Patriots

If Brady suspension isn’t reduced, Kraft puts NFL’s well-being above Patriots’

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The Boston Globe/Matthew J. Lee

COMMENTARY

Given that Robert Kraft ranks high on the short list of the most successful owners in modern sports history, I suppose he has earned some measure of the benefit of the doubt.

So before we put him on blast for standing small on behalf of his football team in the face of ridiculous and unjust NFL sanctions, we’ll offer this caveat first:

IfTom Brady’s four-game suspension for possible awareness of the slight deflation of some footballs during the the Patriots’ 38-point victory in the AFC Championship game is halved or wiped out altogether, then there might be some justification to be found for Kraft’s announcement today that the team will not appeal the league’s over-the-top punishment of two draft choices and $1 million.

Barring catastrophe along the way, at least the Patriots will have the greatest quarterback who ever played for more than 75 percent of the 2015 season. That cannot be interpreted as anything but good news.

But if there is no pending revelation of a back-room, hugged-out deal between Kraft and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that chops down Brady’s absurd suspension in exchange for the Patriots’ abandonment of a worthwhile fight, well, son, then there is no conclusion to be drawn but this:

Out of fear of shattering the ever-busy Sports Hypocrisy-O-Meter, Kraft must never again regale us with the hagiographic tale of his rise from loyal Patriots season-ticket holder to wildly successful owner (but still a fan-at-heart!) ever again.

Because today, we found out that person no longer exists but in media guide fairy tales.

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Kraft sold out the team he owns — and the fans he years ago counted among — in order to appease a much more exclusive club: the unholy alliance of Goodell and Kraft’s fellow NFL owners.

By all appearances at the moment, he put the welfare of the NFL — and his bumbling chum Goodell’s image — ahead of what is best for his franchise.

This is Kraft’s worst look for since he wore those hideous sneakers to the White House.

Help me out here, because barring an elimination of Brady’s suspension or the minuscule possibility that the league has more on the Patriots than was revealed in the 243 pages of the Wells Report, I do not know how Kraft’s billionaire-boys-club gesture today does a damn thing to help out his football team.

Seriously, what does it do besides save a few million bucks in lawyers’ fees? It costs them a first-round pick, more damaging than even the Brady suspension given Bill Belichick’s knack for turning No. 1 picks into dependable players at worst and cornerstones on a number of occasions.

He’s found gems like Devin McCourty and Logan Mankins at the back of Round 1, and the jokes about how he’d just trade the pick for a couple of second rounders anyway dismiss the reality that he has hit the jackpot every single time when trading out of Round 1. There’s no way around it: By giving up the fight, Kraft also gave up a future core player today.

Does it help the perception of the Patriots? Hell, no. Passing on the chance to appeal, to fight, will be interpreted as an admission of guilt by those weary and envious of the Patriots. Would fighting hurt the all-important brand? C’mon — it didn’t hurt the Raiders’ brand in the ’80s when Al Davis challenged the NFL on pretty much everything other than whether the ball is inflated or stuffed.

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Rebels and anti-heroes are beloved. Yet the Patriots still conduct themselves like there’s some sort of perception of wholesomeness around their organization, when they’re seen as equal parts brilliant and dastardly by the most open-minded opponents. Even if they are a model franchise — and in many ways, they are an all-time model franchise — they will never be perceived that way outside of New England.

Yet there still seems to be this unquenched desire within the Patriots ownership to be appreciated and respected in other NFL cities.

Sorry, but the former isn’t happening, and the latter probably isn’t in most markets, either. They win too much, and the smoky perception of impropriety follows them. Kraft did nothing to change that today, while simultaneously infuriating the only people remaining who defend his team — the fans.

I’ve wished for a while that they’d embrace the hate, never more so than today. Go full-heel, us-versus-them. Unfortunately, the owner is still too concerned with what “them” think. There’s nothing to lose by going scorched-earth on the rest of the league — except for Goodell’s good favor and the precious approval of his fellow owners.

Pathetic. Kraft should be fighting to keep that first-round pick.

But it’s business and billionaire buddies’ desires above everything else.

Kraft used to be one of you. Today, given a public opportunity to reveal his true allegiances, he chose them.

If you think Kraft did what’s right for his football team by backing down, I’ll try to respect that opinion.

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Then I’ll wholeheartedly disagree with you with this simple counter:

How do you think a certain brilliant and accomplished man, one exonerated in the Wells Report, feels about this?

For some reason, I have a hunch that, “Give peace a chance — just take the punishment, Bob” is not something Bill Belichick would ever think, let alone say.

A grumbled, “Not great, Bob”?

Yeah, that’s much more like it. It fits the disappointing day.

And it would speak for the fans in a way that Robert Kraft, formerly one of us and now forever one of them, no longer can comprehend.

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