Give Patriots owner Robert Kraft credit for channeling the political savvy of his pal Donald Trump.
Kraft appealed to his fervent base Monday at the NFL owners meetings by revealing that he wrote a letter to NFL commissioner/Chief Patriots Persecutor Roger Goodell requesting that the league restore the Patriots’ draft picks, including a 2016 first-rounder, that it stripped away as part of the punishment for Deflategate.
Despite Kraft’s epistolary plea to Goodell, the Patriots have no shot of getting their first-round pick back. It doesn’t matter how many letters the team writes, how many words it adds to the voluminous Wells Report in Context website or how many federal judges side with Tom Brady. Kraft knows this.
While his efforts to recoup the draft picks and his regret about capitulating last May in San Francisco are genuine, letting us know about the letter is political theater.
Kraft is like a senator who must satisfy his constituents back home while maintaining his carefully cultivated influence and power with his colleagues. He must project being strident to the Patriotologists who feel he betrayed them by standing down, while at the same time being a billionaire team player with NFL owners.
Really, those other owners are the only ones who could force Goodell to change his mind and restore the draft picks in 2016 and 2017 (a fourth-rounder). Kraft should have addressed his entreaty to them. But why should they? Kraft didn’t stand up when it wasn’t his team being unfairly punished. Instead, he stood firmly in Goodell’s corner.
Kraft is legitimately hurt and dismayed at the way Deflategate has been handled. He has a right to be. He conveyed that pointedly in July, when he said, “I was wrong to put my faith in the league.”
But he was wrong to put his faith in Goodell long before the Patriots were the victims of the commish’s dartboard discipline.
That’s why it was risible when Kraft was asked whether there was any movement among the other member clubs to intervene on the Patriots’ behalf.
“I don’t think you’ll see any momentum among our peers,” he said. “I wish they would, because they could be in a similar position, but we have put our best case forward and that’s in the league’s hands now.”
Kraft is asking his fellow owners to do what he didn’t — speak up and speak out when the league has clearly mishandled a situation that adversely affects another club.
Where was Kraft during Bountygate, the scandal revolving around the New Orleans Saints rewarding players for injuring opposing players and knocking them out of games, when Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for an entire year, general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first eight games of the 2012 season, and the Saints were docked two second-round picks?
He was being quoted in The New York Times backing Goodell’s punishment.
While there was certainly more obvious culpability in Bountygate than Deflategate, the punishments were Draconian.
There was definitely a chance to speak up when the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins were docked $10 million and $36 million of cap space, respectively, over two seasons because they treated the 2010 uncapped year, the final season of the prior collective bargaining agreement, like . . . an uncapped year.
Neither team broke any actual rules, only an unspoken compact not to use the cap-free season to clear future cap space.
That sounds an awful lot like coerced collusion.
The NFL Management Council executive committee, of which Kraft still is a member, advised the league to strip the teams of their cap space, which was then redistributed among 28 of the other 30 teams.
In 2013, when ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” profiled Goodell, Kraft was fine with Goodell’s punitive process, even though players long before Tom Brady were bemoaning its arbitrary, unfair, and excessive nature.
“I really don’t focus on how players view the commissioner,” Kraft said. “All I know is he’s very tough, but very fair, and he’s doing a job, and it’s not going to help him win popularity contests. I want him to do things just the way he’s doing them.”
Goodell followed Kraft’s advice, unfortunately, adjudicating Deflategate the way he has meted out other discipline — in an often heavy-handed, myopic, and misguided manner.
Kraft had his chances to take a stand against unfair punishments. Instead, he doubled down on the Guardian of the Game and his brand of industrial justice.
Now, Kraft wants other teams to rally to his cause because they could be the next victims.
There is a better chance of Bill Belichick apologizing for peevishly pushing reporters’ digital voice recorders, smartphones, and microphones into the center of the table as if he were going all in at a Texas hold’em tournament Tuesday at the AFC coaches’ breakfast.
Ultimately, that’s the great myth of the NFL. That it’s a benevolent collective.
As much as the owners prattle on about the good of the game and being partners, they’re not. They’re competitors with a common interest in keeping costs down, exerting control over their employees, and raking in revenue.
Anything that weakens the Patriots and lessens their chances for success is fine by the other 31 teams, even if it’s unfair, uncalled for, and unsubstantiated.
The only letter that would have gotten the attention of Kraft’s fellow owners and the NFL would have been one from the Patriots’ lawyers, saying they were going to take the draft pick fight to federal court.
But that was never going to happen, because even if Kraft won that battle, he would lose his place as one of the NFL’s rainmakers — and probably his chance at the Hall of Fame.
The Patriots won’t be making a selection in the first round at next month’s draft, but Kraft made his choice last May. There is no going back.