Robert Kraft and the Patriots Yield to NFL’s Absolutist Mentality

By Vincent Frank

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft could have fought his pal, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. As one of the most powerful owners, he could have stepped up and said no to the league’s unchecked power.

Instead, Kraft stood up on a podium in San Francisco during the owners’ meeting on Tuesday and yielded any power he had to a league that continues to wield its influence over its 32 teams.

“Although I might disagree what is decided, I do have respect for commissioner Roger Goodell and believe that he’s doing what he perceives to be in the best interests of all 32 teams,” the conciliatory Kraft said. “So in that spirit, 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 has given to us and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric. We won’t appeal.”

If you disagree with a hefty penalty that was thrown your way, why not fight it?┬áIf you truly believe that there’s no evidence your organization did cheat, why take the penalty sitting down? As one of the most powerful owners, and someone who is close to Goodell, Kraft could have sent a message here. A message that Goodell does indeed work for the 32 NFL teams. A stance against the commissioner wouldn’t have been solely in support of his organization, it would have sent a stronger message that those teams with minimal power are not muted in the conversation. The fact that Kraft didn’t do this, it’s a bad look.

While Kraft’s decision not to appeal the league-mandated penalties that were levied against his team will not impact Tom Brady’s appeal, it’s as if the organization decided to backtrack because of the tone Kraft noticed during the owners’ meeting in San Francisco. A tone that could have came from those wielding the most power within the league.

Make no mistake about it, this is a major win for the National Football League. The last thing Roger Goodell and company wanted here was an extensive legal battle with one of the most successful franchises in the league.

It’s also a slap in the face to all those who believe that the NFL’s absolute power should be checked. Checked in a court of law. Checked in the court of arbitration.

We don’t know the behind-the-scenes wrangling that is currently going on in San Francisco, but we do know that the Patriots went against their better judgement by making this decision. The franchise, as Kraft stated, does not agree with the punishment handed down to it by the NFL. A punishment that came in large part due to a report by Ted Wells that has as many holes in it as a completely deflated football.

The National Football League Players Association as well as the league’s 31 other teams needed the Patriots to stick their guns here. They needed one of the most powerful organizations not to wilt in the face of pressure from the ever-powerful NFL. That didn’t happen.

Instead, Kraft’s conciliatory tone acted as nothing more than a way to pat Goodell on the back for a job well done.

These are the facts that Kraft and company went against when deciding to play Pinocchio to Goodell’s version of Geppetto:

1. The NFL handed New England the largest fine ($1 million) in NFL history in large part based on a report that indicated the organization had no knowledge of Deflategate.

2. The NFL stripped New England of an all-important first-round pick in 2016 based on said report.

3. The Patriots practically threw the ball back into Tom Brady’s court. A court that’s overpowered with influence from within the league office. They did so knowing full well that Goodell’s power of arbitration in this case could have been challenged.

Now that Brady (potentially), Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy are apparently taking the NFL to federal court, the union’s stance is much weaker because of Kraft’s willingness to walk the party line. To play company man.

When looking back at Kraft’s inability to even challenge Goodell, it makes perfect sense. The two are considered friends. They have worked through some hard times, including a labor strife back in 2011. It’s a relationship Kraft wants to maintain. It’s also a relationship Kraft would have strained if he had taken Goodell to court.

But as one of the most powerful owners, Kraft has a responsibility to the league’s 31 other owners here. His responsibility is not just to the Patriots. In this, he failed his colleagues big time.

He also failed his four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback at every turn. Instead of standing with Brady, Kraft publicly backed down in the face of league pressure. That in and of itself makes Tuesday a historically bad day for the the New England Patriots.

Photo: USA Today Sports