The relationship between New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick has been a driving factor in the lasting success of the franchise. Kraft is well-liked by both Patriots fans and other NFL owners, and has been the sole owner of the Patriots since 1994. Belichick is one of the greatest NFL coaches of all time, and has been the Patriots’ head coach since 2000. Belichick has also become the franchise’s de facto general manager in recent years. Together, they have turned a franchise that was on the brink of bankruptcy into one of the strongest, longest lasting dynasties in NFL history.
Robert Kraft is an American billionaire who is the CEO and chairman of the Kraft Group, a diversified holding company. In addition to the Patriots, he also owns the New England Revolution Soccer team and the esport team Boston Uprising, which he founded in 2017. Kraft has a net worth of $8.3 billion as of 2022.
Acquisition of the Patriots
Kraft has been a Patriots fan since they were in the American Football League and a season ticket holder since 1971. He bought a 10-year option on Foxboro Raceway in 1985, which is a horse track adjacent to the Patriots’ Schaefer Stadium. This purchase prevented Patriots owner Billy Sullivan from holding non-Patriot events when Foxboro was holding races, marking the beginning of Kraft’s decade-long quest to acquire the Patriots.
A series of poor investments during the 1980s forced Sullivan to sell his controlling interest in the Patriots in 1988, and the stadium itself was forced into bankruptcy during that same year. Kraft won the bid to buy the stadium for $22 million, which included a lease to the Patriots that expired in 2001. He also bid on the Patriots franchise itself, but lost to Victor Kiam. Kiam sold the Patriots to James Orthwein in 1992 to recover from his own bad investments. Kraft bought the franchise outright from Orthwein in 1994 for $172 million, which was the highest price paid for an NFL team at that time. Stan Kroenke had offered $200 million, but Orthwein would have had to bear the Patriots’ relocation expenses.
The professional success of the partnership between Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick is especially surprising given the dynamic of their personal relationship, which has long been fraught with friction between them. Seth Wickersham describes Kraft’s extremely sharp criticism of Belichick in his book, “It’s Better to be Feared,” which Kraft made during a meeting with his friends.
The tension between them reached a peak in 2018, when Belichick traded backup quarterback Jimmy Garrappolo to San Francisco. While Kraft strongly disapproved of the trade, he didn’t publicly question Belichick’s decision. Furthermore, it’s extremely rare for Kraft to weigh in on these matters, which is likely a major reason the partnership has lasted so long.
The Patriots lost to the Miami Dolphins in September 2022, which many observers attributed to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne’s lack of playing time. Bourne only took the field for two plays in that game, one of which resulted in a 41-yard reception from quarterback Mac Jones. Patriots insider Tom E. Curran believes that Bourne’s role with the Patriots will increase after the loss, although he stresses he hasn’t been told anything directly. However, he has said that Kraft expressed his opinion that Bourne should receive more playing time, although Curran later stated that this message may have come from Belichick.
The uncertainty regarding the source of this opinion makes it difficult to say that Kraft is attempting to influence coaching decisions as detailed as a particular player’s time on the field. On the other hand, Kraft is definitely dissatisfied with the lack of a single win in a playoff game over the past three years, which he brought up in a meeting of NFL owners during the spring of 2022. In addition, Kraft spent heavily during the NFL’s free agency season and would obviously like to see a return on this investment. Unfortunately for the Patriots, Bourne was one of the few offensive players acquired during this period who turned out to be worth more than his contract, largely based on his reception of 800 yards with 53 catches for the 2020 playing season.
Bourne has a highly positive personality and appears to be on friendly terms with Kraft. They celebrated wins together in the locker room last season and hugged when Bourne entered training camp this summer. This interaction with players is highly unusual for Kraft, who has made such an effort to stay out of the operations part of the Patriots since Belichick has been at the helm. However, that may change if 2022 is a losing season for the Patriots. Losses in the NFL are notorious for creating frustration and reducing patience, even for the strongest relationships.