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Changes to Pro Football Hall of Fame election process could affect worthy Patriots

Is this finally the year Patriots owner Robert Kraft is elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame?John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

With six Super Bowl titles in 20 years, former Patriots stars will continue to have a heavy presence in Hall of Fame discussions over the next decade-plus.

Gold jackets undoubtedly will be popular duds at future Patriots reunions. Ty Law (2019) and Richard Seymour (2022) already represent the first wave of the New England dynasty. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski (at least) will highlight a second wave of inductees.

And the good folks in Canton, Ohio, should waive any waiting period and send a limo to pick up Bill Belichick for his bronze bust the moment he decides he’s had enough.


But first, the architect of the franchise deserves his spot in the world’s most coveted football club.

Robert Kraft moved a step closer when he was recently one of 54 senior players, coaches, and contributors named semifinalists for induction. He is poised to get a little closer this coming week when that list is cut to 12 finalists.

In a departure from previous years, that dozen will be broken into two groups — seniors and coaches/contributors.

“Following a bylaws change our board of trustees approved, for a three-year trial period for the classes of 2023, ‘24, and ‘25, the coach and contributor pool combines, so there’s one ultimate nominee for election,” said Rich Desrosiers, the chief communications officer for the Hall. “The senior pool will have three candidates considered for election. And they will be considered individually, not as a slate. So, it could be zero, one, two, or three that ultimately could get elected to the classes of ‘23, ‘24, and ‘25.”

With the new process, larger Hall classes are expected (up to five players can be elected by the regular committee) at least through the trial period.

“I do anticipate that we will see classes of nine for at least the next couple of years to try and get some more deserving former players into the Hall,” said Desrosiers.


“Just to bring more transparency to the entire process so that no one would ever feel like they didn’t know how someone got to that point, or if someone really wanted to advocate for a candidate that they would know exactly when would be the time to make a public appeal for a particular candidate, because the elections for the seniors, coaches, and contributors is on a different timeline than the modern era players,” added Desrosiers. “It doesn’t get quite the [attention] or hadn’t until this year. And we hope this year and moving forward [it can generate the] same level of public attention as the modern era class. And it’s also happening at a time when the focus is on the current class going in. So literally at the time that we’re celebrating the class of 2022, we’re making significant progress in the selection of the class of 2023.”

It's hard to deny Robert Kraft's case as a Hall of Famer.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Which brings us back to Kraft’s candidacy.

Every name in the contributor category is worthy, but when you start to sift through the résumés, Kraft’s case is the strongest.

First, his contributions to the Patriots.

A season ticket-holder for 23 years, he bought the franchise in 1994 — and turned a moribund organization into the envy of not only the NFL but every sports franchise in the world.

“The single-most important event in the history of that franchise is Bob Kraft buying the team,” Giants owner John Mara told me in 2019.


The Patriots were 19-61 in the five seasons before Kraft bought them. They earned postseason invites in four of the first five seasons under his stewardship.

Kraft hired Belichick (and Belichick drafted Brady) in 2000, and the winning went to a new, unprecedented level.

Since 1994, the Patriots have 341 victories, 19 AFC East crowns, 22 trips to the playoffs, and 33 postseason wins, including six Super Bowl titles, the most by any owner in pro football history.

“I would have given my left arm to play when Bob Kraft owned the team,” Hall of Fame guard John Hannah, a Patriot from 1973-85, said. “I think the world of Bob Kraft and he’s done a lot for us old guys, too. He has my respect.’’

Second, Kraft’s contributions to the NFL.

Kraft has ascended to one of the most influential owners in the NFL and the league has seen enormous financial growth during his tenure as the chairman of the media committee, where he is the point person in negotiating TV deals with the league’s partners.

He also serves on the league’s compensation committee, financial committee, and management council executive committee.

Those who have seen him in action believe he’s not just a franchise builder but a bridge builder. He possesses the ability to connect with people and bring them together, even if they don’t always see eye to eye.

The most famous example of this came in 2011, when Kraft was credited with reaching across the table to the NFLPA and helping end the lockout.


“You know what I always liked about him right from the beginning? He always put the interest of the league first and that can be pretty rare in this day and age, and I noticed that right from the beginning,” Mara said. “He’s played such a major role in every important decision that the league has made, be it the TV contracts, the labor contracts, he’s always right in the middle of that and there’s a reason for that, it’s because the people sitting in that room have enormous respect for him.”

Third, Kraft’s contributions to the sport of football.

In addition to his support of local teams, Kraft and his family started the Israel Football League, an amateur league that has helped grow the popularity of the sport and the NFL.

Kraft has come close to getting the Hall of Fame nod in recent years, including being a runner-up in 2021, now is the time for the committee members to push him over the goal line.


Opponents added in the offseason

The Dolphins gave quarterback Tua Tagovailoa a shiny new weapon in receiver Tyreek Hill.Mary Holt/Associated Press

DeVante Parker was the Patriots’ most notable offseason acquisition, and he could have a huge impact on the offense as an experienced receiver with excellent size and hands. Here’s a look at the most significant (non-draft pick) addition to each of New England’s opponents this season.

Miami — Tyreek Hill. One of the most dynamic receivers in the game, his ability to alter his routes and make his way back to the ball could help alleviate concerns about Tua Tagovailoa’s accuracy and arm strength.


Pittsburgh — Mitchell Trubisky. Holding off first-round pick Kenny Pickett is Trubisky’s first mission. His second will be to help ease the offense’s transition from Ben Roethlisberger. No easy task.

Baltimore — Marcus Williams. A ballhawking safety, Williams will serve as a leader and mentor for top pick Kyle Hamilton, the best safety to enter the league in years. This secondary will give pass catchers fits.

Green Bay — Sammy Watkins. With Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Equanimeous St. Brown toiling elsewhere, Aaron Rodgers needs a new best friend, and Watkins is a prime target.

Detroit — D.J. Chark. Playmakers are hard to come by in Motown, but the athletic and acrobatic Chark qualifies as such. The veteran receiver needs to concentrate on a mutually beneficial relationship with Jared Goff, who needs a bounce-back season.

Cleveland — Jacoby Brissett. It’s obviously Deshaun Watson, but with the embattled quarterback’s playing status in limbo, the former Patriots QB is the choice. Brissett’s record as a starter (14-23) won’t instill confidence in the Dawg Pound denizens, but this is the most talented team he’s been on since the 2016 Patriots. Brissett doesn’t need to be a star, just a caretaker.

Chicago — Trevor Siemian. Sounds crazy, but Siemian could play a role similar to Brian Hoyer: a seasoned, experienced veteran who has the ear (and the back) of a young quarterback. Justin Fields is the present and future, but he is going to require a lot of support from the coaches, and his teammates.

NY Jets — Solomon Thomas. Gang Green did most of its offseason work via the draft (remember, three first-rounders!) but Thomas is a solid and steady veteran who will emerge as a leader along the defensive line.

Indianapolis — Matt Ryan. Easiest choice on the slate. The Colts are loaded and now that they’ve unloaded Carson Wentz, they are in a prime position to make a deep postseason run. Ryan can still zip it and he’s got enough weapons around him that he will be a master distributor.

Minnesota — Za’Darius Smith. A strong pass rusher, Smith helps fortify a defense that lost several big names (Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen, and Sheldon Richardson to name a few). Smith will be licking his chops to get after former teammate Rodgers.

The Bills added star pass rusher Von Miller in free agency.Joshua Bessex/Getty

Buffalo — Von Miller. One of the most explosive edge rushers in the business, he could be in line for a second straight ring fitting. Miller hasn’t played a snap in Buffalo blue and he’s likely already a favorite of the Bills Mafia.

Arizona — Marquise Brown. He didn’t put up “Hollywood”-like numbers with the Ravens, but this speedster could do just that with Kyler Murray chucking it to him. Brown also should help ease the pain of DeAndre Hopkins’s six-game PED suspension.

Las Vegas — Josh McDaniels. Toughest choice on this list, but it was McDaniels’s decisions to bring in Adams and Chandler Jones, so let’s go with the guy pulling the strings and calling the shots. McDaniels is charged with changing the Raiders’ culture without sacrificing their image. In his second go-around as a head coach, the guess here is he will be a huge success.

Cincinnati — Alex Cappa. This right guard is the centerpiece of a reworked offensive line (center Ted Karras and right tackle La’el Collins are also new) that should better protect franchise quarterback Joe Burrow, who was sacked a league-high 51 times a year ago.


Prime candidates to lend a hand

The Patriots head into training camp this coming week (veterans report Tuesday and practices start Wednesday) with fewer than 90 players on the roster, so a few more can be added. Who might be the best fits/candidates?

Dont’a Hightower. Perhaps the most obvious name out there. He’s played his entire nine-year career in New England and is one of the most respected players by every member of the organization. The linebacking corps is getting younger and faster, but having a player with Hightower’s experience, playmaking ability (maybe on a pitch count), and locker room presence would be invaluable.

Trey Flowers. After a terrific three-year run in New England (he got into one game his rookie season) that included 21 sacks, Flowers had an injury-plagued three campaigns in Detroit. If he’s healthy, Flowers could slide back into his old stomping grounds and provide excellent punch as a versatile lineman who can beat tackles with his power and interior blockers with his speed. Like Hightower, he’s a high-character guy.

Riley Reiff. The Patriots have Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn penciled in as starting tackles (on which side remains to be settled) and Reiff could provide excellent veteran depth.

Odell Beckham Jr. OK, this was just to see if you were paying attention. Beckham is a long shot, even though the receiver has expressed interest in coming to New England in the past. He’s coming off major knee injury, but if he’s healthy enough to bolt and cut, his hands make him worth any risk, especially if he’s willing to sign a “prove it” pact.

Others to consider: linebacker Jamie Collins (his happiest days have been in New England); cornerback Chris Harris (his veteran presence could help this youngish group); left tackle Duane Brown (he turns 37 next month, but he can still play and he might just wait until camps close before signing on the dotted line).

Extra points

N'Keal Harry's disappointing stint in New England came to an end last week.Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

Quiz time: Name the only player to have been intercepted by a Patriots player and also catch a touchdown pass as a Patriots receiver. Answer below (and no Googling!) … With the New England chapter of N’Keal Harry’s career over, some thoughts on the club’s first-round pick in 2019. Hindsight is 20-20, of course, but armed with the same information (college production, workout numbers, etc.), there was no reason to think Harry wouldn’t thrive as a Patriot. Most every noted draftnik had Harry as a first- or second-rounder. He just never lived up to expectations, which were borne out of his exquisite size for the position (6 feet 4 inches, 225 pounds), strength, and ability to win 50-50 balls. Going back to his first summer in Foxborough, Harry struck an imposing figure. Even in shells and shorts, he was so big, he looked like a tight end working with the receivers. With the exception of some nice blocking toward the end of his tenure, however, Harry never appeared fully engaged. He was never able to get on the same page with his quarterback, whether it was Tom Brady, Cam Newton, or Mac Jones. The opportunities were there (103 targets) but the production was not (57 catches, 598 yards), mostly because Harry couldn’t battle through tight coverage or gain separation. Harry was front and center on social media, posting lots of workouts, but all that time and sweat never translated to football. Perhaps the trade (which Harry first requested a year ago) and the change of scenery will have a positive effect … When criticizing the Harry pick, it’s important to also consider Jakobi Meyers, who was Harry’s rookie classmate, heads into Year 4 with 168 catches for 1,954 yards … Fellow undrafted rookie Gunner Olszewski had minimal impact as a fledgling receiver but did develop into an All-Pro punt returner following a college career as a defensive back … NFL rosters will need to be trimmed to 85 by Aug. 16; to 80 by Aug. 23; and to 53 by Aug. 30 … The first four practices of camp will be unpadded … This will be Bill Belichick’s 48th consecutive season as an NFL coach, the most in league history … One final Hall of Fame thought: Stanley Morgan (557 catches, 10,716 yards, 72 touchdowns) belongs. The man averaged 19.2 yards per catch (10th best all time) in 14 seasons, the first 13 in New England, where his long bombs with Steve Grogan were sweet … Quiz answer: Marlin Briscoe, who died last month at age 76. Briscoe was intercepted by Leroy Mitchell at Fenway Park in 1968 when he was quarterbacking the Broncos. He caught a TD pass from Grogan at Schaefer Stadium in 1976.

Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.