Curran: Kraft downplays owners' part in lockout


Curran: Kraft downplays owners' part in lockout

By TomE. Curran

On Sunday, Patriots owner Robert Kraft continued to sound more like a dove than a hawk on the labor front. Kraft, appearing at Gillette Stadium for Raytheon's "Science of Sports" Science Fair, told the media, "One of my concerns is that we not aggravate our fan base, and we have to be very careful. I think we're coming to that point now where we start to hurt ourselves collectively in the eyes of our fans. In the end, the fans just want football. They don't want to hear about all this meaningless squabbling."Kraft's words are genuine. I asked him on the Friday before the Super Bowl if he would take it as a personal failing if a labor stoppage actually happened.
"I think I will have failed if I can't help get . . . I've never seen the health of a business be as bright as this one,"he said then. He later added, "There's no reason for us to have a lockout, I'll say it again. There's enough elements there that we can do a deal and everyone's going to come out a winner. We've just got to get the lawyers away from the table."Kraft reiterated that Sunday. "I don't think there is another industry in America that's in the court system," Kraft said. "I always believe that you don't solve things through litigation, you solve things by people who have a long-term vested interest in the game sitting down and finding ways to build it."Right now, unfortunately what's going on is that we have union attorneys who are controlling a litigation process, and three-to-five years from now they'll be working on other cases and we'll be sitting with the players and agents and people who care about the game, and trying to figure out how to grow it and make it better. So I think people with a vested interest in the game, and growing the game, should be the people dealing with how to solve the problem of our current dispute."Who can disagree with Kraft's call for getting the lawyers out of the room and having the principals on both sides get a deal done? But persistently alleging the players unilaterally brought this on with litigation is dubious. The owners had their fist back and aimed at the players' faces for about two years preparing for the lockout. Yet when the players threw the first punch - one they had to throw or risk having their hands tied for six months - the owners acted injured. And ever since the owners have alleged the players caused the work stoppage. It's a lockout. And the willingness of the players to work was really, really evident when the lockout was temporarily lifted last month.The convenient argument made time and again is that the players decertified and brought on the litigation. Then the owners locked them out. The fact is, the sand was falling out of the hourglass on the final day of negotitations. The CBA was set to expire at midnight. The owners brought an offer to the players thatafternoon that lowballed projections for revenue increases. If the revenue numbers they "pegged" were exceeded, owners wanted to take 100 percent of the profits above that. The players had to make a decision. Continue to negotiate to the 11th hour and pass on decertifying - a tactic they would have had to wait an additional six months to use again - and risk the certainty that the owners would lock them out at midnight absent a new CBA deal being reached. So they acted. But the owners had their lockout strategy in place long before the players decertified. They forced the players' hand. So when Robert Kraft laments union lawyers being involved or Jonathan Kraft says players were the ones who walked away from negotiations, they're not being forthright about the landscape on that day. The lockout was coming at midnight.Decertification was the players' only option aside from trusting the owners and, at that point, their capacity to do that was gone. So the players fired the one bullet they had. And the owners - backed by their superstar legal team - joined the battle on that front very, very prepared for battle. There's little doubt neither side wants to be in court. But they're both to blame for being there. Tom E. Curran canbe reached at Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 


The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.