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Robert Kraft fears league, players are close to alienating fans

Nate Solder, Robert Kraft

New England Patriots first round draft choice Nate Solder,right, a 6-foot-8 offensive tackle out of Colorado, shakes hands with Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft during an NFL football news conference at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass, Friday, April 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)


Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a moderate voice in the ongoing labor dispute who has yet to truly be heard by his more headstrong colleagues, believes that the situation has approached the point at which it could become a real problem for both sides.

Speaking at the third annual Science of Sports fair at Gilette Stadium, Kraft expressed concern that the work stoppage has lasted long enough. “We have to be very careful and I think we’re coming to that point now where we start to hurt ourselves collectively in the eyes of our fans,” Kraft said, according to Mike Reiss of “In the end, the fans just want football.”

He’s right. Even though plenty of fans and members of the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none sports media have assumed a “wake me up when they miss Week One” attitude toward the NFL lockout, the truth is that the 2011 season will be impacted significantly if a solution isn’t reached fairly soon. Every year, anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of a team’s offense and defense is installed during offseason workouts; if all offseason workouts are missed, teams with new coaches, coordinators, and/or quarterbacks will suffer. In turn, the competitiveness of the league in 2011, even if not a single game is missed, will be diminished.

It gets worse as the lockout chews into training camp and the preseason. And if, in the end, an eleventh-hour deal is struck three weeks before Week One, a full season will nevertheless consist of haves and have-nots, with veteran teams that played into January having stable rosters and coaching staffs having a leg up.

That’s why the best solution remains a long-term, win-win labor deal negotiated sooner rather than later, with both sides thinking not about their own interests but about the long-term best interests of the game. If either side is serious about working this thing out, they’ll have a chance to get started in earnest on Monday, when mediation resumes in Minnesota. Though we’ve gone from optimistic to pessimistic and back and forth and so on over the last several months, we’re optimistic that we can be pessimistic about the outlook for continued mediation in the immediate future.

Until the Eighth Circuit rules on Judge Nelson’s decision to lift the lockout, neither side is going to be serious about getting a deal done. Unfortunately, we’ve got a feeling that, after the Eighth Circuit rules, the losing party will find a way to justify digging in even deeper until the next stop on the litigation express.