PHOENIX — Jerry Jones is always good for a quote. The Cowboys owner never met a microphone he didn’t like.
He holds postgame news conferences, has a weekly local radio segment, and is never afraid to share his thoughts on the Cowboys’ quarterback situation, Roger Goodell’s compensation, or his favorite whiskey.
Except when it comes to Robert Kraft and the solicitation charges he is facing in Florida. That’s when Jones gets a sudden case of laryngitis.
“I really have no comment about that,” Jones said Sunday as he checked into the Arizona Biltmore, site of this week’s NFL owners meetings. “But thank you for asking.”
Jones isn’t the only owner refusing to talk about Kraft and his plight. Four other owners approached by the Globe declined to speak on the record. Giants owner John Mara at least said so publicly.
“I have no comment on that,” Mara told a gaggle of reporters Sunday. “What good could possibly come out of me making a comment?”
The NFL and its 32 owners have a lot of business to conduct this week at the owners meetings, but dealing with Kraft’s legal woes doesn’t appear to be one of them. Kraft, who released a statement Sunday stating that he is “truly sorry,” won’t speak publicly until his legal issues are resolved. The NFL is following his lead, content to take a wait-and-see approach before deciding on whether Kraft deserves punishment. The league may not have to wait long as Kraft’s next court date is Thursday in Florida.
Kraft usually loves the cameras at the owners meetings, holding court with the media during the lunch break and conducting 1-on-1 interviews with the networks. But he is taking a low-key approach this week, trying to be seen as little as possible and heard even less. Kraft somehow checked into his room Sunday while avoiding the busy hotel lobby. He is hiding out in conference rooms and staying out of the public areas of the property.
Otherwise it’s business as usual, as Kraft has not been removed from any of his committees or responsibilities.
Three owners told the Globe that they don’t expect Kraft’s legal issues to come up during any official meetings over these three days, and that they’ll withhold judgment until Kraft’s legal issues are resolved. One owner said the only way it will come up is if Kraft takes the floor and addresses it himself, which has happened before at these closed-door meetings.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that smaller discussions aren’t happening behind the scenes. On Sunday, a trio consisting of Kraft, Goodell, and Jonathan Kraft walked past a small group of reporters and ducked into a conference room.
Oh, to be a fly on that wall.
Goodell has an important and difficult decision in front of him, whenever Kraft’s legal issues are resolved.
The league’s Personal Conduct Policy certainly indicates that punishment for Kraft is forthcoming. Kareem Hunt was just suspended for eight games, and charges were never filed against him. Ezekiel Elliott was suspended for six games, and charges were never filed against him.
Kraft, though, is facing charges — two of them, for solicitation. And even if the charges are ultimately dismissed as part of a diversion program, the conduct policy is clear that “Ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to more significant discipline when violations of the Personal Conduct Policy occur.”
One owner was adamant that Kraft’s fate is strictly a “commissioner issue,” but we all know that certain owners – Jones, Mara, Art Rooney, Arthur Blank, among others — lean heavily on Goodell. And we all know that certain owners love to see Kraft get his comeuppance.
But this case is different. This isn’t videotaping or ball deflation or payback for putting 283 diamonds in the Super Bowl ring.
One league source, not an owner, said he didn’t know how much of an appetite the other owners would have for punishing Kraft for his alleged misdeeds, which legally are misdemeanors. Kraft might not be the only owner to visit such spas or have similar skeletons in his closet. Going hard on Kraft may open a can of worms that the owners would rather keep closed.
“There but for the grace of God go I,” the source said.
The source also noted that the NFL Players Association hasn’t made one peep since Kraft was charged last month. I’m sure many players are keeping a close eye on how Goodell handles Kraft’s punishment, but NFLPA leadership might not want to pick any fights with an influential owner with the new collective bargaining agreement negotiations coming up in two years.
Goodell can’t let Kraft off scot-free, of course. But this source proffered that Kraft and Goodell could opt for major contrition instead of punishment. If Kraft makes a big public apology, and donates a lot of money to women’s groups and organizations that combat sex trafficking (which he already does to a degree), and helps bring much-needed resources and attention to these causes, then perhaps a suspension or fine wouldn’t be necessary.
That’s one school of thought. Another is that there is no way Goodell can let Kraft off without some sort of punishment. Another league source, not an owner, said there is definitely some internal pressure on Goodell from various corners of the league office to go tough on Kraft.
The NFL has had serious public relations missteps in the last five years in regards to domestic violence and women’s issues, in general. Now one of its most influential owners was caught allegedly buying sex. The NFL has an entire department devoted to “Social Responsibility” and could undercut its effectiveness by going easy on Kraft. Some in the league office want a six-figure fine and multi-game suspension, perhaps equaling the six games that Colts owner Jim Irsay got in 2014 for pleading guilty to driving under the influence.
But the furor over Kraft’s alleged misdeeds seems have died down. No women’s groups or protestors showed up at the owners meetings. TMZ isn’t here chronicling Kraft’s every move.
It’s a quiet three days in Arizona, with Kraft avoiding the spotlight, his fellow owners staying out of the fray, and Goodell left to decide Kraft’s fate.