When Robert Kraft strolled to the podium at the NFL Owners’ meetings on Tuesday, one could expect just about anything. Since the “Deflategate” controversy and league penalties, one of the league’s most powerful owners was at odds with the offices on Park Avenue in New York.
Given his harsh statements toward the league prior to Super Bowl XLIX and his statements both after the league sanctions and to Peter King over the weekend, he was viewed as an owner that would not only appeal the penalties, but possibly (although unlikely) go all the way to court.
Instead, Kraft did a 180 and announced that the team would accept the NFL penalties “reluctantly.” These penalties include the loss of a first and fourth round draft pick as well as a $1 million fine. Quarterback Tom Brady is still going ahead with his appeal of a four game ban.
Kraft said in part: ““I don’t want to continue the rhetoric that’s gone on for the last four months. I’m going to accept, reluctantly, what he (Roger Goodell) has given to us and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric, and we won’t appeal.’’
A league source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Kraft and Goodell had met prior to this press conference and even hugged. Many believe that Kraft offered to accept the team penalties in exchange for a lessening or eliminating of Brady’s suspension. So far, nothing has changed on the Brady front.
The reaction among fans was mixed. Some felt Kraft was doing the right thing by accepting the penalties and trying to move on. Others felt he was turning his back on his team for the good of his fellow owners and profits. Still more were puzzled at why an owner who had insisted on innocence was now accepting some measure of guilt by taking the penalties.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Kraft still may feel his team is innocent, but that he would not win the appeal fight. If he was able to cut a deal and get Brady on the field for week one, then it is understandable. If not, then it is tough to justify spending so much time publicly fighting something to then just change course unless Kraft either knows members of his organization are guilty or he didn’t have the support of other owner’s in his fight.
One has to wonder also how Bill Belichick feels about all this. His press conference the Saturday after the allegations broke was the strongest public defense any member of the organization has done. He is also someone who highly values draft picks and has now lost two of them. And it is safe to say he would have been able to get the Patriots to play well without Brady in the first two or four weeks of the upcoming season. Now it seems all his efforts to prove his operation’s innocence has been for not.
The next crucial date in this saga will be Brady’s appeal. If the four games hold up, then Kraft’s acceptance is not only a loss for New England, but likely to ruffle the feathers of his two most important employees, Belichick and Brady. If the suspension is reduced, then Kraft will be praised for putting Brady above himself. Until then, it is likely we won’t hear anything from either side.