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Robert Kraft’s Deflategate letter isn’t just a message to Goodell

The Patriots owner was actually addressing his team’s outraged fans more than he was the commissioner when he wrote a letter asking Roger Goodell to reconsider the team’s penalties.

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BOCA RATON, Fla. — I suppose it never hurts to ask. Not that Patriots owner Robert Kraft sounds optimistic that his letter will produce its desired result. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been very vulnerable to appeals of his decision-making of late, but only in a court of law or before an arbitrator. Not so much when an NFL owner merely sits down and writes him a strongly-worded missive asking him to overturn perhaps his most heavy-handed edict yet.

Make no mistake, in disclosing Monday that he wrote Goodell a letter more than a month ago beseeching the commissioner to reinstate the first- and fourth-round draft picks that New England lost in the league’s Deflategate ruling—as well as throw out Tom Brady’s original four-game suspension—the Patriots’ owner was actually addressing his team’s outraged fans more than he was the commissioner.

That’s why it was Kraft writing that letter, rather than a high-priced team of attorneys. Even if the latter represents a long shot, the former has no shot to succeed. Which Kraft seems to fully grasp but can’t admit for appearances’ sake. With the draft looming about five weeks away, he wants to be seen as standing up for his team in the eyes of the fans, while remaining a team player in the eyes of the league. Thus, a letter, but no lawyers. Might as well fire off a terse note to the White Star Line, voicing his displeasure about how that whole maiden voyage of the Titanic turned out.

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“I personally wrote a letter to the commissioner responding to his comment that if any new facts came up, he would take them into consideration,” said Kraft here, convening with reporters on the first full day of the NFL’s annual meeting at the Boca Raton Resort. “I personally believe that when the league made their decision, they did not factor in the Ideal Gas Law. They admitted that publicly. They had a full year of being able to observe Tom Brady play with all the rules of whatever the NFL was, and make any judgments there. We have laid it out pretty straightforward and now it’s up to them to decide.”

Kraft’s case that Brady was Brady in 2015, even with the NFL controlling what happens to the inflation level of footballs more closely than ever, makes solid sense. But it was pretty telling that Kraft repeatedly declined to say if he received any reply to his letter from Goodell, with his near-silence speaking volumes. Probably because he didn’t get one, or ever even expected to. Asked if he was hopeful of swaying the commissioner to see the Patriots’ viewpoint, Kraft would only allow that “I pray and desire.”

But prayer and desire aren’t going to get it done in this case, Bob. Not when the NFL is still fighting in appellate court to reinstate its right to suspend Brady, with arguments being heard earlier this month in the league’s attempt to reverse a lower court’s decision to vacate Brady’s suspension. I don’t think the NFL would be wasting its time in that legal effort if Kraft’s letter had struck just the right chord of logic in Goodell’s mind.

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We’ve seen this type of have-it-both-ways stance from Kraft before. He wants to be a seen as a good league guy, and he wants to also represent the fighting nature of his fans. And it’s difficult to convincingly pull off that tricky little tandem, because it’s two wildly different constituencies.

“We’ve done everything we can do and I actually want our fans to know, I empathize with the way they feel,” Kraft said. “We have put our best case forward and that’s in the league’s hands now.”

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Last year, Kraft announced that he would accept the league’s punishment decision and drop the matter for the good of the league, then bristled when Brady was slapped with a four-game suspension, in addition to the loss of those two draft picks and a $1 million fine. But if he was inclined to match the NFLPA in its legal fight against the league in Brady’s case, Kraft would have long since already opened that new front in this 14-month war.

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“When you join the NFL it’s a partnership and you agree to abide by certain rules and conditions,” said the side of Kraft that’s loyal to the league. “We have tried to work the system as best we can, and now it’s working itself out.”

But it will work itself out without Kraft considering a legal challenge to the league, as he made clear when he was asked if any such option still remained.

“I’m excited about the upcoming season and I’m trying to look forward,” he said. “We’ve covered that as best we can. I’m moving on from that.”

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Moving on doesn’t mean Kraft couldn’t linger long enough to take one last look back at 2015, when he responded to a question about his disappointment in the NFL refusing to share its year’s worth of PSI readings as part of the football inflation testing procedures. Again, he’s a bit torn between leaving his team’s Deflategate saga in the past and keeping the fight alive.

“I was debating whether to say that, but you can put your own interpretation,” Kraft said. “That’s why I hesitated. They did their own testing, they have results, and for whatever reason, they haven’t shared them with any of us. We actually requested at the beginning of the season that they test every game throughout the league and do that, but they chose to do it their own way.”

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And there’s only so much Kraft is willing to protest about that perceived injustice. The Patriots’ way is of course quite famous. But in this case, Kraft’s way is to try and have one foot still firmly planted in both worlds, as he has all along in this never-ending melodrama. He wrote a stern letter to Goodell, but in reality it was obviously a message meant to be delivered to a different audience.