Patriots

Kraft should stop explaining and just accept Patriots fans' ire

kraft-meetings-picks.jpg

Kraft should stop explaining and just accept Patriots fans' ire

FOXBORO – Never mind what Robert Kraft was attempting to do last May when he folded the Patriots’ tent and said the team would “reluctantly” accept the league’s Deflategate penalties. 

Forget about the fact there was really no other option than to do what he did in San Francisco.

The hole Kraft dug for himself when he opted for politics over optics is one he’s trying furiously to dig out of. Still.

Friday night at a draft party the team hosted at Gillette, Kraft’s main talking point was – again – that he didn’t abandon Brady last May.

“Number one, there is no finer ambassador for the game of football, and the New England Patriots, than Tom Brady,” Kraft said. “We always have had, and will continue to have, Tom’s back. Especially when he’s being treated unfairly. He knows that. All the decisions that this organization and I personally have made throughout this ordeal have been focused on putting Tom in the best possible position for success.”

Kraft believed taking the hit on the draft picks would satiate other owners enough to leave Brady alone. But they – and their arrogant marionette Roger Goodell – wanted more than to see Bill Belichick’s program stung. They wanted to see Brady brought to heel.  

Once that dawned on Kraft over the coming months, he returned to the rhetoric he used when he began fomenting local outrage at the Super Bowl, demanding a league apology. He even ratcheted it up, speaking at the outset of training camp about having made a grave mistake when he put faith in the league to do the right thing.

But for too many New England fans, it was too late. In their minds, all it took was 24 hours of fellow owners giving him the stink eye in California for him to side with the billionaire boys club over Brady.

Kraft anticipated an unhappy reaction, saying last May, “I know that a lot of Patriots fans are going to be disappointed in that decision. But I hope they trust my judgment and know that I really feel at this point in time that taking this off the agenda, this is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans and the NFL. I hope you all can respect that.”

He never expected to be demonized the way he’s been. And, to Kraft, it’s maddening, saddening and hurtful that the vocal opinion in New England is that he screwed Brady.

He’s refusing to take the criticism in stride, which means every time he’s in front of a mic, he has to prove his bona fides.   

“I have been in constant communication with Tom over the past 16 months and we’ve had numerous conversations this past week,” Kraft said. “We are both on the same page and he knows exactly where my allegiances, and the total team’s [allegiances] are, relative to the extremely unfair discipline that he has been subjected to. I share in our fans’ anger and frustration with the penalties the league has levied, and the entire process and how it was conducted. But please trust that I am always trying to do what I believe is best for this franchise, and pledge that I will always continue to do that.”

This is where Robert Kraft is at the age of 74. A man who figured he’d be praised and adored in the autumn of his ownership reign having to pledge allegiance over and over to HIS region and HIS team.

It’s got to be unfathomable to him how it got to this point.

Here’s a lifelong New Englander who – he’s always happy to remind everyone – sat on the metal benches with all the other bedraggled fans in the old stadium. A guy who used his business savvy to leverage purchase of the team, stubbed his toe a lot in his first few years, then made decisions and gave resources that allowed the Patriots to become the greatest dynasty in NFL history. A guy that built a kickass stadium and donated millions around the region. This is a guy that now feels compelled to explain himself and beg understanding every time he gets in front of a microphone these days.

I don’t think he deserves that.

There are plenty of things that I’ve eyerolled about with Kraft in my 20 years covering the team. From white-collared shirts to his weird game-day lifeguard chair to the subtle switch from Bob to Robert, the damn sneakers with the suits, slinging spirituality a little too cavalierly at times and his happy engagement in the NFL’s backroom lever-pulling and deal-making. For almost 25 years, Kraft has ridden a lead horse in the NFL’s stampede for money and power. The Game of Thrones environment that’s come with that, replete with throat-slitting, backstabbing and vengeance has visited Kraft’s kingdom.

You can second-guess his strategy. You can point out that he’s the one that made a king of Goodell and sowed bitterness with fellow owners by pushing them to do what Roger says. You can rightfully point out that Kraft wants too much the love and respect of both his fellow owners and his New England constituency and that he can’t have his cake and eat it too.

You can’t reasonably regard him as a “traitor.”

Unfortunately for Robert Kraft, plenty of people do. And plenty of them aren’t going to move off that spot.

At some point, he’s got to get his mind around that and accept that too.

 

What was Odell Beckham Jr. telling Kyrie Irving?

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AP Photo

What was Odell Beckham Jr. telling Kyrie Irving?

Admittedly, the audio is poor but the idea is no less intriguing.

Was Odell Beckham Jr. telling Kyrie Irving at NBA All-Star Weekend that he's trying to go to the Patriots? Or to Boston? Or New England? 

It's 23 seconds into the video below: 

Isaiah Houde of USA TODAY's PatriotsWire interprets it as: "You went to the Celtics and I’m trying to go to New England."

Beckham has had a few Instagram posts about Brady recently, including an exchange of rap lyrics back in December. 

🐐chasin.

A post shared by Odell Beckham Jr (@obj) on

Unless there's a trade between the Patriots and Giants, Beckham, 25, the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, won't be free to join Kyrie in New England - or was it Boston? - until the four-year deal he signed in 2014 ends. As he enters that 2019 season, Tom Brady will be 42. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Branch's uncertainty may lead to another big body up front

Branch's uncertainty may lead to another big body up front

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent to that area, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we're looking at a spot where the Patriots are always on the lookout for power and athleticism: interior defensive line. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


Depends on who you were watching. Malcom Brown may never live up to the impossible expectations some set for him as the team's first-round 320-pounder brought aboard immediately after Vince Wilfork left, but he put together his most consistent season as a pro and was the team's top defensive tackle. It would not be a surprise if the Patriots opted to pick up his fifth-year option for 2019. Lawrence Guy was absolutely solid as the team's other primary interior defender and ended up playing more defensive snaps than anyone not named Trey Flowers or Kyle Van Noy. Adam Butler, the undrafted rookie out of Vanderbilt, showed promise as an interior rusher, and Ricky Jean Francois came through with valuable contributions late in the season. Alan Branch, meanwhile, struggled to find his footing after signing a new deal last offseason, and this group struggled against the run. They allowed opponents to average 4.7 yards per carry, which was the second-worst mark in the league. Having another body inside to improve the rotation and help eat up blockers - such as Vincent Valentine, who spent the season on injured reserve - would've helped. 

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Brown, Guy, Valentine, Butler, Branch

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENT 
Francois

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


The need here hinges on a couple factors: 1) Can Branch be a dependable option in 2018, and b) how does the team feel about Valentine's odds of becoming a regular after missing the entirety of his second season? Hard to believe the answer to that first question would be a resounding "yes." He was a healthy scratch down the stretch in the team's biggest games of the season and could be a cap casualty. The perception of Valentine is a little murkier. The Patriots should feel good about what they have in Brown and Guy, and Adam Butler showed flashes of his potential as a sub rusher. An important factor in the equation here is just how frequently Bill Belichick likes to use his edge defenders inside. Flowers has been especially effective in that regard, and Deatrich Wise the ability to beat interior offensive linemen as well. Still, the Patriots could use a player here to help bolster their big-bodied depth up front. They simply can't have another year where they're near the bottom of the league against the run. Some of that falls on linebacker play, but another competent space-eater would help. Let's put this spot at a 6 out of 10 on the Gary Tanguay Memorial "How Concerned Are You?!?" Meter.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY


A handful of big names hit the open market in March at this position. Carolina's Star Lotulelei may be the best of the bunch (even though he's coming off of a down season) and Atlanta's Dontari Poe isn't all that far behind. There are a few under-the-radar names who could be contributors even if they aren't huge names. Shamar Stephen of the Vikings, Justin Ellis of the Raiders and Bennie Logan of the Chiefs are intriguing options. From a Patriots perspective - and we've suggested this kind of move multiple times in this series - finding an accomplished veteran near the end of his career could pay dividends. Buffalo's Kyle Williams and Detroit's Haloti Ngata are both into their mid-30s, but maybe they could be coaxed into a season in New England as the No. 3 guy on the inside. We all saw just how much it meant to Williams to make the playoffs last season. He may want to ride it out in Buffalo as one of that team's unquestioned leaders, but a season playing under Belichick could be enticing. One more name: Sheldon Richardson. The Patriots are plenty familiar with the former Jets defender, and he'd be a fine on-the-field fit, with a couple of caveats. Is his head is on straight? And what's his market? His talent level and age (27) would suggest he commands big bucks. But if the market is suppressed because teams are worried about whether or not his head is screwed on correctly, does he end up being a relatively low-risk signing? Doesn't seem like someone the Patriots would gamble on, but never say never. Would he take a short-term deal to rebuild his image and then hit the market while he's still in his late-20s?

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


The name everyone will be watching, particularly at next week's combine, when his next-level athleticism will be on display for all to see, will be Vita Vea of Washington. He's 6-foot-4, 344 pounds, and he was much more than a clog-the-middle man for the Huskies. He rushed the passer. He even covered punts. He's expected to run a sub 5-second 40...and he'll be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. For a team like the Patriots that may be looking for help against the run? Alabama's Da'Ron Payne is enticing as a run-stuffer and he's a good enough athlete to potentially make some noise as an interior rusher. Michigan's Maurice Hurst and Florida's Taven Bryan have the kind of quick get-off that could make them first-round interior disrupters. One name to keep an eye on because of his rare combination of size and athleticism: Virginia Tech's Tim Settle. He's 6-3, 335 pounds, he's shown great quickness for a player with his frame, and he's only 20 years old. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


The Patriots don't have to do anything drastic here with Brown and Guy in the fold, but another dependable contributor could alter the look of their front-seven and provide a lift against the run. Players like Lotulelei and Poe - and Richardson if another team gets desperate -- could be too pricey to make Belichick and Nick Caserio bite. Williams or Ngata would be solid in the locker room and legitimate top-three options inside if healthy. And someone such as Ellis, in his fifth year out of Louisiana Tech, probably won't break the bank but could be what they need. He's played 16 games in three of his four years in the league. Settle, because he looks like a tremendous athlete with NFL size who's still growing as a player, could be tough to pass on at the end of the first if he's available. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compares him to Vince Wilfork.