ORLANDO — Seven weeks hasn’t been enough time for Robert Kraft to process the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles.
“The fact that we lost and we lost the way we did, I still haven’t gotten over it,” the Patriots owner said Monday at the NFL owners meetings.
But Kraft had a clear message for the two dozen reporters assembled for a news conference.
In Bill I trust – still.
On the surface, it seems crazy to believe that Kraft would ever lose faith in Bill Belichick. The man has brought the Patriots to eight Super Bowls in 18 years, winning five of them, and has established the Patriots as one of the greatest dynasties in pro sports history.
But there have been signs that the relationship among Kraft, Belichick, and Tom Brady is cracking under pressure. There was the “tension” behind the scenes last season described by an ESPN Magazine piece. There was Belichick booting Brady’s trainer Alex Guerrero off the team plane and sideline. There was Belichick trading Jimmy Garoppolo for peanuts, and benching Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl, both of which took Kraft by surprise.
But Kraft said Monday that while some of Belichick’s decisions may be controversial, his faith in his coach has never wavered.
“Here’s the deal. We in New England are privileged to have the greatest coach in the history of coaching,” Kraft said. “As a fan, I can question some of the moves. As someone who has the privilege to be the owner of this team, I encourage him to keep going with his instincts and doing what he thinks is right.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, even if he made an error — and this is true with any of our managers — if they’re doing it for the right reason, then I support it 100 percent. And I’ve never had one instance in the 18 years where Bill hasn’t done what he believes is in the best interest of our team and to help us to win games.”
And on other important football matters, Kraft said he still has total confidence in Belichick doing the right thing for the Patriots — for example, whether the Patriots should draft a quarterback next month, with Brady turning 41 in August and Garoppolo shipped out to San Francisco.
“Once again, I put my faith and confidence in Bill,” Kraft said. “He knows his responsibilities, and anything can happen.”
Kraft acknowledged at the Super Bowl that tension did exist among the three, but he said Monday that tension is natural, especially with people who have worked together for 18 years.
“If you have a good relationship, there’s going to be things where you disagree,” Kraft said. “But hopefully you come together and you have a meeting of the minds and you discuss things.”
And that’s exactly what happened, according to Kraft. He said that he had a meeting with Brady and Belichick after the season to clear the air, but he also downplayed the importance of it.
“We have meetings all the time,” Kraft said. “We’re not a big, bureaucratic organization. And we met, and I meet individually with each of them. I don’t know if it’s completely understood, but Bill and Tom communicate and meet a lot.”
So Kraft and Belichick appear to be on good terms. But what about the relationship between Brady and Belichick?
Clearly things became strained last year when Belichick set new boundaries with Guerrero, who is Brady’s close friend, business partner, and body guru. Brady doesn’t always feel appreciated by Belichick.
Kraft said all the right things about Brady and Belichick communicating with each other “a lot,” but the strain between the two is undeniable.
“The last two years were very challenging for him in so many ways,” Gisele Bundchen, Brady’s wife, said in the “Tom vs Time” documentary. “He tells me, ‘I love it so much and I just want to go to work and feel appreciated and have fun.’ ”
And Brady turned existential at the end of the documentary, questioning why he puts himself through the grind of football.
“You go, ‘What are we doing this for?’ You know? ‘What are we doing this for, who are we doing this for, why are we doing this?’ ” Brady said. “You got to have answers to those questions. And they have to be with a lot of conviction.”
Kraft didn’t seem too worried about losing his star quarterback.
“I think the residual of this [Super Bowl] loss was very hard on everyone,” Kraft said. “I think Coach has been wise and he’s told players and people, ‘You don’t make any decisions or go public with feelings in the few weeks after a Super Bowl loss.’ ”
Kraft had an interesting comment when asked about tension among the three. He harked back to his first couple of years as owner, when he walked on “eggshells” around the team’s demanding coach, Bill Parcells. He recalled that the Patriots went 10-6 in his first season (1994), but 6-10 the year after.
“The so-called tension gets greater when you lose,” Kraft said.
The tension is there after losing the Super Bowl to Philadelphia, particularly given Butler’s benching. But Kraft is doing his best to support his coach, despite some unpopular decisions that may have cost his team a sixth championship.
“We’re involved in a number of businesses in our family,” Kraft said. “We try to encourage to have good managers. We want them to be bold, we want them to take risks. And you know, sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t.
“But I have faith in Bill as a coach. He’s done pretty well for us over the last 18 years.”