Patriots Update 'Wells Report In Context' Site With Articles Urging NFL To Return Draft Picks
By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Are the New England Patriots really done fighting the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell?
As long as the team links to "The Wells Report In Context" from its official homepage, and as long as that site continues to be updated, it's hard to believe the fight is over.
The site was updated in recent days, with two stories being added to the "Critical Articles" section. The first was Peter King's plea for the NFL to give back the draft picks which were taken away as part of the DeflateGate punishment. King's story acknowledged that such a scenario, however fair, would never happen. Yet the second article added was a follow-up by Houston-area lawyer Steph Stradley, who argued that the NFL should actually follow through on returning the draft picks.
Stradley's story is thorough -- nearly 1,900 words -- and goes point-by-point to explain how little evidence the NFL actually collected against the Patriots and Tom Brady.
The Wells Report in Context website was created in response to the NFL-sponsored report filed by Ted Wells and edited by NFL lead counsel Jeff Pash. The report was the culmination of a multi-million dollar investment from the league to catch the Patriots and Tom Brady in the act of deflating footballs before the AFC Championship Game. When the site went live in mid-May 2015, Patriots spokesman Stacey James confirmed to the AP that the site was "approved/supported by the team."
The inclusion of these links, and the semi-regular updates to the site, indicate that the team at the very least offers tacit support to the arguments being made. And it suggests that maybe, once Brady's case is resolved in a federal appeals court, the stage will be set for the team to do something to rattle the league's cage before April's draft.
Now, exactly what that might entail is open to interpretation. Patriots owner Robert Kraft has worked too hard as an important part of the NFL to break character and launch an Al Davis-esque lawsuit against the league which he helped grow into the juggernaut it is today. That would be true at any time, but it's particularly true as he approaches his 75th birthday.
But if there's one area where Kraft has always succeeded -- at least, until DeflateGate -- it's been in the area of the negotiation. This was the man credited with playing a major, major role in ensuring there would be no missed games during the 2011 NFL lockout. A headline of "Robert Kraft: Hero Of The NFL Lockout" actually exists on The Huffington Post.
"Without him, this deal does not get done," Jeff Saturday said of Kraft after the NFL and NFLPA reached an agreement. "He's a man who helped us save football."
Kraft knows how to work a room. He knows how to get things done. And though he did not receive the owner support he hoped for last year when DeflateGate was at a fever pitch, there may now be more high-ranking members of NFL ownership who have learned more facts about the way Goodell and the league office operated. Certainly, the more information that has come out, the worse it has looked for Goodell.
Of course, Kraft did swallow his pride and accept the $1 million fine and the stripping of a first-round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth-round draft pick in 2017. Yet even in the process of accepting those penalties, Kraft was negotiating.
"What's become clear over those two decades," Kraft said, "is that at no time should the agenda of one team outweigh the collective good of the 32."
At the time, it was speculated that he had a handshake deal in place with Goodell, a quid pro quo where the Patriots would accept the harsh team punishments if the suspension to Brady was lifted or lessened. Essentially, both sides could still win.
Whether or not that was true, Goodell never backed off Brady, instead doubling down with each legal filing against the Patriots star.
Brady won in federal court, and he's going to win in the Second Circuit. It will be a devastatingly embarrassing moment for the commissioner ... though that's with the understanding that Goodell is not in fact capable of feeling such an emotion.
Nevertheless, most players and owners who followed the case closely will be much more receptive to hearing an argument from the Patriots' side, and the owners meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., from March 20-23 would present a convenient time for the Patriots to make a final plea.
Obviously, some of this requires an imagination. But until typing "WellsReportContext.com" into a browser brings up a prompt saying "URL not found," and until that site stops being updated, and until it is no longer linked prominently on Patriots.com, it's all a fair belief.
Given all the information that's come out since last May, it would not be difficult for Kraft to convince his partners that it's actually the agenda of 32 owners interested in a properly run operation that's outweighing the losing crusade of one misguided commissioner.
You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.
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