Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Kraft Protecting His Legacy

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 20, 2015

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1. Kraft's legacy was at stake, too

Patriots owner Robert Kraft's acceptance of the Deflategate punishment was without question his way of looking out for the league first, while also respecting the power of the commissioner. But Kraft, I believe, also had another reason: He knows that his legacy is part of this story as well. 

This is one of the more interesting parts of the Deflategate story. Spygate is attached to Bill Belichick. Deflategate (that's a lot of "-gates") is attached to Tom Brady.

So where does that leave Kraft? Two of the biggest scandals in league history happened under his ownership. Trust me: That is not lost on him.

Some in the league believe this is why Kraft has gone all Terrell Owens on Brady. He cares about how Brady is remembered. And he cares about how he is remembered. That is part of this. A big part.

Concern over his legacy is possibly why Kraft has suddenly become more conciliatory after initially being combative and demanding apologies. As ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Tuesday:

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This after an owner told me last week that the relationship between the two might be dead. Things are clearly changing. It's not just because of Kraft's value to the sport. It's because Kraft thinks about how the league will see him years from now.

The legacy factor, I believe, is also why Kraft accepted the league's punishment (reluctantly). I know that part of the reason he did was because he's a good man, a good league man. He doesn't want to go rogue.

But legacy is a part of this. No question, it is.

Deflategate won't impact Kraft's Hall of Fame bid. Only a fool would keep him out. The passage of time will also diminish some of these controversies. So Kraft gets in easy. He had better.

But there is an impact. Spygate didn't impact Kraft. But both -gates take away from what was a perfect, squeaky-clean image.

I've argued Belichick is the best coach of all time, and that Brady is the best quarterback. I stand by both of those beliefs, and I could argue not many owners in league history are better than Kraft. Before he purchased the Patriots organization, it was a laughingstock.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

I covered the Patriots in the late 1980s and early 1990s. After the team was destroyed in the Super Bowl by the Bears in 1985, the organization went into a deep funk. On game days, the stadium was, to me, one of the most dangerous in the NFL. There was little security, and there were constant fights in the stands.

Fans would take batteries, cover them with snow, pack them in the refrigerator, and throw them at the players on the sidelines. Not just opposing players. The Patriots' players.

Kraft changed all of that. He made the game-day experience safer by adding security. He hired Belichick when some in the league told him not to. He would ingratiate himself with many owners who came to greatly respect him. He's on numerous committees, and it's safe to say that he's considered the best owner in the sport now. His transformation of the Patriots from a joke to greatness is nothing short of remarkable.

The problem for Kraft is that most great owners in league history didn't have a massive scandal as part of their legacy, let alone two. Not the Rooney family. Not the Mara family. Not Paul Brown. One of the only Hall of Fame-worthy owners who does is Eddie DeBartolo.

Boston Herald columnist Steve Buckley told ESPN's Outside the Lines that Kraft "years and years from now envisions the Kraft name being as attached to football as the Rooneys, the Maras, the Browns and so forth. I think a lot of what he's doing right now is with that in mind."

So as Brady fights for his legacy, remember there is another component to all of this. Maybe something that explains why Kraft is so strongly backing Brady despite blind loyalty and why Kraft has softened his once harsh tone.

Maybe Kraft knows something bigger is at stake. Like his legacy.

2. Kraft, Goodell tension

Brandon Wade/Associated Press

This is one of the smarter quotes you will read about the impact of the Kraft-Goodell fight on the rest of the owners. It's really interesting and comes from a person who was part of the league—and in those owners meetings—for many years:

The pressure on a dissenting or objecting owner is both political and social. An owner who opposes the league is opposing all of the other owners. So those relationships are damaged. Also, litigation is very expensive—so those other owners are spending a ton of money, fighting litigation brought by the objecting owner. The league drives that point home a lot. The other owners are told repeatedly that the objecting, dissenting owner is costing them money. I can't think of any particular examples, but those relationships—with the league office and other owners—are badly damaged. An owner who fights his business partners has to be strong and willing to be ostracized.

3. Owner: No one rallied to Kraft's side

The same owner who told me last week that the relationship between Goodell and Kraft is mostly dead, told me this week: "Right now, I don't sense a great movement to rally around Robert. That could change, but for now I'm not sensing that. I think most owners feel the same way I do. The Patriots don't need anyone helping them to defend Brady."

The owner pointed out that Goodell "has strong support from many owners. No one is running Goodell out of town on this issue. Won't happen."

This might be another reason that Kraft's tone has changed from confrontational to conciliatory. He doesn't have a great deal of support on this issue.

4. Brady suspension reduction coming?

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

To say that most team officials believe that Kraft not appealing means a quid pro quo on Brady is coming would be an understatement.

One league source told me that Kraft's decision does not mean a Brady deal was made, but everyone else I speak to believes a covert deal was made. They think Kraft accepting punishment means Brady's suspension gets reduced from four to two games.

There's no proof of this, of course, but that is the thinking.

Several sources told me they believe that Kraft made a calculated business decision. He wasn't going to win the appeal anyway, several said, so he wrapped himself in the shield to appear to be doing it for the good of the NFL—in exchange for a reduced Brady suspension and also to get future considerations from Goodell for saving the NFL from a potential legal quagmire and embarrassment.

Kraft deserves credit for not fighting. He is a good man. He is a good league guy. But the cynicism is also justified. Both things can be true.

5. Jason Witten's dilemma

Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

One of the most honorable men in football is Dallas tight end Jason Witten. Years before the issue of domestic violence became a flashpoint in the NFL, Witten was fighting the fight, mostly through his foundation.

Said Witten in 2014 (via the Dallas Morning News' Barry Horn):

As athletes, in general, you're big and you're strong and have the opportunity to stop it. I look at my own life and my example. Now, I'm a father of three and I've put a stop to that, not being afraid to step out. We all make mistakes, I understand that, but there is a standard which we have to create and demand from each other that we can't accept domestic violence in our country.

Witten in 2011 (via the Texas Council on Family Violence):

I am very proud to partner with the Allstate Foundation and the Texas Council on Family Violence to fight abuse. This is a cause that is very important to my wife Michelle and I, and I want to encourage other men to stand up and be activists in this fight.

Witten in 2009 (via a release published by SB Nation):

I try to bring the same energy and dedication to community service that I do to football, and it is an honor to be recognized by The Home Depot for my activities off the field among such an amazing group of guys. Giving back to the community has always been important to me, and I appreciate the support for my work to raise awareness of domestic violence.

Witten in 2008 (via BPSports):

It's about being a man and a role model. We take in not just the mothers involved (in domestic abuse) but the children affected by it. That's something we're really active in and also underprivileged children as a whole. God has blessed me enough to do it because of the game I play.

Again, honorable man.

So what is a player who has a long track record of fighting domestic violence to do when his new teammate was convicted by a judge of domestic assault, with the charges later dismissed due to an inability to locate the accuser? That, of course, would be Greg Hardy.

Said Witten, via ESPN:

I think more than anything I think everybody knows (I'm against) domestic violence. That's unwavering. That's something that I lived, my family lived. But that guy is a teammate of mine, so I think you have to look at it from that standpoint. As coach (Jason) Garrett says, it's our job to invite those guys in and create a standard of how we do things. I think he's done a great job since he's been here. It's not my job to decide who comes in. I'm a tight end. But I've been really pleased how he's approached it and how he goes to work and what kind of teammate he's been. The day he got suspended, the next day he's in there working out, so I think that's kind of the mentality he has, what kind of work ethic (he has) and what he's trying to prove in Dallas.

He said all the right things, but based on his long track record of fighting domestic abuse, I can't believe Witten is happy about this move.

This will be an interesting situation to watch. He had no choice. What was he going to do? Quit?

6. Justin Smith retires

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 23: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates with Justin Smith #94 after a forced fumble in the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins at Levi's Stadium on November 23, 2014 in Santa Clara, Californi
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

One of the most effective defensive linemen in 49ers history retired. He will be missed on a team that has lost numerous parts, including Jim Harbaugh.

Perhaps Smith's greatest attribute was his reliability. In an at times unbelievably violent sport, Smith was always there. Consider this piece of impossibility from ESPN:

7. Beckham is right

Get your money. Get a lot of it. Get it all. Odell Beckham is correct. Players should get paid more.

Beckham said, via the Huffington Post's Lucy McCalmont:

I understand that basketball plays 80-something games, baseball plays this many games, soccer plays that many games, but this is a sport where there's more injuries. There's more collisions. It's not even a full-contact sport, I would call it a full-collision sport. You have people running who can run 20 miles per hour and they're running downhill to hit you, and you're running 18 miles per hour. That's a car wreck. It's just the career is shorter. There's injuries that you have after you leave the game, brain injuries, whatever it is, nerve injuries.

This is why Beckham is right. Is it dangerous to be a coal miner? Of course. But people don't watching coal mining on Monday night. They watch football. As much as you respect men and women who do dangerous jobs, remember this fact: The NFL admitted in court documents that one-third of its players will suffer brain trauma due to the violence of the sport. That is a staggering number.

So, yeah, pay them more.

8. A brilliant speech

Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

Hall of Famer Harry Carson, the former Giant who has been outspoken about the numerous concussions he suffered in his career, spoke to graduates at the NYU School of Professional Studies on Sunday. He was brilliant. Here's the link from PR Newswire. It's worth your time.

9. Remembering Garo Yepremian

Associated Press

Garo Yepremian died this week, and while he isn't the most recognizable figure in NFL history, he was easily one of its most entertaining and unique ones.

I learned a lot about Yepremian's life when I wrote a book on Miami's undefeated season. Every Dolphins player who spoke about him remembered Yepremian as a class guy and vital to that team. This story is an excellent read on his life.

Yepremian was an excellent kicker—one of the most accurate of his generation—but he's best remembered for the flub that happened in Super Bowl VII. The Dolphins were leading Washington 14-0 when a field-goal attempt was blocked. Instead of falling on the football, Yepremian, who fancied himself as an athlete, attempted a pass. The ball slipped out of his hands, and Washington returned it for a touchdown.

The Dolphins went on to win the game, but I remember Miami players telling me for the book how they wanted to choke Yepremian. They weren't kidding either.

Yepremian would become one of the most-liked players from that team. He'll be missed.

10. Chivalrous Cam Newton

I absolutely loved this: Cam Newton carrying a lady over a muddy puddle at the Preakness. Not bad, Cam. Not bad at all.

My only question: Who is the mystery woman in the hat?

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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