An "angry and defiant" Robert Kraft is "really worked up" over the Deflategate punishment handed down by the National Football League, and won't rule out legal action to have some or all of the penalties -- $1 million fine, loss of a 2016 first-round draft choice, loss of a 2017 fourth-round draft choice -- overturned.
In talking to Peter King for The MMQB (mmqb.si.com) -- Kraft's first interview since the NFL's ruling -- the Patriots' owner said he's convinced that quarterback Tom Brady (facing a four-game suspension that he's fighting separately) had no part in a scheme to deflate footballs, a scheme he's just as convinced never happened, and hinted that his once-close relationship with commissioner Roger Goodell is shattered.
King described Kraft as sounding "alternately angry and defiant" during a 50-minute phone conversation Saturday, in which Kraft said the league has nothing but "ambiguous circumstantial evidence" against the Patriots. The highlights:
ON HIS FEELINGS ABOUT THE PENALTIES
“This whole thing has been very disturbing. 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.”
ON WHETHER HE'LL VIOLATE NFL BYLAWS AND GO TO COURT TO GET THE PENALTY OVERTURNED
“I’m not going to comment on that at this point in time. I’m going to leave it. I won’t say.”
ON WHETHER HE'LL REMAIN AS ACTIVE IN LEAGUE AFFAIRS AS HE HAS BEEN
“I’d rather not get into that for a week or two.”
ON WHETHER HE THOUGHT HIS CLOSE RELATIONSHIP WITH GOODELL CAUSED THE COMMISSIONER TO COME DOWN HARDER THAN HE MIGHT HAVE, TO PROVE TO THE OTHER 31 OWNERS HE CAN BE HARSH TO ONE OF HIS SUPPORTERS
“I’ve heard that a lot, but it’s hard for me to accept that.”
ON THE STATE OF HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH GOODELL
“You'll have to ask him.”
GIVING AN EXAMPLE OF WHAT HE FEELS IS THE ONE-SIDEDNESS OF THE WELLS REPORT
“[Referee Walt Anderson] has a pre-game recollection of what gauge he used, and it’s disregarded, and the [Wells] Report just assumes he uses the other gauge. Footballs have never been measured at halftime of any other game in NFL history. They have no idea how much footballs go down in cold weather or expand in warm weather. There is just no evidence that tampering with the footballs ever happened.”
ON IF BRADY SAID HE WAS INNOCENT
“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.”
ON WHETHER OR NOT HE OR COACH BILL BELICHICK WERE AWARE OF ANY BALL DOCTORING
“I’m telling you, Bill didn’t know about it, and I didn’t know about it."
ON HOW BELICHICK IS RESPONDING TO THE ISSUE
“I’m really happy that his focus is building a roster for the 2015 team and preparing for the challenges of the 2015 season. I especially respect this about his leadership style -- he really can compartmentalize, and that’s what he’s doing here.”
ON WHY THE PATRIOTS ARE FIGHTING THIS WHEN THEY ACCEPTED THE 2007 SPYGATE PENALTIES
“Last time there was no dispute about the facts. The team admittedly said what happened. . . . It was illegal to videotape [the opposing sidelines], and in the end we admitted it and took our penance. This is very different. In 2007, we did something and acknowledged the fact of what was done. This is an accusation of wrongdoing, without proof.”
Kraft and Goodell will have their first face-to-face meeting since the sanctions were imposed this week, during the NFL owners' meetings in San Francisco. King, however, writes that "Kraft won’t be ready for any olive branches . . . The tone of Kraft’s voice made it sound like it’s too early for peace talks."
Also from King: "Asked why he suspended club employees John Jastremski and Jim McNally despite fiercely proclaiming his organization’s innocence, Kraft refused comment -- for what he claimed were a variety of reasons."