ORLANDO – Robert Kraft once again downplayed high-level Patriots tension as standard fare in a competitive business.
He also said he has met both jointly with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and also seen them individually since the season ended.
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In a 20-minute give-and-take with reporters on Monday here at the Ritz-Carlton, Kraft adeptly answered an array of questions on Rob Gronkowski, Malcolm Butler, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s management style.
Both behind the scenes and in front of cameras on his "Tom vs. Time" documentary, Brady has signaled a level of ambivalence and dissatisfaction we haven’t seen previously. His wife, Gisele Bundchen said during the close of the documentary that Brady just wants to go to work and have fun and feel appreciated. The inference was clear. That’s not the way he felt it was in 2017.
Kraft chalked that up to the timing of the interview which was done three days after the Patriots Super Bowl loss to the Eagles.
“I talk to Tom a lot and I think anyone right after a Super Bowl loss...when you lose one the pain of losing is harder than the joy of winning. At least,” said Kraft. “I think Tommy’s in that category. Coach has been wise and he’s told players and people that you don’t make any decisions or go public with feelings in that few weeks after the Super Bowl loss.
“On the other hand, that piece that Tom did, I think was a great piece for our fans and I think we as a league have to do more of that.”
I asked Kraft if that instance of Brady stepping in front of the cameras in a way that Belichick’s always discouraged was in conflict with what the team’s espoused.
“This is not an engineering firm where everything’s A, B, C, D,” Kraft replied. “I think Bill’s structure is pretty good most of the time and has worked pretty well. If someone told you 10 years ago Tom Brady would be quarterbacking a team that would go to seven straight conference championship games and that at 40 years old he’d be playing in a Super Bowl and be the league MVP? I think there are adjustments.”
Without stating specifically what the “adjustments” were, Kraft continued with this anecdote.
“I think part of the NFL in the salary cap era is you have to adjust quickly,” he explained. “You can’t have fixed situations. We have a guy quarterbacking our team and then we have players coming in who were five or six years old who watched him on TV. They’re starry-eyed. How do you do that? How do you get the chemistry right so they feel comfortable? We’ll try to go with the flow and work things around?”
That seems to be an allusion to the fact a 40-year-old quarterback desires and perhaps should have more latitude to do things that he’d like to do.
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Kraft indicated that the “meeting” had been held.
“Yes, we had the meeting,” he said. “And just to be clear. I don’t know if things sorta...we have meetings all the time. We’re not a big bureaucratic organization. We don’t have boards, we answer to the fans as best we can. We met. And I met individually with each of them. But the thing I don’t know if it’s completely understood is Bill and Tom meet a lot and spend a lot of time communicating. I think the residual of this loss was really hard on everyone but I see that as a high-class problem.”
Kraft was bemused by the notion that “tension” wouldn’t be present in New England.
“That word tension...I’ve owned the team 24 seasons,” said Kraft. “I’ve had Bill as a head coach for 18 of those seasons. When I think about tension I think about my first year as an owner. I love Bill Parcells but if you knew him as a coach, the players walked on eggshells. Maybe ownership did as we went down the learning curve of how to get along. And it was a great lesson for me to learn how to get along and be a good owner and at the same time how to work with a very strong and powerful coach.
“In any successful business, in a marriage, if you have a good relationship there will be things where you disagree,” Kraft added. “But hopefully you come together and you have a meeting of the minds and you discuss things. If everyone’s all on the same page, usually things don’t go as well.”
By many accounts, people weren’t just failing to be on the same page in 2017, they weren’t in the same book.