SAN FRANCISCO—Before making the declaration that demonstrated either statesmanship or surrender, depending on one’s point of view, Robert Kraft had a question for Stacey James, the team’s vice president of media and community relations.
“Did you send out a press release?”
“I told two people,” replied James. “I think that should be sufficient.”
His instincts were true: word of an imminent DeflateGate Update spread swiftly. The Terrace Room at the Ritz Carlton, site of the NFL owners spring meetings, quickly filled to capacity. Kraft and his lawyers had lately been breathing fire and citing the verities of the Ideal Gas Law, assuming an uncharacteristically bellicose posture in the wake of the Wells Report, which resulted in the league’s Draconian punishment of its reigning champion. The scribes and talking heads leaned forward, expecting (hoping) for Kraft to lob a rhetorical Molotov cocktail at Roger Goodell, his former BFF.
Instead, Kraft tapped out.
Evincing a desire to cut back on the contention between his club and the NFL, Kraft announced, “I’m going to accept, reluctantly, what [Goodell] has given to us and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric. We won’t appeal.”
Yes, it was announced later in the day that the owners had adopted a new “try”: the extra point has officially been moved back from the two- to the 15-yard-line. But Kraft’s journey from anger to acceptance was the more surprising conversion.
New England will now take its medicine, accepting the NFL’s four-game ban for Tom Brady, paying its $1 million fine and saying sayonara to next year’s first-round draft pick, and a fourth-rounder in ’17. It’s a severe punishment, particularly when one considers New England’s track record with first-rounders during the Bill Belichick era. These aren’t the Lions, Raiders or Chargers. The Patriots tend to not screw these up.
Back in New England, whipsawed Patriots partisans weren’t taking it well. A sampler of reactions on Patsfans.com:
[daily_cut.nfl]“Thanks Bob, you chose Goodell over your fans, you're dead to me.”
“This is an insult to an entire fan base that would do anything for this team.”
“Any chance [ex-owner] James Orthwein could be resurrected?”
The fact is, Kraft showed wisdom, farsighted-ness, and class. He took one for the team, if you care to think of him and his fellow plutocrats as a team. For the sake of the league, he was willing to take the short-term heat from a bunch of outraged chowderheads who’d been spoiling for a brawl, their passions inflamed, in part, by the fighting words coming from Kraft himself, just days earlier.
The NFL had no smoking gun. A “defiant” and “angry” Kraft complained to the MMQB’s Peter King last weekend the league had only “ambiguous and circumstantial evidence.”
Since expressing that “anger and frustration” last Saturday, Kraft has simmered down. “Before I make a final decision,” said this son of a Boston-based dressmaker, “I measure nine times and I cut once.”
Kraft’s conciliatory tone toward the league office has decidedly not been adopted by either Brady or the NFLPA, which will press on with its appeal of his four-game ban, which may not be four games for long. Suspicion hung thick in the air of the chandeliered, marble-lined Ritz lobby that this whole business had somehow been choreographed. Goodell and Kraft having reportedly hugged it out, conditions were ripe, according to the conspiracy-minded, for a backroom quid pro quo. In exchange for Kraft saying “Uncle,” the league finds it within its heart to reduce Brady’s suspension to, say, two games. (Brady’s demeanor during the appeal process—will he be defiant, or more even-keeled?—could also influence the arbitrator’s decision).
One highly-placed source told SI’s Greg Bedard that no deal was cut. For now, Kraft gets the benefit of the doubt. He’s earned it. He spoke with clear emotion on Tuesday morning, his eyes seeming to mist when he described “the heart and soul of the strength of the NFL” being “a partnership of 32 teams.” He voiced his conviction that “the agenda of one team” should never outweigh “the collective good of the full 32.”
Those phrases aren’t hollow when declaimed by Kraft. This is the guy who helped save the 2011 season, who was instrumental in brokering a deal that ended the lockout, even as his heart was heavy with grief from the loss of his wife, Myra.
It would’ve been easy for him to play to the mob, to keep paying his lawyers to do battle with the NFL’s lawyers. That would’ve pleased a significant cross-section of his fan base. But it wasn’t good for the NFL. So, after measuring nine times, Kraft made the right cut.