Column: In the end, the NFL cartel is what matters most
May. 20, 2015
Tom Brady is on his own, cast off by an owner who figured out that being in the club that practically prints money is a lot more important than being loyal to one of his employees.
Robert Kraft could have stood by his quarterback, and stood up for the integrity of his franchise. In the embrace of his fellow owners in San Francisco, though, he decided that being part of the multibillion-dollar cash machine was more important than taking that stand for both Brady and the New England fans who are outraged over the serious penalties for "Deflategate."
That it happened just a bridge away from where Al Davis tormented the league for years was perhaps symbolic. The late owner of the Oakland Raiders surely would have fought to the bitter end, just as he did when the NFL dared to try and stop him from moving his franchise to a more lucrative neighborhood in Los Angeles.
To understand why Kraft meekly accepted a $1 million fine and the loss of two draft picks when he had been so vocal previously about his team's innocence in the whole matter doesn't exactly require a reading of the tea leaves.
This is, after all, the same guy who stood before microphones days before the Super Bowl to angrily read a statement defending his quarterback, coach Bill Belichick, and the purity of the franchise.
The same guy who warned that he would demand an apology when the investigation by Ted Wells was complete and it was shown neither Brady nor Belichick knew anything about deflated footballs.
"Bill, Tom, and I have had many difficult discussions over the years, and I have never known them to lie to me," Kraft said then. "That is why I am confident in saying what I just said. And it bothers me greatly that their reputations and integrity, and by association that of our team, has been called into question this past week."
Kraft isn't calling for an apology anymore. Far from it, after the report by Wells all but labeled Brady a liar for denying he led a scheme to deflate the balls to his liking.
Judging by Kraft declining to answer questions Wednesday, he's also given up — at least for now — any public defense of his quarterback. That's probably a good thing after the Patriots' previous response to the report included the laughable claim that an equipment assistant used the term "deflator" because he was trying to lose weight, not take.
As bad of a year as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has had, even he could recognize the drivel his good friend's team was spouting. And while it was not Goodell's place to tell one of his owners what to do, surely some other owners took Kraft aside and reminded him about the good thing they all have going.
Kraft acknowledged as much in declining to appeal the team penalty.
"What I've learned over the last 21 years is the heart and soul and strength of the NFL," he said, "is the partnership of 32 teams."
So now you have the two-time cheating Patriots, firmly entrenched as the team that will do anything to win, whether it's violating league rules by taping the signals of other teams or deflating footballs to suit Brady's liking.
Brady's reputation is also taking a serious hit. Instead of hosting "Saturday Night Live" he's being parodied on it. His fans are still his fans, but others may now use the word "cheater" before "four-time Super Bowl winner" when describing him.
The players' association will press ahead with its appeal, because that's what unions do. Brady's four-game suspension may be reduced, something Goodell seemed to hint at Wednesday when he said he welcomed Brady offering any new information.
Conspiracy theorists will surely suggest that Kraft backed off because he made a backroom deal with Goodell to save the league further embarrassment.
But the real truth is probably closer to what Kraft himself hinted at. He is a member of a very successful cartel filled with billionaires who don't like their dirty laundry aired in public, and particularly don't like having their gravy train upset in any way.
Quarterbacks come and go, even the great ones like Brady.
But in the end both Goodell and Kraft understand better than most that there's only one club as exclusive — and as profitable — as the NFL.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg