Kraft surprised everyone after ending his fight against the NFL on Tuesday. (USA TODAY Images)
Patriots owner Robert Kraft is one of the smartest guys in the league. He’s been through some difficult times both as an owner here in New England and as an ambassador of the NFL and he’s always come up with a plan of attack that after all was said and done, somehow eventually made sense.
That’s why after what we heard during his announcement on Tuesday, there’s got to be more to his decision to give up his fight against the NFL.
There’s got to be a reason why he believes it’s O.K. to just surrender a 1st and 4th round draft pick over something he seemed to believe with all his heart his team didn’t do. There’s got to be a reason why he’s not willing to continue this battle after he appeared to really feel so strongly that his club was being wrongly accused.
There has to be.
After all, four months ago a defiant Kraft was on a rampage, having seen his team win an AFC Championship and earn a well-deserved Super Bowl berth, only to have it torn down by allegations of intentionally using under-inflated footballs after blowing out the Colts, who we later found out phoned in the report leading up to it.
He led the charge and every Patriots fan lined up behind him. ¬†He was defiant. ¬†He was admirable. ¬†He won over everyone’s hearts when he said in one of the most memorable press conferences that he planned on demanding an apology if the team was cleared of any wrongdoing.
When the Wells report came out a couple of weeks ago, he seemed as though he still believed just as deeply that Tom Brady and his organization weren’t being treated fairly in the investigation,¬†expressing his frustration publicly over it.
“When I addressed the media at the Super Bowl on January 26 — over 14 weeks ago — I stated that I unconditionally believed that the New England Patriots had done nothing inappropriate in this process or in violation of the NFL rules and that I was disappointed in the way the league handled the initial investigation,” said Kraft. ¬†“That sentiment has not changed.”
“I was convinced that Ted Wells’ investigation would find the same factual evidence supported by both scientific formula and independent research as we did and would ultimately exonerate the Patriots. Based on the explanations I have heard and the studies that have been done, I don’t know how the science of atmospheric conditions can be refuted or how conclusions to the contrary can be drawn without some definitive evidence.”
“To say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the AFC Championship Game, would be a gross understatement.”
Kraft was so adamant about his team’s innocence during Deflate-Gate that Tuesday’s announcement came as a surprise. (USA TODAY Images)
Over the weekend Kraft talked to the MMQB’s Peter King, expressing his frustration over the situation, doubting the evidence against them and how they were being treated. ¬†And he sounded seriously angry over it.
‚ÄúThis whole thing has been very disturbing,‚ÄĚ Kraft told King. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm still thinking things out very carefully. But when you work for something your whole life ‚Ä¶
‚ÄúI just get really worked up. To receive the harshest penalty in league history is just not fair. The anger and frustration with this process, to me, it wasn‚Äôt fair. If we‚Äôre giving all the power to the NFL and the office of the commissioner, this is something that can happen to all 32 teams. We need to have fair and balanced investigating and reporting. But in this report, every inference went against us ‚Ä¶ inferences from ambiguous, circumstantial evidence all went against us. That‚Äôs the thing that really bothers me.
‚ÄúIf they want to penalize us because there‚Äôs an aroma around this? That‚Äôs what this feels like. If you don‚Äôt have the so-called smoking gun, it really is frustrating. And they don‚Äôt have it. This thing never should have risen to this level.‚ÄĚ
He’s right, it shouldn’t have. ¬†The only problem is the league chose to mishandle the whole situation from the beginning. ¬†Had they simply sent out a warning to both teams prior to the AFC Championship game and had the referees also properly checked the footballs both before the game, and at halftime (with gauges that both actually worked correctly and gave identical readings…you can’t make this up), this entire situation could have been avoided. ¬†
Instead, that didn’t happen and the NFL took the Colts suspicions and ran with them, all the while failing to put together a proper protocol to fairly deal with it. ¬†By the time it was over their independent investigation seemingly took that premise and crucified the Patriots over two ball boys texting ridiculous things back and forth. The best part was the NFL felt that 100 seconds in a bathroom was enough time to take over a dozen footballs out of a huge equipment bag, put them on a slightly sloped¬†floor, take a little air evenly out of each one, and then put them all back in the bag. ¬†
In 100 seconds. Experts argued that it was enough time in perfect circumstances, but given the readings and how close they were (and they could have potentially been even closer if the two gauges actually worked right) James McNally must have done an incredible job letting out that precise amount of air as he was allegedly furiously flying around with each of those footballs sprawled out all around him in that time frame.
That seems pretty unlikely, but it didn’t matter. Those two things were enough to reach a conclusion that it was “more probable than not” it happened and that somehow Brady was guilty for being “generally aware” of it. ¬†The more I type that, the more ridiculous it sounds each and every time I do it.
Kraft seemed to feel the same way. ¬†When the Patriots got upset and Kraft essentially declared war on the league, the battle seemed to be¬†on and most fans out there stood behind him as he took on the multi-billionaire behemoth that is the NFL. ¬†He was leading the march right down to New York, a place most people tend to strongly dislike anyway since it houses one of their AFC East rivals as well as another team they share a stadium with who twice stole Super Bowls in the closing seconds, one of which ruined a potentially perfect season.
There was talk he’d even take the league to court. ¬†This sounded like a man so determined that he believed his team was innocent, that the sincerity he spoke with was beyond inspiring. ¬†He’s been a guy who has always put the fans at the top of the list and now they were rallying behind both he and Brady more than ever before. ¬† The best part was,¬†it looked like the only man potentially powerful enough to take down Roger Goodell was poised to launch one of the biggest assaults in the history of the league and every fan in this region, and around the country, were ready to follow him into this epic fight.
Just three days ago he told King that he truly believed they didn’t do anything wrong, questioning the evidence – or the lack thereof – most notably the recollection of Walt Anderson and the fact that things like logic and science were ignored.
‚ÄúAnderson has a pregame recollection of what gauge he used, and it‚Äôs disregarded, and the [Wells] Report just assumes he uses the other gauge,‚ÄĚ Kraft told King. ‚ÄúFootballs have never been measured at halftime of any other game in NFL history. They have no idea how much footballs go down in cold weather or expand in warm weather. There is just no evidence that tampering with the footballs ever happened.‚ÄĚ
Now here we are, just days later and their looming battle is suddenly no more. ¬†Somewhere between Saturday¬†and Tuesday¬†something happened, and Kraft changed his mind. ¬†As he spoke on Tuesday, what seemed to weigh heavily on him was whether or not he wanted to undergo what would likely be a long, drawn out battle that he didn’t sound ready for.
“I have two options: I can try to end it or extend it,” said Kraft on Tuesday. ¬†“I have given a lot of thought to both options. The first thing that came to mind is 21 years ago, I had the privilege of going to a meeting similar to what we‚Äôre at here, in Orlando, and being welcomed in an NFL owners‚Äô meeting. Here‚Äôs a fan and a former season ticket holder living a dream and being welcomed in that room. I got goosebumps that day. I vowed at that time that I would do everything that I could do to make the New England Patriots an elite team and hopefully respected throughout the country and at the same time, do whatever I could do to try to help the NFL become the most popular sport in America.”
“Before I make a final decision, I measure nine times and I cut once. I think maybe if I had made the decision last week it would be different than it is today. But believing in the strength of the partnership and the 32 teams, we have concentrated the power of adjudication of problems in the office of the commissioner. Although I might disagree with what is decided, I do have respect for the Commissioner and believe that he‚Äôs doing what he perceives to be in the best interest of the full 32.”
At that point, most fans braced themselves for what they hoped wasn’t coming. ¬†But it did.
“So, in that spirit, I don‚Äôt want to continue the rhetoric that‚Äôs gone on for the last four months,” continued Kraft. ¬†“I‚Äôm going to accept, reluctantly, what he has given to us and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric. We won‚Äôt appeal.”
Just like that, the battle was over.
It’s hard to understand, but the decision to accept the punishment is essentially an admission of guilt, whether most people, Kraft included, like it or not. ¬†That’s hard to endure given that he just got everyone ready to follow him through whatever war was waiting, only to surrender without a shot being fired.
Now it’s just his quarterback continuing the fight, and Brady seems ready to see this through to the end. ¬†His lawyers and the NFLPA seem to be gearing up for whatever obstacles remain ahead of them, and with a four game suspension staring him down, the hope now is that somehow they’ll get that ridiculous penalty thrown out.
Some believe Kraft’s decision to give up was a move done in good faith to hopefully buy his signal-caller an opportunity to be on the field for the season opener. ¬†Other reports seem to signal the contrary, but the only one who truly knows the reasons behind Tuesday’s speech is Kraft.
But there’s got to be more to it than we know. ¬†There has to be.
For now most fans are frustrated and confused, and rightly so. ¬†But the story still needs to play out a little longer for us to truly know what his plan really is.
Kraft ended his speech Tuesday saying that he hopes fans trust his judgement.
“I know that a lot of Patriots fans are going to be disappointed in that decision,” said Kraft. “But I hope they trust my judgment and know that I really feel at this point in time that taking this off the agenda, this is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans and the NFL. I hope you all can respect that.”
It would just make it a little easier if we could understand it.
Hopefully we’ll eventually find out there’s more to this and it will all eventually make sense. Because up until right now, none of it, from the entire time this ridiculous mess blew up, and what just happened Tuesday, has made any sense at all.