FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Robert Kraft has repeatedly stood up for Roger Goodell, supporting the NFL commissioner’s high salary, playing a key role in ending the 2011 lockout, even vouching for his friend amid missteps in the Ray Rice domestic violence case.
That was before the relationship frayed between two of the most powerful men in sports, with the league slapping a four-game suspension on Tom Brady, a superstar whom Kraft has described as a fifth son. The billionaire’s Super Bowl champions are also down $1 million and two draft picks, pending a possible appeal should the Patriots contest findings that they deflated footballs after referees inspected them for the AFC title game.
The penalties are too harsh, Kraft believes. The sanctions imposed by NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent were based on a league investigation that found Brady was “at least generally aware” of a scheme to illegally deflate footballs for New England’s game before the Super Bowl.
Even though they’ve had a strong relationship for a very long time, Kraft can’t expect leniency from Goodell, said Marc Ganis, a sports consultant who has known both men for two decades.
“If there’s anything that can be taken out of this situation that is a positive, it’s the perception that was out there that Kraft might get a sweet deal because of his relationship with Roger,” said Ganis, president of Chicago-based consulting firm SportsCorp. “That has to be thrown out the window by now. No one can possibly believe that.”
Goodell has 31 other owners to consider, plus the public relations hit he took from his mismanagement of Rice’s suspension, initially suspending the former Ravens running back two games for striking his fiancee (now wife).
Kraft, too, has concerns beyond his own team as chairman of the league’s broadcast committee that manages the NFL’s booming growth anchored by its TV contracts.
“This has frayed some nerves, but I am absolutely convinced that this is simply a speed bump in their relationship and that sooner than most would expect, they’ll be shoulder to shoulder working on whatever the next major project is for the NFL,” Ganis said.
The NFL owners’ three-day meeting began Monday in San Francisco.
Asked in an interview with Sports Illustrated during the weekend about his current relationship with Goodell, Kraft said: “You’ll have to ask him.”
When asked if he would stay as active in NFL issues as he has been, Kraft said: “I’d rather not get into that for a week or two.”
He did say he was convinced that Brady played no part in deflating the footballs.
The Patriots have until Thursday to appeal their discipline, but have given no indication whether they will. They did not respond to requests for comment from Kraft on Goodell’s decision to arbitrate the appeal and other matters related to the scandal known as “Deflategate.”
Kraft could accept the punishment imposed on his team, saying it’s time to move on for the good of the league.
During Spygate, when the Patriots were penalized for videotaping New York Jets signals during a game in 2007, they didn’t challenge fines of $500,000 against coach Bill Belichick and $250,000 against the club along with the loss of a first-round draft pick.
But this is different.
Brady is the poster boy of a league obsessed with its image, a three-time Super Bowl MVP. And his fight with the league isn’t in Kraft’s hands. It’s being handled by the players union and attorney Jeffrey Kessler, a longtime NFL nemesis.
“Once they get in the middle of it, it becomes a different animal and it’s hard to predict where things will go,” said Ganis, who consults with the NFL and some of its owners on business matters.
Gil Brandt, personnel director of the Dallas Cowboys in 1983 when the NFL assigned Goodell to help him convince college athletes to sign with the NFL rather than the USFL, said it’s important for Goodell to treat all owners the same.
“I don’t think that Roger does anything out of spite,” Brandt said. “I think he feels deeply strong about all 32 owners and I think that all 32 owners realize that.”
That’s partly why Goodell moved to keep control of the appeal, citing his right under the collective bargaining agreement even though the NFL Players Association has threatened court action.
“There is only one human being on the planet who is responsible for the integrity of the competition of the games in the National Football League,” Ganis said, “and that is the commissioner of the league.”