New England Patriots

Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft denies forcing Bill Belichick to trade Jimmy Garoppolo

(USA TODAY Sports)

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft says he “absolutely” believes Bill Belichick will remain the team’s head coach in 2018, as speculation has swirled following an ESPN story Friday that detailed friction inside the franchise.

The ESPN story detailed “an intense sense within the organization that this might be the last year together” for Kraft, Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

However, in an interview with’s Peter King on Saturday, the 76-year-old Kraft disputed part of Seth Wickersham’s ESPN story, saying he did not force Belichick to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

According to Wickersham’s report, Kraft and Belichick met for nearly half a day in mid-October to discuss the team’s quarterback situation. Following their lengthy discussion, Wickersham reported that Belichick left with a “clear mandate.” He was to trade Garoppolo because the 26-year-old “would not be in the team’s long-term plans.”

Kraft, however, said it was actually Belichick who initiated talks of trading Garoppolo this season and called Wickersham’s retelling of the trade “a total fabrication and fiction,” as he rebuked the reporter’s claims with his own version of what happened.

“When you’re lucky enough to have someone exceptional, you let them do their job and you get out of the way,” Kraft told King. “… the last time I talked to Bill about Jimmy’s situation was in a group with Bill, [club president] Jonathan [Kraft], [director of player personnel] Nick Caserio … a small group of us, I think in June. That is the last time I talked to Bill about it.”

The Monday before the NFL trade deadline, Kraft said Belichick called to share that he had reached a deal with the San Francisco 49ers: Garoppolo for a second-round draft pick.

“I assumed once the season started we’d talk again at the end of the season about it. The next time I spoke with Bill about it was the Monday before the trade deadline. He called me on that Monday and said he got a deal with San Francisco, Jimmy for a second-round pick and [quarterback] Brian Hoyer. Turns out they had to cut Hoyer, and then we got him. But really, this was basically a second-round pick and Brian Hoyer for Jimmy.”

“Bill asked me if I was OK with this. I was really taken aback a little bit. I wanted to think about it. I talked to Jonathan, who was OK with it, and I called Bill back and said, ‘OK.'”

Kraft said it would have been difficult to keep both starting quarterback Tom Brady and Garoppolo, noting that the Patriots would likely have had to put the franchise tag on Garoppolo in order to even try to keep him in 2018. The cost of keeping two franchise-cost quarterbacks on a contending team would be difficult.

Kraft, Belichick, and Brady issued a joint statement on Friday that claimed stories about their team’s dynamic “have speculated theories that are unsubstantiated, highly exaggerated or flat-out inaccurate.”

Brady’s agent, Don Yee, who is also Garoppolo’s agent, also released a statement, writing, “I don’t really know what to say; it’s tough to have a response since it didn’t appear to me to have one on-the-record quote. All I can suggest is don’t believe everything you read.”

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