addressed were two moves that haven't yet been made, and might not at all. There's been much speculation about the futures of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and cornerback Malcolm Butler. The Cleveland Browns have reportedly expressed strong interest in Garoppolo, while Butler has openly received overtures from the New Orleans Saints.

When asked about the latter, Kraft asserted that his intention is not to trade Butler, a restricted free agent who was offered a first-round level tender offer by New England this offseason. The cornerback has yet to sign it and has not officially received any offers from other clubs.

"I hope he's with us and signs his [tender] offer sheet and plays for us," Kraft told reporters. "I have a great affection for him… but there are a lot of people involved in that.

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"I don't want to, in any way, take away from his rights [to test the market]."

When the topic turned to Garoppolo, Kraft was more circumspect, saying he entrusts head coach Bill Belichick to make personnel decisions.

"We're privileged to have the greatest quarterback in the history of the game [in Tom Brady], and it looks like he's playing pretty solidly. He's off the charts, in my opinion, and we're lucky to have him. That's the most important position on the team, needless to say. I don't anyone would say you could have too much depth at that position. I charge [Bill] to make those decisions and I'll leave that with him."

Kraft added that he's been pleased with Belichick's choices thus far in the 2017 team-building period, picking up several young, talented veterans to fortify an already potent squad that's seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions for what would be the second time in franchise history.

Speaking specifically about the arrivals of wide receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Kraft noted, "Since I've owned the team, the only player that could make an impact like that at wide receiver was Randy Moss. [Cooks] doesn't have his height, but it looks like he's got his speed. So, I think that's complementary to what we have on the team. I'm excited about his joining us."  

"I know our football people are very high on [Gilmore]. He's a bigger man than we've had traditionally at that position. They did a lot of homework. I've actually had the chance to spend some time and chat with him. We're excited about him joining our team."

With the NFL Draft just a month away, the Patriots find themselves at the moment in the unusual position of not having selections in the first two rounds. Based on the influx of talent the Patriots have added to date, Kraft did not appear too concerned about the current lack of top-end draft picks when the subject came up in conversation.

"You know, we've made some draft picks high up and they haven't performed well," he pointed out. "So, having known value versus not being sure… there's a risk/reward analysis there.

"We have a wonderful chemistry and some wonderful young players. Our football people have done a good job in the offseason, and we're excited about the upcoming season." 

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