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Robert Kraft’s statements should give NFL fans real cause for concern

05.16.11 at 12:52 am ET

Throughout the entire NFL labor dispute, Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been a beacon of positivity, one of a few individuals on either side of the argument who has constantly preached optimism. When individuals on both sides were using nuclear language ‘€” even when the lockout began ‘€” he continued to hit upbeat themes. There was one semi-contentious statement he made when the lockout became official. But for the most part, listening to him, you believed Kraft when he said they had a shot a deal getting done sooner rather than later.

But on Sunday, Kraft sounded a darker note. Speaking with reporters at a Science of Sports Fair at Gillette Stadium, the New England owner sounded like a man who knows that the NFL is approaching dangerous territory. Using words like ‘€œcareful’€ and ‘€œaggravate’€ and ‘€œhurt ourselves,’€ one of the most powerful owners in the league said the NFL is listing toward dangerous territory at the moment.

‘€œOne of my concerns is that we not aggravate our fan base,’€ Kraft told reporters. ‘€œThey don’€™t really understand and they don’€™t want to understand whether it’€™s the owners or the players. They just want to have football.

‘€œWe have to be very careful, and I think we’€™re getting to that point now, that we start to hurt ourselves collectively in the eyes of our fans,’€ he added. ‘€œIn the end, the fans just want football. They don’€™t want to hear about all this meaningless squabbling and we have a great business. We have to sit down with the principals and find a way to solve it.’€

Kraft would later circle back and add an optimistic footnote, saying, ‘€œThe problem can be solved, I really believe that. If we sit down as principals, I believe we can do a deal very quickly.’€ But the fact that Kraft deviated ‘€” albeit briefly ‘€” from his sunny approach should be a cause for concern for fans. (The fact that he was saying it while speaking as an advocate for fans makes it all the more interesting.) Throughout the entire process, the Patriots’€™ owner has used neutral, friendly verbiage when talking about the lockout. And for the most part, he’s steered clear of the public missteps that have plagued other owners like Carolina’€™s Jerry Richardson (who has insulted the players) or Miami’€™s Stephen Ross (who has cut employee salaries). So when moderates like Kraft start preaching caution and concern ‘€” even when it comes to something like alienating the fan base ‘€” what does that say about hard-liners like Richardson or Cincinnati’€™s Mike Brown?

But the truth is, Kraft is dead-on in his assessment. From a logistical standpoint, the 2011 season will be unlike any other in league history. The longest work stoppage in NFL history has already wrecked the offseason schedule. The lockout has wiped out the offseason training activities. It has put a crimp in this year’€™s rookie class, which will be behind scheduled whenever an agreement is reached and the doors are opened again. While things are stable in New England ‘€” compared to the rest of the league ‘€” there are new head coaches and coordinators around the league who are unable to get their new schemes and systems installed. As a result, they will undoubtedly be behind when football does return. We are four months away from the scheduled start of the 2011 regular season, and already, it’€™s a campaign that will deserve a Barry Bonds‘€™-sized asterisk.

Since this entire ugly offseason began, there have been alternating waves of optimism and pessimism, and there will undoubtedly be more of them as we approach the June 3 appeal date. But the fact that a moderate like Kraft is even casually starting to worry about the long-term fate of the league should make everyone worried.

Read More: Jerry Richardson, lockout, Mike Brown, Robert Kraft



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