That's why it was interesting to read the comments of Patriots president Jonathan Kraft at the NFL owners' meetings in New Orleans when asked about quarterback Tom Brady being party to the NFL Players Association's anti-trust lawsuit against the league. Brady is one of the 10 plaintiffs in the case, known as Tom Brady, et al., v. National Football League, et al., because the lead plaintiff was chosen alphabetically.
Kraft said he hoped the Patriots franchise quarterback was "conflicted" about deciding to be part of the lawsuit.
"Look, on a personal level, myself and I think every member of my family feels extremely close to Tom," said the younger Kraft to reporters Monday. "I'd like to think Tom was conflicted before he made that decision, but you'd have to talk to Tom about it. He obviously feels like, I guess, he made a business decision that was the right thing for him. I’d like to think he was conflicted in making it, but I don’t know."
There is no question that Brady is close with Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his family, but why should Brady be any more "conflicted" about this lawsuit than the Patriots were in franchising his pal Logan Mankins? Or using the final year rules of the collective bargaining agreement last year to tender Mankins as a restricted free agent and then reducing that tender to $1.54 million when he didn't sign it by June 15? Or cutting off healthcare to players and their families by exercising their right to impose a lockout? Or paying Brady $18 million per season over the next four years instead of say $20 million after his sterling MVP season?
It's a little hard to bemoan Brady's lack of loyalty in an industry where your own celebrated and successful business model is built on the absence of blind long-term allegiance or emotionally-driven decisions.
Brady's thinking is quintessential Patriots theory -- exercising all possible leverage to get the best deal, something the Patriots have done better than any other team in the NFL in contract showdowns. The CBA is simply the mother of all NFL contract squabbles. Brady is using what he's watched and learned all those years in fiscally-sound Foxborough.
His feelings for the Krafts are no less warm and fuzzy than when he said: "I really love being here and playing for Mr. Kraft and Jonathan," back in September. He meant that then, and he does now. He should because the Patriots are a first-class organization.
But Brady, an assistant player representative, owed it to his teammates and fellow NFL players, to stand up for their cause, no matter how familial he is with the Krafts. If Brady had elected to stand down, then he would have been a traitor to his own kind.
Brady's former teammate, Tedy Bruschi, advocating for a NFL draft boycott, said that everything quarterbacks do sends a message to teammates and is related to their ability to lead them. He was talking about incoming QBs Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton, but such thinking also applies to the most marquee of NFL QBs, which is why Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are all named in the lawsuit.
No matter how close he is with the Krafts, Brady's football family is comprised of the players in the Gillette Stadium locker room. His extended family in this case is made up of the players on the other 31 teams. As odd as it sounds, Brady is closer to loquacious linebackers and adversaries Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott in this instance than he is Robert and Jonathan Kraft.
It's understandable why the Krafts would be a little wounded to see Tommy Touchdown's name on this lawsuit.
Robert Kraft has often spoken of Brady being like a son, which would make him Jonathan's brother, so to speak. Being sued is never fun. Being sued by a family member is like biting into a chocolate bar with a screw in it. It's unexpected. It hurts, and it's distasteful.
But as another kind of New England patriot, Coolidge, once governor of Massachusetts, implied business is business. A man as savvy as Jonathan Kraft knows if you let personal relationships sway your thinking, you won't be in business very long.
Brady's people have often spoken of how important legacy is to him. It's one of the reasons he would rather remain in New England than take every last dollar available to him somewhere else. Being part of this lawsuit is part of Brady's legacy, just as sitting it out would have been as well. It would have been his Michael Jordan "Republicans buy shoes too" moment
When Brady is retired, the Krafts will still own the New England Patriots. Brady will still be a member of the Patriots family, but someone else, someone still on the field, will be the favored son.
If Brady is lucky, he will have left the organization on his own terms, like Bruschi.
But it's also conceivable that at some point coach Bill Belichick and/or the Krafts will make a business decision that employing TB12 as the Patriots quarterback is no longer in the team's best interests. That's how Brady got his job in the first place.
Drew Bledsoe was once a quasi-Kraft family member too, but that didn't save his job.
How many times have you heard Belichick say that the Patriots do what's in the best interest of the team? Brady is simply following his coach's and owner's game plan. He is doing what is in the best interest of his team, except this time that team is not the Patriots.
It's the NFLPA.
Nothing personal, it's just business.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.