Patriots owner Robert Kraft has clammed up since his team was hit with significant discipline for its alleged ball-deflating ways, with the pushback against the NFL coming from third parties, on social media, and in a 20,000-word rebuttal/manifesto that would’ve made Ted Kaczynski proud. No longer: Kraft has finally spoken, and he seems like he intends to fight.
Kraft gave a phone interview to The MMQB’s Peter King on Saturday, two days after Tom Brady filed an appeal of his four-game suspension. The Patriots were fined $1 million and docked two draft picks, but the league’s disciplinary machinery provides them no recourse to appeal. They can either accept the penalty, or they can sue the NFL. Kraft did not sound like a man willing to accept the penalty:
“This whole thing has been very disturbing,” Kraft said. “I’m still thinking things out very carefully. But when you work for something your whole life …
“I just get really worked up. To receive the harshest penalty in league history is just not fair. The anger and frustration with this process, to me, it wasn’t fair. If we’re giving all the power to the NFL and the office of the commissioner, this is something that can happen to all 32 teams. We need to have fair and balanced investigating and reporting. But in this report, every inference went against us … inferences from ambiguous, circumstantial evidence all went against us. That’s the thing that really bothers me.
“If they want to penalize us because there’s an aroma around this? That’s what this feels like. If you don’t have the so-called smoking gun, it really is frustrating. And they don’t have it. This thing never should have risen to this level.”
There are two related complaints here: that the Patriots were punished too harshly, and that the Patriots were punished at all based on what they consider a biased investigation that turned up thin evidence. If the Pats go to court, expect them to argue both; just as Tom Brady’s appeal does.
Kraft was mum on whether he does intend to sue (“I won’t say”), on why the team suspended the two employees indicted by the Wells Report (likely for legal reasons—the Patriots could just as easily soon be facing their own suit from John Jastremski and Jim McNally), and on his relationship with Roger Goodell (“You’ll have to ask him”).
But he was unequivocal in his support for Brady:
Asked if Brady had told him he was innocent, Kraft said: “Yes. Because we had the discussion—if you did it, let’s just deal with it and take our hit and move on. I’ve known Tommy 16 years, almost half his life. He’s a man, and he’s always been honest with me, and I trust him. I believed what he told me. He has never lied to me, and I have found no hard or conclusive evidence to the contrary.”
(Of course, Kraft has been lied to by one of his players before. Aaron Hernandez’s insistence that he wasn’t anywhere near Odin Lloyd on the night of his murder backfired, both when jurors asked themselves how Hernandez would have known Lloyd’s time of death otherwise, and when Hernandez’s questionable defense team later admitted he was there. Basically, “I trust Tom Brady” didn’t fly with the NFL, and it won’t fly in court, no matter how charming Brady’s smile may be.)
It figures to be another big week for Ballghazi. Brady’s appeal, currently set to be heard by Roger Goodell, must be held by week’s end. And tomorrow, Kraft and Goodell will come face-to-face for the first time since the Super Bowl when the NFL’s spring meetings kick off in San Francisco. To be a billionare fly on that wall.