Whether or not they are involved in another snap of football, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are destined for Canton. They might get their own wings of the Pro Football Hall of Fame named after them.
But there’s a third overseer of the Patriots’ dynasty, and Saturday night’s ceremony got us thinking: When is Robert Kraft’s turn to get fitted for a gold jacket?
Historically, Hall enshrinement doesn’t come until after an owner, general manager, or coach has stepped away from day-to-day operations. Think former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo going into the Hall in 2014, or former Packers GM Ron Wolf in 2015.
But the rules changed this year when 48 Hall of Fame voters elected Jerry Jones, who still is very much active in running and owning the Cowboys. Jones was this year’s “Contributor” nominee, a new distinction created in 2015 to help owners, GMs, and coaches earn their place in the Hall.
Not to detract from Jones’s big weekend, but if he can get in, Kraft should be close to the front of the line.
“I believe Robert Kraft will have lots of support for induction into the Hall of Fame,” said Barry Wilner of the Associated Press, a Hall of Fame voter. “Now that we have the contributors’ category, which is the correct place for owners to be considered, I believe his name will come up very soon.”
Jones won three Super Bowl titles in his first seven years of ownership, and is arguably the biggest player in league politics these days. He wrote the playbook on generating major revenue from your stadium and your brand, and he was the main power player in bringing two teams to Los Angeles.
At the same time, a decent argument could be made that Jones’s meddling in football matters has hindered the Cowboys, who haven’t played in an NFC Championship game since the 1995 season. He admitted in 2012 that he would probably have fired himself as GM.
Kraft’s résumé stacks up equal or better in most areas. We don’t have to argue Kraft’s on-field success, because he’s got just about every owner beat. Since buying the team in 1994, the Patriots have the most Super Bowl appearances (eight), championships (five), division titles (16), and total victories (283). Let’s not forget the one Super Bowl appearance before Brady and Belichick arrived, of course.
Off the field, Kraft’s impact has been significant both in New England and with the NFL as a whole. Kraft saved the Patriots from moving to St. Louis, saved the NFL in a major market, then helped turn a moribund franchise into one of the pillars of professional sports. He also built Gillette Stadium with private money and no personal seat licenses.
As chairman of the NFL’s broadcast committee, Kraft has been a key player in negotiating the league’s multiyear, multibillion-dollar deals with four networks. During the 2011 lockout, Kraft was influential at the bargaining table, and he produced a deal that brought the NFL 10 years of labor cease-fire.
Kraft has spread the game internationally to Israel, where thousands of kids play football and soccer at Kraft Stadium. He also takes a pilgrimage to Israel with a group of Hall of Famers each summer.
“Robert Kraft could be inducted because of what he has done for the Patriots. He could be inducted for what he has done for the NFL,” said Bleacher Report’s Dan Pompei, another voter. “The fact that he has improved both significantly makes him a very strong Hall of Fame candidate. I’ll be very surprised if he’s not inducted in the near future.”
But Kraft, who turned 76 in June, may have to be patient. The 2018 Hall of Fame class will have only one Contributor spot, and the 2019 class will have two. Kraft will have to compete with several qualified candidates for those three spots, including Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, former Cowboys GM Gil Brandt, former Giants GM George Young, former Washington GM Bobby Beathard, and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, plus others.
A committee of nine of the 48 Hall voters determines the Contributor candidate(s) each year, then that candidate(s) simply needs 39 of the 48 votes (slightly more than 80 percent) for induction.
Most voters contacted for this story stated that it is impossible to handicap which candidates will get on the ballot and get enough votes. But multiple voters mentioned that Bowlen, who has overseen three Broncos Super Bowl titles and is in failing health, might be next up.
“I wasn’t in favor of Jerry Jones going in this year,” one voter said. “I thought Pat Bowlen should have gone in ahead of him simply because of Bowlen’s failing health.”
The Patriots’ Spygate and Deflategate scandals also will factor in for Kraft. One voter said, “I’d be inclined not to vote for him just because of the sheer number of allegations of cheating that occurred on his watch.” Another voter downplayed those incidents.
“I’m sure some people will bring up Spygate and Deflategate. Whatever,” voter Jason Cole said. “Al Davis and George Halas have also been accused of cheating in multiple ways. So have plenty of others. I have always thought Spygate and Deflategate were overblown.”
The Hall of Fame will review whether it will continue the Contributor category after the 2019 class, but Kraft likely shouldn’t have to wait long for his gold jacket and bronze bust.
“I would be surprised if he didn’t get tapped either for the one slot in 2018 or the two in 2019,” said voter Ira Miller of The Sports Xchange. “I think it’s just a matter of time. Kraft’s impact on the NFL is quite similar to Jerry Jones, who’s being inducted this week, only more quietly and with more on-field success.”