Patriots president Jonathan Kraft told a sprawling crowd of sports statistic aficionados that if Tom Brady were to go through the NFL draft gauntlet now, even with a healthy amount of new analytics to analyze the now veteran quarterback, he still would’ve likely been a late-round draft pick.
Kraft was participating in the “Building a Dynasty” panel session with former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at the Hynes Convention Center.
Brady was famously drafted 199th overall in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. Six other quarterbacks were taken in front of him. Kraft said Brady had caught Belichick’s eye as someone with tons of value in the 2000 draft despite the Patriots being wedded to Drew Bledsoe.
“I gotta go back and give Bill and Scott Pioli, who were running our personnel department at the time here, a little bit of credit here because we had Drew Bledsoe on our team and we had just given him a large contract,” Kraft said. “It was Bill’s first draft and we had a lot of needs. Brady was rated pretty highly on the board and in the fifth round — we took Brady in the sixth — Bill walked over to the board and picked up Brady’s card, looked at Scott, and said ‘what’s Brady still doing here? There’s too much value to be sitting here. This kid’s a winner.’
“Basically, I’m paraphrasing, and Pioli’s like, ‘yeah,’ ” Kraft said. “And I’m remembering I’m standing there with my dad and we were staring at each other like ‘why would we take another quarterback when we have all these other needs.’ In the sixth round, when it was about eight picks away, 10 picks away, Bill started to get very focused on drafting Brady because I think he thought the value was just way too great.”
Kraft goes on and explains that there was a different set of metrics that Belichick and Pioli were using to evaluate players.
“I think it came down to the intangibles,” he said. “I think each team has its own way of evaluating players. I betcha for a lot of people because Tom ran a 5.2 or 5.3 [40-yard dash] and didn’t appear that athletic, he would be off the board. I think his coachability and his passion for the game and his record as a starter — when he starts, he wins — I think that might even carry more weight other places.
“But I wouldn’t see people thinking about him as a raw talent, as a first, second, or third round draft pick. In the first, second rounds you need to take your best guess at statistical sure things because those players, in a salary cap world, if they can come in and play like good, starting veterans but under the rookie wage scale, you have a competitive advantage. And people are always weighing the cost-benefits of that.
“So the same Brady we’ve seen, I would argue, he deserves to be the first pick, but I don’t know that it would happen today.”
Kraft also talked about the Patriots’ acrimonious split with wide receiver Wes Welker, who signed with the Denver Broncos on a 2-year contract for $12 million. The panel’s moderator, ESPN Boston columnist Jackie MacMullan, asked him to explain the process of declining to re-sign Welker and sign Danny Amendola so quickly afterward.
“I think the [issue with] Wes Welker goes back to the start of the season before,” he said. “We had franchised him the season before. The idea was to try to work to a long-term deal. We had actually offered Wes a deal the summer before that on a three-year basis would’ve left him in a financially better place than what he’s gonna end up having been in over those three years. But we were willing to do that at a certain time when his production was at a certain level, his age was at a certain level, and he was performing as a player. When we went another year into the process, we still in our head had a value that we were able to place on the player. The player and his agent thought that their value in the open market was going to be greater.
“Going back to the consistency theme, Wes would’ve been our first choice,” Kraft said. “There was a dollar figure at that point that we weren’t willing to go beyond. And you put insurance in place by knowing what you’ll do if you can’t make a deal with that player. That involves going out and looking at the other guys in the league.
“We look at their age, we look at their physical measurables, and we place a dollar value to all of that.
“We still offered Wes before free agency started, more than he ended up getting in the open market. But once free agency started, we went out and signed Danny [Amendola] because he fit a construct that worked within our system and we couldn’t take the risk of losing both Wes and Danny. So it really wasn’t as much about the money, it was about trying to do a deal with Wes before free agency started. His agent had a view of the world that we didn’t think was realistic. There’s definitely a lot of analysis that play that position in the league at that point in time.”
Also of note:
– Kraft said the Patriots have a “qualitative” way of determining coachability, leadership, and instincts of prospective players that gives them a numerical grade in evaluations.
– “We were in a meeting the other day, Bill, Robert and myself, there was a lot of pushing and questioning and back and forth,” Kraft said of Belichick being pushed in the organization. “The more credibility and track record you have of doing things, he’ll listen to you. You’re allowed to push back. Bill takes it all right.”
– Kraft also said the salary cap was a large reason why his family bought the team, which helped level the playing field. The cap made evaluating talent and coaching that much more important than money, he said, taking away from the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys at the time.
– “We’ll be launching a cloud based scouting app that I think is light years ahead of anything else in the league,” Kraft said. “That was something that was pushed by us that I think will allow us to collect more data real time in the field, have the draft evaluation process done quicker and sooner, and allow the coaches, if they want to in season, because they’re trying to evaluate a position now and thinking about the next year, [find out] are there going to be guys in the draft? In the old days, you’d have to pick up the phone and call upstairs and talk to somebody upstairs. Now, if Bill is interested, he’ll be able to go to his tablet or go to his desktop and in a very efficient and very multimedia way and get real data instantly but within a minute or two be very smart on somebody.”
– “Bill [Belichick] is somebody who I think will check out when he’s not there” anymore trying and driven to win, Kraft said. “And I think for us, I think we’ll check out if the family isn’t driven that way, we’ll check out of the business too. Because it’s a lousy business to be in if you’re not winning. In this business, it’s all about winning. If you’re not winning, there’s plenty of other ways to make money.”