Patriots

Patriots

PHOENIX – Robert Kraft wasn’t just the main dish on the media menu this week at the NFL’s Annual Meeting, he was the only dish.

Everyone was going to show up for four days of blather about proposed rules changes to replay, overtime and onsides kicks? No.

I wrote last week that the Kraft story was destined to hijack the week. And it would have. If it weren’t for that meddling Gronk.

Rob Gronkowski’s exquisitely-timed retirement announcement Sunday evening meant Kraft was relegated to side dish.

Gronk’s Instagram post came late enough on Sunday to ensure that Monday would be also devoted to taking the measure of the Gronk.

But it came early enough on Sunday to boot Kraft’s arrival at the meetings and his Saturday statement off the front page for that news cycle.

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It focused attention on football and away from the Orchids of Asia Day Spa while giving us a couple dozen angles to explore which have nothing to do with Kraft’s peccadilloes.

It couldn’t have been any better if the Patriots planned it. So, did they? Was the timing orchestrated?

“No,” was the reply that Stacey James, the Patriots VP of Media Relations, gave when I asked him on Monday.

Kraft was Phoenix-bound on Sunday when he received a call from Gronkowski telling the owner he was retiring. After thanking Gronk for all he’d given the team and his work in the community, Kraft asked if Gronkowski was sure he wanted to retire, if the decision was final. Could he change his mind?

 

Gronk said no, the decision was final and he was at peace with it.

Once Kraft relayed the news, James began reaching out to his staff to plot the best way to release the news. He wanted to get his ducks in a row so that the announcement would be timed to give Gronk his proper due.

While in the midst of a phone conversation about when the news release would be ideal, the person James was talking to said, “Stacey? He just announced on Instagram.”

These meetings are the one time in the offseason when Kraft is front-and-center for a span of days.

Not only was his every move and sighting going to be a story, the reaction of his fellow owners to his plight and what kind of punishment Roger Goodell was planning to mete out were also going to be angles to plumb.

Gronkowski’s retirement further changes the balance of power in the AFC. Sunday night, I asked Mike Tomlin if he wanted to come on TV to give me some perspective on Gronk’s retirement.

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“I don’t think I’m the one to ask about that,” he said.

I told him I was half-joking.

“Is he retiring?” Tomlin asked.

Yes. Just announced.

“Awesome!” replied Tomlin.

Dummy me, my initial thought on why Gronk announced Sunday was that he was mucking up the team’s offseason plans.

Mike Reiss of ESPN reported earlier in the day that Jared Cook, unsure about the Patriots plans for him with Gronk still lurking, opted to sign with the Saints instead of the Patriots.

“Enough,” I theorized Bill Belichick saying to Gronk. “We need an answer. Let’s not have this get messy.”

It wasn’t until about two dozen people said to me, with a roll of the eyes, “Nice timing on that Gronk story, huh?” that I realized the “Wag The Dog” scenario that should have been obvious.

You can’t put a price on the benefit Kraft realized because Gronk made his announcement on Sunday. But they are adamant that it wasn’t planned.

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