Dan Shaughnessy

Tension mounts with Kraft, Goodell at owners meeting

Patriots owner Robert Kraft  (left) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell are in opposite corners this year at the owners meeting.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft (left) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell are in opposite corners this year at the owners meeting.Steven Savoia/AP file/Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Welcome to the City by the Bay, where Deflategate meets Golden Gate.

“Mad Men” is over, Letterman hangs it up Wednesday, but Deflategate never sleeps. Our long National Football League nightmare feels as though it may never be over.

It has been quite a flurry in the last couple of weeks. After almost four months of silence, we had the release of the 243-page Wells Report, the harsh sanctions heaped on the Patriots, counterattacks from owner Bob Kraft (and Tom Brady’s agent), followed by a throw-down conference call in which Wells defended himself.

Then, just when it was getting quiet, we got the piece de resistance — the close to 20,000-word “Wells Report In Context” firebomb issued by Patriots lawyers last Thursday.


The soap opera shifts to Tony Bennett’s town this week as Kraft and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gather with 31 other NFL owners for the league’s annual spring meeting. These rich-guy conventions generally are only noticed by Bill Polian and Ron Jaworski, now analysts for ESPN. There’s always a lot of blather about rules changes (the PAT is the hot topic this year) and endless speculation about which franchise might move to football-starved Los Angeles.

This year’s meeting presents a big bowl of awkward. With tension at a historic level, Kraft and Goodell are sharing space in the corridors, lobbies, and meeting rooms of a swank hotel in downtown San Francisco. It’s appointment TV for folks from the Worldwide Leader, and a media throng is here to see if former best buddies Bob and Roger are going to make nice, or dive into a steel cage.

Kraft arrived in San Francisco Sunday afternoon and politely declined to comment when approached by the Globe’s Ben Volin. At that moment, he had been silent since his ambiguous and somewhat threatening statement issued the day the punishments were handed down.


Things changed Monday when a new batch of Kraft’s fighting words were published by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. Venting on King’s well-read “Monday Morning Quarterback,’’ Kraft said, “This is an accusation of wrongdoing, without proof,’’ and cited the “unfairness” of the report and the sanctions. Asked if he believes Tom Brady is innocent, Kraft said, “Yes. Because we had the discussion . . .”

Well, that settles that, I guess.

According to the NFL constitution, team punishments are “final, conclusive and unappealable.’’ However, the league will allow the Patriots to appeal their penalties (Brady already has appealed his four-game suspension), and they have until Thursday. Regarding the ultimate option — suing the league in Al Davis fashion — Kraft was cryptic.

“I’m not going to comment on that at this point in time,’’ said the Patriots owner. “I won’t say.’’

Amazing. Kraft has long been Goodell’s patron saint and was described as “assistant commissioner’’ in a recent national magazine article on Goodell. Now the Patriots owner sounds like he’s contemplating suing the league.

When King asked Kraft about Spygate, Kraft answered, “We admitted it and took our penance. This is very different.’’

There it is again. The Patriots won’t admit they did anything wrong. They keep saying the league hasn’t “definitively” proven anything. In the face of a 243-page report filled with circumstantial evidence, the Patriots are digging in and saying, “You’ve got nothing on us.’’


It’s a risky strategy that thus far has only inflated their sanctions, but the Patriots are sticking with it. Meanwhile, we’re all still wondering why Jim McNally and John Jastremski were suspended by the Patriots when the team continues to insist that no one in Foxborough did anything wrong.

Clearly, Kraft is here in San Francisco to engage in some back-room conversations with Goodell, and to test the waters with other owners. Jonathan Kraft was scheduled to arrive Monday and no doubt will be deeply involved in the talks. Might the Krafts be able to galvanize a group of owners willing to stand up to Goodell or possibly oust the commissioner?

No way. NFL owners routinely follow Goodell in lockstep, as Kraft did every time the commissioner sanctioned other teams. Kraft was one of the first to support Goodell in the wake of the Ray Rice fiasco last year. We all know there are many (jealous, regularly beaten) teams that don’t like the Patriots and are probably enjoying seeing the team twist in the winds of scandal once again.

I wondered if perhaps Kraft’s friend, CBS boss Les Moonves — one of the most powerful men in football — might furnish some hefty support for his friend (Moonves is a regular in the Kraft box at Gillette Stadium, and the two attended the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight together), but Moonves’s PR folks returned my request for comment with, “Leslie is going to take a pass on your request.’’

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy @globe.com.