Hall of Fame expansion to 20-member class in 2020 could open door for Robert Kraft next year

Hall of Fame expansion to 20-member class in 2020 could open door for Robert Kraft next year

CANTON, Ohio – A slick move made by the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees could wind up benefiting Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Next summer, a 20-member class will be inducted as part of the NFL’s Centennial Celebration. The class will include the standard five Modern-Era players, 10 Seniors (a player who has been retired for more than 25 seasons) and three Contributors (an individual other than a player or coach) and two coaches.

This one-time expansion of the class is designed to address “the backlog of deserving Seniors, Coaches and Contributors” according to a statement from the HOF.

Here’s where it gets slick. Instead of one contributor going in, now there will be three. Also, when the final group of 15 Seniors, Contributors and coaches is voted on, they will be considered as a unit, not as individuals. An 80 percent vote gets the 15 in.

That means that somewhat controversial candidacies like that of former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue or former Browns owner Art Modell are suddenly improved. That’s what the folks at the league office want when it comes to Tagliabue and what Modell’s fellow owners would like.

Voting on the group as a bloc means, for instance, that debating the merits of Tagliabue’s leadership weighed against his failures in addressing player health and safety is off the table.

It also opens another slot for Kraft who is certainly deserving, especially if Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is in.

The timing of the process also helps Kraft.

Usually, the whole class of nominees for induction is announced at the end of August. And if voters had to deliberate on whether or not to include Kraft as a nominee while his solicitation case remains open in West Palm Beach, Florida, he might get passed over.

This year, the Modern-Era players will still be named next month, but the process with the “special group” will unfold until the end of the year when the group meets in person to shave the group down to 15.

Which increases the likelihood the Florida ridiculousness will be resolved by the time the special group and the Modern-Era players are voted on the day before the Super Bowl.

Kraft, meanwhile, isn’t getting any younger. He’ll be 79 next June. In 2016, Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler was voted in just seven months after his death. This year, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen will be posthumously inducted.

Kraft seems as vibrant as a 78-year-old can be. Still, if he’s a Hall of Fame-caliber candidate as a contributor, 2020 would be a good chance to speed his process.

Longtime Hall of Fame voter Vic Carucci addressed the issue of maintaining the Hall’s exclusivity while still getting its deserving candidates in while they are above ground.

Carucci, along with fellow Buffalo writer Mark Gaughan, stumped hard for Bills owner Ralph Wilson who was inducted at the age of 90 back in 2009.

“With Ralph Wilson, it did come up in the [deliberation] room to ‘Let’s get him in while he’s living, breathing and can enjoy it and has enough faculties to appreciate it,” said Carucci. “And with Ralph, we were in that danger zone where it was rough. I attended his party after his induction and I had to get within a foot of him before he recognized it was me and that was sad for me but I was happy the right thing was done, not because of his age but because of his contribution.

“You do want people to enjoy the honor,” he added. “I’m on Cloud 9 for Gil Brandt [who is 86 and goes into the Hall this weekend]. The guy is so special and I know what this has meant to him. He’s been bouncy since February finding he’s going to be in.”

Is asked Carucci if Kraft is as deserving as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who was inducted in 2017.

“Easily,” said Carucci. “He should go in on the same basis. His contributions to the game, to the business of the game and to the league as a whole in my mind speak for themselves.

“This should be all about that in terms of focus,” he added. “Same as it was with Jerry. Timing-wise, maybe it didn’t happen on the calendar the way it should have for [Kraft]. But in my mind, he is a Hall of Fame contributor. That contributor category was created specifically for someone who has meant so much to the game. His Hall of Fame credentials are clear.”

The credentials are clear but the path – even widened as it will be next year – may not yet be wide-open.

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Tom Brady explains why he's become 'much more guarded' with media

Tom Brady explains why he's become 'much more guarded' with media

Tom Brady isn't just frustrated with the New England Patriots' offense. He's frustrated with the people who talk about his frustration with the Patriots' offense.

E! News aired a 30-minute profile of the Patriots quarterback Wednesday night on its "In the Room" show, which featured host Jason Kennedy's exclusive interview with Brady.

And ironically, the first item Brady discussed was how much he dislikes interviews.

"I'd rather run out in front of 80,000 people and throw a football," Brady told Kennedy.

Brady then explained why he's become more careful with what he says on record.

"I've become much more guarded with the media, just because everyone is looking to (say), 'I gotcha, man! You said that!' " Brady said. "I definitely respect my private life, because it's very important to me, and it's very sacred."

"Especially in today's age it's very tricky, is what is too much exposure for people? Now everyone can show everything, and that's not my personality, which is why I won't do that.

"But I am a public person at this point based on my career, but there's still things that I want to just keep for myself so I can enjoy them without sharing them with anyone else."

Brady's wariness is understandable in a sense: He's one of the most heavily-scrutinized athletes in the world whose comments are always being dissected. (How does Brady REALLY feel about his rookie wide receivers?)

It's also why the 42-year-old has adopted an apparent solution: Say less to reporters and more on Facebook and Twitter, where he can control his own narrative.

This isn't the first time this season Brady has expressed his disregard for the media, and if New England hits any more bumps in the road down the stretch, that relationship likely won't improve.

Check out Brady's full interview with Kennedy here.

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Reality check: What Patriots do well offensively right now ain't sexy

Reality check: What Patriots do well offensively right now ain't sexy

It's a question we've tried to answer all season: What do the Patriots do well offensively?

They haven't been the ground-and-pound machine they were at the end of 2018. They haven't been the spread-it-out-and-chuck-it attack we thought they might morph into.

So what are they good at?

If you listen to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, he'll tell you. It's not glamorous.

"Taking care of the football has historically been a thing we've done well and certainly is a big factor to winning and losing," McDaniels said this week. "The other night [in Houston] the one turnover seemed to really flip the game a little bit there in the first half. But we've done that decent, and we have to continue to do that well. Certainly, that's going to be a huge factor in this game this week against Kansas City.

"Protecting the quarterback, and not going backwards in the running game, and trying to stay out of long-yardage situations to improve your chances on third down . . . There were times the other day when we were pretty good in that area. We tried to keep it in third-and-manageable and actually converted a decent chunk of third downs the other day, too."

They don't turn it over. They don't take sacks.

Tom Brady throwing the football at the feet of his offensive linemen on a screen isn't going to make a season-long highlight reel anytime soon. Neither is James White holding on tight to the football with a defensive back trying to punch it free. 

But that is the state of the Patriots offense at the moment. What they do best isn't necessarily procuring good outcomes, it's avoiding bad ones.

Whether or not it's enough to get the Patriots back to where they were at the end of last season remains to be seen. Their defense has been good enough, and scored points frequently enough, that the team is 10-2 and sixth in the league in scoring (26.8 points per game).

The numbers do, however, support McDaniels' assessment of where the offense is effective right now.

The Patriots are plus-18 in the turnover department (best in the league) with just 11 total giveaways (fourth in the league). They have seven interceptions as a team, and they've lost only four fumbles.

Their sack numbers are borderline astounding. No one in the NFL has had more pass attempts than Brady (486), and only Jameis Winston has dropped back to pass more (533) than Brady has (508). Yet, Brady has only been sacked 21 times. That's 24th in the NFL.

Aside from a scheme that encourages Brady to get the ball out of his hands quickly (he's seventh-quickest to get rid of the football, on average, according to Pro Football Focus), Brady also leads the league in throwaways with 30. That number is already the highest Brady's posted going back to 2006, per PFF.

"I’m throwing it away because I don’t want to take a sack," Brady said when asked about his throwaway total last week. "So, I think part of it’s just you feel like you have an opportunity on the play, and if you don’t have that, then I think negative plays actually have a big impact on the game. Turnovers and negative plays I think really keep you from winning games. 

"So, if you can drop-back pass, because I’m not really a scrambler...I mean, I have scrambled in the past. I wouldn’t say I never scramble, I’m just not really that much of a scrambler. But, if I’m going to hold it back there, then usually good things aren’t going to happen. So, I try to throw the ball away to save plays and live for the next down."

Avoiding those negative pass plays has helped the Patriots maintain reasonable down-and-distance scenarios over the course of the season -- even when their offense hasn't been as potent as Brady would like. 

They're fourth in the league in terms of the number of manageable third-down situations they've faced this year. (For our purposes, we'll define "manageable" as third-and-5 or less.)

The Patriots have run more plays (840) and more third-down plays (176) than any offense in football this season. So when looking at their third-and-manageable situations as a percentage of their overall third-down plays, they're 18th in the NFL when it comes to staying in manageable situations.

That ranking would indicate that keeping themselves in good third-down scenarios is not exactly a strength. But that they've had that many plays to begin with, that they've been able to maintain possession as they have, speaks to a certain level of offensive effectiveness. 

It's just not the type of effectiveness that Brady, McDaniels and the Patriots are used to. They've been a top-six offense each of the last four seasons in terms of yards per game. They've been a top-10 team in that category almost every year going back to 2004. The only two years they weren't -- 2014 and 2006 -- they were 11th. 

This year, they're 14th.

"I think there's a lot of things that you could look at that you could say we could improve on," McDaniels said. "Certainly, that's the truth. I think it's been the truth most seasons that I've ever coached. But, at the end of the day, there are certain things that we have to do well in order to give our team the best chance to be successful, some of which we've done decent throughout the course of the year and some of which we certainly need to do better."

The things they've done well so far have been the things they need to do to win. And they've won quite a bit. But when they haven't, the fact that they can't do more has been readily apparent.

"I think the bottom line is you have to feel like you have an opportunity to improve in each area at practice each week, and each week's a new challenge," McDaniels said. "We certainly want to try to take care of the ball, we certainly want to try to keep the ball moving forward, we certainly want to improve on third down and in the red zone, two-minute offense, those situational plays that can certainly change the outcome of a drive or a quarter or the half of the game. 

"I start with me. I can do a better job of trying to do that and that's what my focus is on, and hopefully, we can make some strides and improve in a lot of areas this week as well."

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