Owner looking ahead after short camp
Kraft lauds team’s stability for opener
FOXBOROUGH - With two weeks of training camp in the books and the Patriots set to play their preseason opener tonight, the nightmare known as the NFL lockout is becoming a distant memory, but it was still good to hear Robert Kraft say it yesterday:
“Football is back in Foxborough.’’
Kraft, who enters his 18th season as owner, has been credited as one of the driving forces of the new collective bargaining agreement that ended the league’s longest labor stoppage at 136 days, before any games were lost.
There was a selfish element in doing so: New England is one of the NFL’s most popular and profitable teams, but Kraft has long been a fan of the game and knows full well its popularity in the United States.
His wife, Myra, knew it as well: Even as she was dying of cancer, she encouraged her husband to leave her side and attend negotiating sessions.
“I want you to know we worked very hard and we’re proud that we have labor peace for the next 10 years and we also have a sport where we have 32 teams that are all going to be able to compete and keep this sport vibrant and we’re going to grow this business and tie it into our communities even more,’’ Kraft said.
As for the Patriots, Kraft feels they are in good standing, despite the madness that was touched off as soon as the lockout ended, with teams having to sign draft picks and undrafted rookies, their own free agents, and unrestricted free agents in a short period of time.
To get to this point, however, required forethought.
“One of the things I’m most proud of coming into this season is we knew this was coming and we made an effort to tie up our key veterans - people like [Tom] Brady, [Stephen] Gostkowski, and Vince Wilfork,’’ Kraft said, tacitly implying he knew the league would lock out players a year before it happened.
“And now that you have this quick period that you have to react in, we’re able to get a lot of seasoned veterans on shorter-term contracts, people like Albert [Haynesworth] and Chad [Ochocinco] and Andre [Carter], and Shaun Ellis, someone who’s been playing in our division for over a decade.’’
Organizational planning and continuity, from ownership through the head coach and to the quarterback, will provide the Patriots with an advantage, Kraft believes.
“As you look to the playoffs at the end of this year, I think you’ll see that those teams that had stability, both in terms of their coaching, their offensive/defensive coordinators and quarterback, the teams with stability have the best chance, in my opinion, of making the playoffs,’’ he said. “[But] it doesn’t guarantee it . . . We hope to have a lot of fun here in Foxborough.’’
Kraft was asked about a couple of those aforementioned new players, Haynesworth and Ochocinco. Haynesworth has a sexual assault trial coming up later this month for an incident in Washington, D.C., in February and a history of questionable behavior on and off the field.
But Kraft signed off on the trade after sitting down with Haynesworth.
“I met with him. And you know, I’ve learned in life and in business that people sometimes have different agendas . . . I met with him and I like the guy,’’ he said. “He didn’t come here for the money, he came here to be part of a team and win and I think in some ways improve his reputation. So like a lot of meetings I have with these guys, I found him to be genuine and sincere so now I hope he gets out on the field and does his thing.’’
Ochocinco, who has tried to fit into the “Patriot Way’’ of saying little to the media nonetheless made waves Tuesday when he announced that he wanted to stay with a fan for a couple of weeks before finding his own place in the area.
And some of Kraft’s friends have contacted him, offering to be the one to take Ochocinco in.
“First of all, you got to love the guy. I have people e-mailing me who would like to host him, and I’m not sure I want the responsibility on either end,’’ he said, chuckling, and adding that a “prominent’’ Foxborough resident was among those who offered.
Kraft seems happy with all of the moves the team has made, and is looking forward to seeing the year unfold.
“We have some great young men who have come in here and are part of this system, so I’m really excited about the season being back and getting going here,’’ he said.