In An Era of Uncertainty in the NFL Robert Kraft Doesn’t Plan to Change A Thing

There is no other franchise in the NFL that has won more football games in the last sixteen years than New England. They have dominated the last decade or so and look to do the same in this decade. New England has won seven AFC East titles, and has gone to six AFC Championship games winning five of them.  What is even more impressive is that they have gone to five Super Bowls and came out on the winning side of three of them. To put this into perspective, New England has had only one losing season and that was Bill Belichick’s first year as head coach back in 2000.  I am not sure how they have managed to have this type of success year in and year out. What I do know is that this is an era of uncertainty in the NFL and teams should be cautious going forward as they are not sure what to expect.  But if it is not broke, don’t fix it. Other NFL owners should look at the Patriots as a model for their franchise. Robert Kraft joined WEEI in Boston to talk about free agency, the Patriots philosophy of not going after big names but getting quality guys for competition, and on how he will operate with this season being an uncapped year and a potential lockout in 2011.

Whether anything big is in the works for the Patriots via free agency:

“Well, we formally know that Leigh Bodden has agreed. I think his agent might have signed the contract. It’s in the process of sending it in now.  You guys remember Adrian Murrell?  Well, his brother has agreed to join us on special teams, Marques. I think he’s been there a couple years. He’s down in the Big Apple where our favorite long snapper, Jake Ingram’s relative Zach is.  So he’s coming out of the Big Apple up to New England. So that’s good. I know he’s won some awards, so that’s great. A little disappointing news is we heard that we’re told that Jarvis Green is going to be out there in Denver. He has always been a very high-grade special guy and it’s unfortunate in this business you can’t keep everyone that you want to keep. You have to make decisions and a lot of things that you have to balance. But this is still an exciting time in the evolution and the development of the team for the upcoming season.”

On the Patriots philosophy of not going after big names but getting quality guys for competition:

“Well, we’re in the business of quality depth management. When I first bought the team in the early ‘90’s we would sign a lot of stars and we, I think, we had seven or eight that were all in the top three -four in their positions in the league.  This is a business where it’s a very physical sport. If you lose someone to injury you have to have depth and if you don’t have depth you have a real problem. We learned early that how important the bottom third of the roster was and how it’s like a stock portfolio that you’re always trying to improve and move the pieces. Actually, when we start to develop a team and we have a pretty good system now we think after. Believe it or not, we’re starting our seventeenth season since our family bought the team and it’s flown by.  We sort of look at it like pieces of a puzzle that we’re developing and putting together and every year is different.  You mentioned some name players that we didn’t get and I can understand some fans and talk radio experts, it creates issues.  But in the end we’re always comparing the players that we have and what the status of their contracts are with what the market place is because everything in life is, you’ve got to say, ‘What’s the alternative? How do we improve?’  This year we feel that the players we’ve re-signed.  Take someone like Vince Wilfork.  We don’t think there is a better player in the marketplace for this team.  It’s not just on the field, it’s the practice, it’s the chemistry in the locker room.  You guys know how many games are lost in the locker room.  You’ve got a few bad apples who lead people along the wrong way.  So we have to put all that together and we’ve been able to sign a number of our guys this year that we felt were No. 1 and 2 in the market place.  If we had to go out and bring someone else in here we wouldn’t have the same knowledge of that individual.”

What he thinks about people calling him cheap for the system that is in place:

“Well, the way I look at it, why did we buy this entity?  We were fans in this area and we looked forward to buying this team and trying to create something special.  So we’ve had 16 years that we’ve owned the team.  There is no team that has won more football games the last 16 years than the New England Patriots.  We’ve gone to six championship games, we’ve won five.  We’ve gone to five Super Bowls, we’ve won three.  So people might find fault with the way we do something, but life is about execution and not chit chat and chatter.  Lots of people can talk a lot, but in the end you judge us by our results in the last sixteen years and the fact that there are thirty-two teams, I’m pretty proud that we have the best won-loss record in that period.  We don’t things and always do the right thing, but this is a dynamic business that we have to be flexible, go with the flow, and I think that sixteen year record is pretty cool.  From my point of view, if people want to say we’re cheap, I don’t know what that means.  I understand certain players wanting to position themselves to maybe tell the market place, ‘I think I’m going to be available.’  That’s OK, but in the end we’re concerned about how many football games we win at the end of the year.  The headlines now, the discussion now, that’s all parts of the puzzle, but in the end what happens in December, January, and February is what really matters to us.”

On how much thought process in signing new players is to win now vs. winning in the future:

“That’s the balance that we’re always doing.  I know this immodest to say because I’ve already said we’ve had the best won-loss record the last sixteen years, but I don’t think anyone’s had the consistency.  I mean, you look at the last decade.  The two years that we missed making the playoffs, we were dependent on other teams.  We were very close to making it.  We depended on other teams winning their games and doing it.  We’ve been a pretty consistent throughout and I think that’s a real management struggle in this league, how to be good year in, year out. That’s what we want to do.  So we’re never going to sell our soul out for one season and say, ‘this is the year.’  We want to have a chance of making the playoffs and doing well year in, year out.”

How he operates with this season being an uncapped year and a potential lockout in 2011:

“Like I said to you folks before, this is a dynamic business.  You have to plan for all kinds of contingencies.  You have to think ahead as much as you can.  But in every dynamic, volatile situation there are inefficiencies.  If you’re smart, you can take advantage of those situations in the market place.  You’ve got to stay cool, and I don’t want to criticize any of my fellow owners or speak about how they’ve managed their operations, but I think this kind of environment creates opportunities if you’re cool and you take everything in and strike at the right time.  I think that’s what we see.  As far as the potential of next year, I can just tell you that I’m doing everything I can in my power, the Commissioner has put me on the CC, which is the committee that negotiates our new labor deal if there is one.  I remember ’82 and ’87 and it was a horrible time.  I must tell you, our fans and I think our fans and fans around the country, the last thing they want to hear is squabbles between well-to-do players and well-to-do owners.  I can just tell you that I’m going to do everything that I can to try to build bridges.  There are two former players here and I will just say this with all due respect to all the great lawyers out there.  You can never let lawyers run your business or run a negotiation without the business people stepping in because sometimes lawyers collect bigger fees when there’s litigation. I’m not saying that’s the case.  I just think that the top people on both sides have got to always…  Lawyers are trying to protect you and make sure you’re covering all the pieces.  But in the end the business people have to step in at the critical time and make a deal.  So I think that is the art of whatever we have to do.  We have got something great going in America right now.  Our fans are really into it, and I think responsible people on both sides.  There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to have a labor deal in place before the ’11 season.”

How NFL players and owners will avoid not upsetting the fans:

“That is a good question.  By the way, the fans should not be part of this and we should be smart enough on both sides to work it out.  The facts are we made a bad deal in ’06.  It was a four-year deal with a two year option.  We had the right to opt out.  We just did a bad deal.  I’m sure many of your listeners are small business people or larger business people.  In the end, you can’t build relationships and do business without doing a deal that’s good for both sides. When it’s too one-sided, in the end it’s going to cause problems.  Right now, the ownership made a bad deal, and we’ve got to fix it…  The Patriots are going to be fine no matter what happens because I think the most important thing is we maintain a system with competitive balance.  Look at the Super Bowl this year, Indianapolis and New Orleans, two small market towns, highest rated program in the history of TV.  We no longer have to say that Mash is the highest.  After our Super Bowl, we now have the highest-rated program…  Look what it did for New Orleans… It was a great story for America and the power of the NFL and bringing a community together down there in New Orleans.  But in the end we have to do what we have got to do to pull this together.”

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