With news coming down on Monday that the NFL had dropped the hammer on the New England Patriots in the wake of Ted Wells’ report on Deflategate, many have speculated that this effectively ends the longstanding friendship between NFL commissioner and New England Patriots CEO Robert Kraft. The pair were close personal friends, and that relationship had been under scrutiny for quite some time, but it appears that relationship has been strained and it’s probably for the better.
The NFL commissioned Wells to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations that the Patriots intentionally deflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game last season against the Indianapolis Colts. The Wells Report on what we’ve not-so-affectionately coined “Deflategate” was released last Wednesday and it’s language pretty plainly implicated two low-level Patriots personnel and superstar quarterback Tom Brady. However, it also at least partially absolved Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Kraft of any wrongdoing.
That’s why it was so shocking to see Goodell and the NFL come down so harshly on the organization itself.
Brady was suspended four games, and while that’s on the steep side of what we all anticipated, it was certainly anticipated to some degree. What we didn’t expect was that the Patriots were fined an NFL-record $1 million and stripped of both their first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and their fourth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
By comparison, when the Patriots were penalized for Spygate–another haphazardly named scandal in which the Patriots were discovered to have illegally taped the New York Jets’ defensive coaches’ signals in a Sept. 2007 game–they were fined $250,000 and stripped of a conditional pick that inevitably resulted in them losing their first-round pick in 2008. When that happened, the Patriots were held directly responsible for the transgression.
The Wells Report laid the blame at the feet of Brady, Jim McNally and John Jastremski (the two aforementioned team employees) but it was pretty clear that this didn’t rise much higher than Brady. However, the Patriots’ history quite clearly factored in and New England now faces some of the harshest penalties we’ve seen from the NFL for one of its franchises.
When the Wells Report was initially released, Robert Kraft made some pretty critical statements but then backed off and stated that the Patriots would willingly accept whatever decision the NFL arrived at. It almost felt as if he realized he was putting his friend in a tight spot, and he felt the need to be reverent.
However, Goodell clearly set the friendship aside and unleashed executive vice president Troy Vincent to divvy out punishment as he saw fit. And Vincent saw fit to hand out quite the punishment.
Kraft wasn’t nearly as reserved in the aftermath of the punishment’s announcement on Monday night. He claimed the suspensions, fines and loss of picks “exceeded any reasonable expectations” that the organization had and it appears as though he’s livid with his old pal Goodell.
However, they should have never been that close in the first place.
As the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell is ultimately employed by the coalition of NFL owners, and there’s always going to be a certain amount of intrinsic respect to the people who are responsible for employing you and helping pay your incredibly gaudy salary. But Goodell also has a responsibility as the protector of The Shield.
He’s the judge and jury in regards to disciplinary issues, and it’s impossible to imagine that close friendships with owners of teams don’t influence his decision in at least some regard. For instance, prior to Deflategate, if Patriots backup QB (although I guess now he’s the starter) Jimmy Garoppolo had a disciplinary hearing for crashing his car into a Starbucks in Boston and punching a reporter (this is very clearly an imagined scenario, I’ve covered Jimmy and he’s actually a good kid, we’re using this as an example) and Kraft made mention at one of their private dinners together that Garoppolo had come to Kraft’s home and cooked his family dinner, would that not weigh into Goodell’s decision?
His friend insists that his employee is a stand-up guy, but we’ve got an instance that directly implies the contrary. It’s Goodell’s job to remain impartial and err on the side of the NFL as a whole, not to his buddy.
That’s what it appears he did here with Deflategate.
Even if you don’t agree with the severity of the penalty, you can’t deny that he put his relationship with Kraft aside in making the decision (or allowing Vincent to do it). If Robert Kraft can’t respect that, they shouldn’t be friends in the first place.
As a matter of fact, Roger Goodell shouldn’t be friends on such a personal level with any owner.