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Hurley: Kraft's Contrition, Capitulation Confounding After All-Out Fight With NFL

BOSTON (CBS) -- "League personnel, thus, with no basis and no understanding of the effect of temperature on psi, had already prejudged the issues. The Colts footballs also lost psi, but no similar 'preliminary finding' was made regarding the Colts. The Wells investigators, then, were hired by the League to investigate an issue that the League had already prejudged."

This was the contention of the New England Patriots just six days ago. As part of their lengthy, extensive response to the flawed investigative report written by Ted Wells, the Patriots fired missiles.

The NFL had no basis and no understanding.

The NFL prejudged the issues.

The NFL was out to get us.

And now, less than a week later ... nothing.

"I'm going to accept, reluctantly, what [NFL commissioner Roger Goodell] has given to us, and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric. And we won't appeal," a defeated Robert Kraft said Tuesday morning in San Francisco.

How on earth does one get from A to B in such a short time?

Kraft admitted Tuesday that it has been an "emotionally charged couple of weeks," and he essentially revealed that he was not making the smartest decisions during those times.

OK, sure, but as recently as Saturday, Kraft still held his dukes up high, ready to take on the mighty commissioner and leave a scorched earth if need be. Anything, it seemed, was on the table, except for accepting the punishment and -- by extension -- admitting guilt.

"He sounded alternately defiant and angry," wrote Peter King, the man who interviewed Kraft over the weekend. "There was much Kraft wouldn't say, and he was at times curt, which is rare for him."

When King asked Kraft about his relationship with Goodell, Kraft offered a passive-aggressive, "You'll have to ask him."


And then ... what? The two reportedly chatted on Saturday night in New York City, shared a hug, and the next thing we all knew, Kraft took the podium looking very much like a defeated man.

To say it's a perplexing turn of events after a four-month war would be putting it lightly.

Naturally, as is the case with just about anything involving "DeflateGate," the news has spawned a myriad of theories. The most obvious one is that the "back channel" negotiations required Kraft to accept the punishments in exchange for Goodell lightening the suspension issued to Tom Brady. That's both sensible and ludicrous all at once.

It's believable because, well, with the NFL, just about anything is believable. Would it be rotten and crooked for the commissioner to work out a cockamamie solution to cover for the PR nightmare that he allowed to spiral out of control in the first place? Sure.

But would Goodell have any case to keep his job if he rescinded or repealed the same discipline which he "authorized" just one week ago?

Plus, Kraft's statement, on its surface, appeared to be as pro-NFL, pro-ownership, and pro-commissioner as possible. It was the ultimate decree of loyalty to the mighty NFL.

"I vowed [when I became an owner] that I would do everything that I could do to make the New England Patriots an elite team and hopefully respected throughout the country and at the same time do whatever I could do to try to help the NFL become the most popular sport in America."

"... the heart and soul of the strength of the NFL is a partnership of 32 teams."

" ... at no time should the agenda of one team outweigh the collective good of the full 32."

"But believing in the strength of the partnership and the 32 teams, we have concentrated the power of adjudication of problems in the office of the commissioner."

"I do have respect for the Commissioner and believe that he's doing what he perceives to be in the best interest of the full 32."

The 32. This was, and is now, all about the 32.

But what about 12?

When Kraft issued a statement following the release of the Wells report, he did not mince words: "I unconditionally believed that the New England Patriots had done nothing inappropriate in this process or in violation of the NFL rules. ... That sentiment has not changed."

And five days later, after the league handed down its two-draft-pick, $1 million dollar, four-game quarterback suspension, Kraft concluded his statement thusly: "Tom Brady has our unconditional support. Our belief in him has not wavered."

There was little room for interpretation. Kraft, one of the most powerful figures in the world's most powerful sports league, stood firmly in Tom Brady's corner, and he was not ever going to leave any doubt about that.

Well, a week later, in a 629-word prepared statement, Kraft made zero mention of his quarterback, aka the player who looks to be on a collision course to take the league to court in an effort to clear his name.

And if Brady takes the NFL to court, the battle lines are drawn: Player vs. league.

Roger Goodell and the mighty NFL can't afford to have a powerful owner on the side of that player at such a critical juncture, can they?

Perhaps it was that argument -- and not a quid pro quo, super-secret agreement to reduce or eliminate Brady's suspension -- that convinced Kraft to come around. And if so, it's understandable why the fan base reacted so angrily on Tuesday.

In the case of a player vs. a suit, the fans will take the player's side 10 times out of 10.

Of course, given the respectful, loving relationship between Kraft and Brady, it would be absolutely foolish to assume that Kraft acted Tuesday without having previously spoken to his quarterback.

"I've known Tommy 16 years, almost half his life," Kraft said on Saturday. "He's a man, and he's always been honest with me, and I trust him. I believed what he told me. He has never lied to me."

Again, there was no doubt about where Kraft stood on his quarterback. It was the continuation of a four-month effort to clear Brady's and the Patriots' name. It was not a simple statement of "we will fight this." It was not a mere denial. It was a complete discrediting of all the work the NFL had done to try to dig up dirt on the patriots. Kraft sought not to beat the charges but to invalidate the man who brought them and the league he runs.

And then, on a dime, he pulled a 180 and (albeit reluctantly) accepted the punishment from the league -- the same league he deemed to have prejudged issues and unfairly attacked his team.

Now, don't expect Kraft to suddenly speak out against Brady, the man who played the single most essential role in turning the owner's franchise into a four-time champion. But the Boston Herald's suggestion that Kraft "will try and talk with Brady and convince him to accept Goodell's verdict after the appeal" provides yet another indication that the fierce loyalty and bulldog spirit to fight the NFL has just about left Kraft completely.

Kraft may still be in Brady's corner, but the gloves are no longer raised. That pro-Brady social media campaign still lives on, but it feels like a thing of the past. Instead of egging on Brady, Kraft has put his hands in his pockets and walked away from the ring -- publicly, at least. Perhaps it is what he had to do, but it nevertheless illustrated a jarring change of direction.

For Kraft, it is clear: 32 ultimately remains much more important -- and powerful -- than 12. In purposefully refusing to mention his quarterback once on Tuesday, Kraft made his loudest, most surprising point by not saying anything at all.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here. You can email him or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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