PALM BEACH, Fla. - Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft came out firing yesterday, questioning why former team employee Matt Walsh has not yet revealed the information he has suggested he has regarding the team's videotaping procedures.
"I'm looking forward to him speaking, and hopefully cleaning this up and completely exonerating us," Kraft said at the NFL's annual meeting at The Breakers hotel.
"I know ourselves and the NFL have done everything we can do to help his lawyers have him speak. But he never signed any confidentiality statement with us, so as far as I'm concerned, I don't know why he doesn't just come out and speak."
Lawyers for the NFL and Walsh continue to negotiate terms under which Walsh, who has suggested he has materials that could be damaging to the Patriots, would come forward.
On March 9, the NFL believed it was closing in on an agreement, but the negotiations have stalled, in part because Walsh's lawyer was on vacation. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged he is frustrated that an agreement hasn't been reached.
"Do you know lawyers?" Goodell said in response to the first of multiple questions he was asked about Walsh. "We are making progress, I think. I'm a little frustrated, as you can see.
"Matt Walsh is free to speak to anybody, but he has asked for some considerations. We have met with over 50 people and he's the only one indicating he has conditions. We are trying to respect that."
With the league emphasizing an "integrity of the game" and "fair competition" theme at its meeting, the Patriots' videotaping procedures remained a topic of discussion, tracing back to the Week 1 incident last season when they were caught illegally filming signals of New York Jets defensive coaches - which led to record fines from the NFL.
That didn't seem to sit well with Kraft, who spoke on the issue publicly for the first time since the team's Super Bowl loss. What seemed to specifically irritate Kraft was the allegation that the Patriots had taped the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI.
On Feb. 2, the Boston Herald, citing a source, reported that a member of the Patriots video department taped the walkthrough.
"A newspaper made a damaging allegation about the so-called Matt Walsh affair. I believe it's something that never happened," Kraft said. "If so, why wouldn't - two months later - anything have come out? But we live in a society where people can make any kind of allegations. It has to be substantiated."
Asked if it's possible for the Patriots to move forward if an agreement is never reached that leads to Walsh talking, Kraft said, "We've moved forward. Anyone in this world of 24-hour-a-day media, seven days a week, can attack anything. But it's about substantiation. Allegations were made and why it took five or six years to come out, and then two months after it's come out, there is nothing . . . you folks decide why that hasn't happened."
Goodell repeated yesterday that he's eager to meet with Walsh.
"He has indicated or implied through the media that he may have information that I'm not aware of," said Goodell. "If he has either a tape or information that would be helpful, I would be eager to get it."
The second-year commissioner also defended his handling of the situation, which has come under fire from some, including Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter.
"I believe that the public understands that we responded very aggressively to the Patriots issue - we were the ones to discover it, disclose it, and discipline it with unprecedented discipline," he said. "To date, all the discussion and all the other rhetoric have been rumors.
"We've known coach [Bill] Belichick has [taped signals] through his career. We recognize there has been a great deal of discussion about this. There is a questioning of our integrity. I believe strongly in the integrity of our game and I know our clubs do, too."
Kraft, who said he didn't know Walsh, responded passionately when asked if the team's three Super Bowl championships might be tainted by the issue.
"We broke a rule the first week of the season, we were penalized very heavily, and look what happened after that game," he said. "To me, that says more than anything. Players work very hard and the coaches work very hard, and I think they accomplished something remarkable. I think everything stands on its own after that."
While noting that he is not yet over the team's Super Bowl loss, Kraft hoped time would help ease some of his feelings.
"As I reflect back on this season, I think years from now - and I know our fans feel this way - they'll relish this season and realize how remarkable it was," he said. "It's something we're pretty proud of. We're sorry it didn't end the way we wanted to, but it was pretty remarkable."
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.