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1. Could Robert Kraft lose the Patriots?
In order to understand the kind of punishment Patriots owner Robert Kraft might face from the NFL after he was charged Monday with soliciting prostitution at a Florida massage parlor, you have to go back to March 16, 2014. What happened then could serve as a road map.
That night, Colts owner Jim Irsay was stopped by police and subsequently arrested on a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated, along with four counts of possession of a controlled substance. The Indianapolis Star (h/t USA Today) reported police found $29,000 in cash in the car in addition to numerous bottles of prescription medication.
As a result of that arrest, and a subsequent guilty plea to the DWI charge, the NFL suspended Irsay six months and fined him $500,000.
Fast-forward to now and the legal trouble in which Kraft finds himself. There’s a chance the 77-year-old billionaire could be only the third owner in recent history to be punished by the league. Irsay and former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, who was fined $1 million and suspended the entire 1999 season over a gaming scandal, were the others.
For his part, Kraft has denied that he “engaged in any illegal activity,” via a spokesperson. Still, the news has become the buzz of the league. In many ways, it’s a bigger story than even the scouting combine.
While the fact this involves one of the NFL’s most prominent owners is an obvious attention-getter, how the story progresses has grabbed different groups around the game for different reasons. Players tell me they are watching closely because they don’t believe the NFL polices owners the way it does players. Some team officials are watching because they enjoy seeing the Patriots taken down a notch.
I haven’t heard from any owners yet, but it’s hard to imagine they aren’t monitoring this situation more than anyone. Kraft, after all, is one of their own.
There are a range of beliefs from teams about how all of this could play out from a disciplinary perspective. One theory holds that, if the accusations prove true, the NFL could simply fine Kraft six figures and not suspend him. This would make sense especially since the early suggestion by law enforcement that the spa was involved in human trafficking has yet to be confirmed in the form of criminal charges.
However, the general consensus I hear from speaking to people in the league (who are guessing) is that if the accusations against Kraft are proved accurate, the NFL will punish Kraft more severely than it did Irsay or DeBartolo.
They believe the league doesn’t want to be viewed as going easy on arguably the NFL’s most powerful owner. Also, they say, the NFL may have no choice. The Personal Conduct Policy says owners and high-ranking officials are to be held to a higher standard than players or others.
“Ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard,” the policy says, “and will be subject to more significant discipline when violations of the Personal Conduct Policy occur.”
There is another scenario that could, ultimately, be even more dramatic for the team. If there is damaging video evidence of Kraft engaged in an illicit act that becomes public, some wonder if Kraft would be so embarrassed that he would feel compelled to transfer control of his team to his son, Jonathan, and disappear from the public eye. The NFL may get off the hook in having to decide a potential punishment, but it would lose one of its most influential voices.
That may be a little far-fetched, but it’s an idea that’s making the rounds in the league. Until we know more, it’s difficult to say what happens next. It’s yet another mess for the league to contend with and one that could get incredibly ugly.
2. A good defense sometimes is the best offense
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It’s been reported that a video of Kraft’s “activities” at the Florida massage parlor exists. And if that’s the case, there’s a belief in league circles that it won’t be long before TMZ acquires it and subsequently forces the NFL to take disciplinary action against Kraft. (After all, it was TMZ’s release of the Ray Rice and Kareem Hunt videos that spurred the league to take action in those cases.)
And while the outrage from many is expected to force the NFL’s hand, also know that there are numerous Kraft defenders in the league. It’s difficult to put into words how popular he is among opposing players and teams.
Moreover, these same voices of support are blunt about the intersection of professional sports and the sex trade. I’ve heard a lot of: “If you think Kraft is the only one in the NFL doing this…”
I’m just passing this info along, people. Don’t @ me, bro.
3. Not even an immovable object can stop New England’s irresistible force
Whether Kraft is punished or not, you can be reasonably certain it won’t affect the Patriots’ play on the field. They will crank along, churning out win after win. Not just because owners (while obviously important because they have the cash) aren’t playing or coaching but because the New England organization is built to survive chaos.
It survived Spygate. It survived Deflategate. There is probably nothing that can knock the Patriots out. Not even the potential loss of their owner.
4. Mr. Brown is headed out of town
Antonio Brown @AB84
Had a great meeting with Mr.Rooney today we discussed a lot of things and we cleared the air on several issues! We both agreed that it is time to move on but I’ll always have appreciation and gratitude towards the Rooney family and @steelers organization! #CallGod #Boomin https://t.co/DEgURchvhW
Speculation has been running rampant about the potential trade destination of disgruntled Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. The latest comes from Peter King, who recently theorized in his Football Morning in America column that Brown could end up in Carolina. Take a look, because it makes a lot of sense.
Still, no one truly knows what teams are in the mix, except the Steelers and Brown, and neither side is saying much publicly or privately.
5. Size is a state of mind
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You will hear lots of talk surrounding the NFL Scouting Combine this week about the 5’10” height of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. Reports are likely to emerge that detail the private concerns some teams have that Murray does not even measure 6’0″ tall.
Most teams that I’ve spoken to, however, don’t seem to care how tall he is. What I’ve heard is that Murray is one of the more dynamic quarterback prospects personnel men have seen in several years and may have more potential than any quarterback drafted last year. Note that I said potential, not that it is a sure thing he would be better.
6. A steamy affair
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Teams have fallen in lust with Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa as much as any player I can recall since I’ve been covering the league. That includes the likes of Peyton Manning. Teams are that high on him.
Bosa represents a bit of a shift in how teams are viewing the impact of defense. It’s a copycat league, and teams saw this past season how two defenses dominated in Super Bowl LIII. Offense is still setting the pace; everyone saw in the playoffs how the Pats were able to sidetrack three of the most explosive teams in the NFL—the Chargers, the Chiefs and the Rams.
Teams see Bosa as someone who can transform a franchise the way the Rams’ Aaron Donald has. Or, perhaps, even the way a quarterback does.
Veteran NFL executive Michael Lombardi of The Athletic joins Adam Lefkoe to talk about the upheaval in Pittsburgh, how the NFL Combine has changed over the years and Kyler Murray’s future.
7. If it ain’t broke…
Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
The NFL is considering revamping some of its new rules on celebrations and, according to Mark Maske of the Washington Post, barring players from leaving the sideline to participate in the fun.
There are times when the NFL cannot get out of its own way, and this is one of those times. The relaxing of the celebration rules was one of the best moves the league has ever made. Many of the skits are funny and help to humanize the players.
Who cares if a few guys come off the sideline to join in? It’s fun. Let it happen in all of its goofy glory.
Why hamper something so successful?
8. The other Mueller report
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For many in the sports world, the first time they heard the name Robert Mueller was in regard to one of the most important investigations the current league administration had ever faced.
In 2014, the NFL was reeling from a report that a woman at the league office had received the infamous Ray Rice video before it was aired by TMZ, contradicting claims from the NFL that it had no knowledge the video existed. The league hired Mueller to investigate the claim, and Mueller’s report was so thorough and compelling that it assuaged any concerns about the NFL’s veracity.
I was one of the Mueller skeptics. I thought, like many others, the NFL was using Mueller to help cover up malfeasance. Boy, was I wrong. After reading the report in its entirety, I was stunned by its comprehensiveness and depth. Lending credence to the report was the fact that Mueller, though hired by the league, was critical of how the NFL handled the Rice situation overall.
Now, Mueller is crafting a different type of report, and as he does, it’s difficult not to think of the first Mueller report and how it impacted the NFL.
9. XFL is on the right path
Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
The Seattle XFL franchise this week named Jim Zorn the team’s head coach and general manager. It’s another example of how, quietly and methodically, the XFL is putting together some pretty big, and credible, names to coach its teams.
That obviously isn’t a guarantee of success, but it’s a good start. Zorn has a special place in Seattle football history. When the Seahawks became an expansion franchise in 1976, Zorn was the quarterback. Decades later, he became an assistant with the Seahawks on two different coaching staffs.
Zorn becomes the XFL’s third coaching hire, following Bob Stoops in Dallas and Pep Hamilton in Washington. So far, it’s a nice, intriguing group. Let’s hope it continues to grow smartly.
10. The impact of Jerry Jones
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Thirty years ago this week, Jerry Jones purchased the Dallas Cowboys. It was a moment that would change the NFL forever.
Now, decades later, there are far more owners like Jones than not. He’s a Hall of Famer and his hiring of Jimmy Johnson, ridiculed at the time in the wake of Tom Landry’s firing, was one of the best moves any owner has ever made.
Jones hasn’t won a championship since Johnson departed, but Jones’ legacy is money: He earned tons of it and showed other owners how to do the same in the NFL. He paid $140 million for the Cowboys, according to the Dallas Morning News‘ David Moore. Now, the franchise is worth $4.8 billion, according to Forbes.
More than the rings, it’s that—the exponential production of capital—that will likely be Jones’ biggest contribution to the game.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.