An open letter to Robert Kraft


An open letter to Robert Kraft

Mr. Kraft - How are you? Its been far too long.

I believe the last time we spoke was in the fall of 1995. I was a 15-year-old kid, spending my Saturday morning the same way I spent most Saturday mornings back then waiting for autographs in the Foxboro Stadium parking lot. You were in your second season as owner of the New England Patriots, and in great spirits as you walked by my friends and me.

Get any good ones today? you asked.

Yeah . . . Dave Meggett! I responded, genuinely excited.

All right! you said. "Take care, guys.

And that was that. Not that I need to remind you. Im sure our interaction is as clear in your mind as it is in mine. Feels like yesterday, right? But we both know thats not true. Fact is that a lot has changed in the 17 years since.

In that time, youve taken the Patriots from hometown afterthought to the NFLs model franchise. In recent years, youve established yourself as one the leagues most respected, influential and level-headed owners. Youve arguably earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, I now write open letters on the Internet. And I don't want to waste anymore time before explaining why I'm writing this one, even though I'm sure you can already guess:

The NFL needs you, Mr. Kraft. Your players need you. Your fans need you.

We need you to take a stand against the replacement refs, and once again serve as the voice of reality and reason among a group of billionaires who have long since lost their sense of both.

Maybe you've already started in on this process. After all, your Patriots have been drastically affected by these replacement refs. Not that the zebras are entirely to blame for your first 1-2 start since 2001, but in a vacuum things could and should be very different. The holding call on Rob Gronkowski against Arizona. An assortment of very questionable calls in Baltimore. With the real refs, you could very easily be 3-0 (even if that record isn't entirely deserved). I'm sure this must infuriate you. I imagine that the same fire that was on display in your legendary audition tape is now playing out in real life behind the scenes at Patriots Place. This ordeal has robbed you of wins. It's robbing the league of its integrity. It's putting your players in danger. It's threatening the core of a game that you fought so tirelessly to save and at a time when anyone would have understood if your priorities were elsewhere.

Today, in light of three straight weekends of referee chaos and last night's disaster in Seattle, we need you to once again don your cape, and help save the league from itself from greed, from an extreme lack of reason and awareness, and of course, from greed. Last summer, you helped bridge a billion dollar gap between the owners and players. Today, it's reported that the refs and owners are separated by a "mere" 70 million. I realize that it's probably easier to pry a piece of steak from Vince Wilfork's mouth than it is to convince some of your fellow owners to pass up a couple bucks. I'm sure you don't feel like paying the refs either. But you're one of the few owners with a track record of looking beyond the bottom line when the league is desperate. One of the few who can still see the game from a human perspective; through the eyes of fan. And while the owner in you certainly can't be psyched about opening your wallet for Hochuli and friends, I know the fan in you must want to pop that owner in the face. "Nut up or move on," you want to tell him. "Can't you see what's this is doing the game!?"

Again, for all I know, the wheels could very well already be in motion on this. No one is dumb enough to believe that you've spent the last few months and specifically this last month as a silent observer in this referee fiasco. But while we spent the NFL Lockout hearing you constantly speak about how important it was to find a resolution and restore order to the football world, we haven't heard much about the refs. Maybe that's out of fear of alienating the other owners. Maybe you truly believe that the officials are asking for too much.

But at this point, how much is too much? What's the price tag on integrity?

Mr. Kraft, I certainly don't envy your position. I don't imagine it's easy being one of the few functioning human beings in a pack of soulless billionaire zombies. I'm sure there are plenty of times, especially as the years go on, when a crisis arises and you think to yourself: "Man, can't someone else deal with it for once?" But no one else is going to deal with it.

The NFL needs you to stake a stand. It might not be popular among your peers, but it will make you a hero in the eyes of the people who matter most and hopefully somehow help restore order to a league that, in reality, shouldn't have to do much to keep its fans happy, but continues to let greed stand in the way.

We all think you're better than that. We all know you're better than that. But just for fun, how about reminding us one more time.

Get the real refs back on the field.

And let me know if you're interested in that Dave Meggett autograph.

After all these years, it's the least that I could do.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Friday Bag: Anybody seen the Patriots pass rush?

Friday Bag: Anybody seen the Patriots pass rush?

Every Friday we take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as we call it. After Phil Perry flew solo last week, CSN Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran and Mike Giardi are back, along with Perry, for this week’s edition.

Got a Patriots question? Tweet the trio using the hashtag #FridayBag. They’ll get to as many as they can.

On to the Bag: 

TC: Only if Gordie gets a sideline pass and wanders between the white lines. I would be shocked if Glenn Gronkowski gets elevated from the practice squad.

TC: Have heard nothing and seen nothing on the big German. I’m sure he’s around and working on rehab and conditioning but he hasn’t yet been on the practice field.

TC: I don’t think they’ve really sold out and been in many positions where they send five. They play coverage and try to keep the quarterbacks contained while guarding against big plays by dropping more guys. The stray A-gap blitzes offered by Donta Hightower and Jamie Collins are the extent of the extra pressure that gets sent for the most part and those seem to be conditional blitzes – if a back stays in, then they go. I don’t think there are many occasions where the four they rush – or three – are defeating blocks and applying pressure though. Chris Long has had the most impactful rushes, then Jabaal Sheard, then Malcom Brown.

TC: Good question. Because they look like lakes since they’re so damn big but they’re really ponds because they’re not that deep. 

TC: I’m going to say they can do both because one would be an offensive effort and the other would be a defensive priority. But the No. 1 defensive priority is going to be tackling. Tackling, tackling, tackling, tackling. And then tackling. It was horrific in the first meeting with Buffalo.

TC: Good question. Let’s stick with Massachusetts for this week but hit me back with the other five states in coming weeks. My list of the top 13 (in knee-jerk order): Howie Long, Nick Buoniconti, Fred Smerlas, Tom Nalen, Matt Hasselbeck, Pete Kendall, Mark Chmura, Bruce Laird, Billy Brooks, Mark van Eeghen, Steve DeOssie, Lofa Tatupu, Zak DeOssie. A few other names of note: Mark Hartsell, Chris Sullivan, Eric Johnson, Marc Colombo, Peter Cronan, Greg Comella, Joe Dudek, Rob Konrad. Todd Collins, Lake Dawson, James Ihedigbo, Greg McMurtry, Omar Easy, Jordan Todman, Sean Morey, Brian St. Pierre, Jim Pyne, Steve Strachan, Steve Trapilo, Paul Zukauskus, Joe Nash and Tim Hasselbeck.

TC: That’s a shade normally seen when changing a diaper. I down vote. And unfriend you.

TC: I remember in 2005 David Givens intimating that to me and – after I wrote about it – he got absolutely eviscerated by the front office and coaching staff. There have been occasions where they’ve tried to get guys to performance escalators (Deion Branch being one). But I think you’re asking if they’d hide a guy to keep him off other team’s radars? I don’t think so, Q. Not a player of impact as you seem to be indicating by framing the question around a sought-after free agent.

TC: Good question. Brandon Bolden, who I had confidence in, is regressing rapidly as a back since last year. Tyler Gaffney doesn’t inspire. You can’t go with itty-bitty sub backs between the tackles. So, yeah. Hope Blount stays upright.

TC: Because in some instances – Pittsburgh being a prime one – dropping eight so that Antonio Brown or LeVeon Bell have plenty of company when they inevitably get in space is more important than dogging Landry Jones around the offensive backfield and running the risk of Brown or Bell going the distance on you because you didn’t keep enough guys back. I understand people want to see some defensive chaos – it’s maddening to watch a guy stand back there and knock down uncontested jumpers as Jones did last week – but the 16 points and 1-for-6 scoring touchdowns on trips inside the 40 is proof it worked.

PP: It's not that the pass-rush has taken a step back, Stephen. It's that it's been downright non-existent at times that has raised some eyebrows. They're without two talented pass-rushers who were on the roster last season, but they set a franchise record for sacks in 2015, and they currently rank in the bottom-third of the league in sacks. Is that solely due to the loss of Jones and Easley? I think part of what we're seeing is game-plan related. But part of it is players a) not finishing plays or b) not winning one-on-one matchups and having a chance to finish. One player who I think will finish more frequently as the season goes on? Jabaal Sheard. He is their most talented pass-rusher, and he's seventh among NFL 4-3 defensive ends with 25 total pressures (sacks, hits and hurries), per Pro Football Focus. Eventually, some of those hits and hurries will turn into sacks. 

PP: Jesus Christ?

PP: My answer to this will be Denver until another team steps up and shows that it has a defense capable of slowing down Tom Brady and his friends. When Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are right, combined with Chris Harris and Aqib Talib in the secondary, they can do just that. What will be key for the New England offense, if it does have to go through the Broncos in the postseason, will be for its running backs and offensive linemen to stay healthy. They'll need to be able to turn to a legitimate running game. When Denver pass-rushers were allowed to tee off on Brady in the AFC title game, it was as good as over. I don't care that the Broncos have an unproven quarterback. He seems good enough given what's around him. Until the Raiders prove they can defend more consistently they don't belong in this conversation. 

PP: Welcome to the Bag, Tom. It's an honor, really, to have you check in. What's interesting is that the Patriots have an open roster spot (as of Friday morning). I don't expect that to hold for long, though, so in all likelihood someone will have to be released whenever the Patriots do decide to activate Lewis -- if they decide to activate him -- in the next three weeks. There's a good chance, just based on the fact that football is a physical game that hurts people, an injury will make this decision an easier one. But if the entire 53-man roster remained healthy between now and the time of Lewis' activation, I'd say DJ Foster would be a potential candidate to go. Three sub backs (Lewis, White and Foster) at one time seems like one to many, in my opinion. Anthony Johnson is the early favorite to win the 2016 Ross Ventrone Award for most mentions on the transaction wire, so he would be a decent guess as well. 

PP: When it comes to the Derby deal, the return was too enticing for the Patriots to pass up. That they felt comfortable dealing Derby to an AFC rival in desperate need of an athletic tight end is an indication that they felt very good about sending away a former sixth-rounder to get a fifth-rounder back. How this impacts Bennett is an angle of the Derby trade I hadn't thought about, in all honesty. The argument could have been made that since the Patriots had a promising developmental tight end in their system, they had a little insurance in case Bennett could not be retained. Now that that parachute is gone, are they more likely to sell out to keep the 6-foot-7, 275-pound Harry Potter fan who has been everything they could have imagined on the field? I don't necessarily think so. If they have to, I think they'd be OK going into the 2017 season with Rob Gronkowski and figuring out the rest of the depth chart in free agency and the draft. He's not a bad guy to build around. Because of where the Patriots are contractually with several of their young studs -- particularly on defense -- the Bennett decision could be a tricky one. The 29-year-old been a revelation, but how much will he command as a free agent, and how far will the Patriots be willing to go? I think those questions would have been in play whether Derby was in town or not. 

MG: Pete. My man. Hope that Florida weather is treating you well. The answer to your question is no, at least in my opinion. And I’ll start with what LGB has earned, and that’s carries. He’s in shape, he’s running well and he’s rarely dancing before he hits the hole. If he continues to run this way, he will remain a part of the mix. The second part of this equation is what Lewis has in those wheels. Two knee surgeries in less than a year is concerning. Screws in the patella is also a worry. To expect him to come back and be the same shooting star we saw last year might be a little greedy on our part. Of course, I’ve been wrong before…

MG: Chronic, you are officially old. And the proud papa of a 14-year old girl too. My advice to you is get a bigger dog and barb wire for the fence outside the house. The boys will be knocking soon. Meanwhile, I got you that terrific Titans/Jaguars game on Thursday night football and a Bruins defense/goaltender(s) that seems to not know that the idea of the game - in part - is to keep the puck out of your own net. You’re welcome??

MG: Q, I’m sure there are a couple things up Patricia’s baggy sleeves, but for the most part, this is what the plan has called for to this point, love it or hate it.

MG: Simon, if you saw the questions from last week, you’d understand why I was agitated. Ideally, the pass rush needs to come from the edge guys who are getting all the damn snaps - Nink, Sheard, Long - but I think the Pats concerns about that issue prompted them to swing the deal for Kyle Van Noy. They thought he had a chance to be a solid edge rusher coming out of college. Detroit thought otherwise. He was miscast. Not sure how good he is, but Van Noy might get an opportunity when he picks up the scheme.

MG: Kevin, Belichick thought Rowe handled himself pretty well out there for a second straight week. I was a little harder on him, but in his defense, no one gets from point A to point B as quickly as Hayward-Bey. His hands suck, but the dude can motor. As for Ryan, his playing time has taken a hit, but don’t shovel dirt on him just yet. He’ll get another chance.

MG: Dan, Vollmer would be a great late season add, but my understanding is that it would essentially take a miracle for him to return to the field this season. 

MG: Rex does what???? He’ll never live that down, will he? Oh well. To each his own. Pats played a lot of zone that day because they were concerned about Taylor’s feet and running ability. Also, because the plan on both sides of the ball sucked that afternoon. I expect a little more aggression, and life certainly could be a lot easier if McCoy is a no go (he didn’t practice Thursday)

MG: Jimmy wants to play. If Brady keeps slinging it like this, it would take am incredible amount of balls for Belichick to move Tom out and Garoppolo in. So no, I think Jimmy will be shopped, although me personally, I wouldn’t move him this offseason unless I got a 1st and another pick/player. Too many teams with QB needs to just give him away.

MG: My man, Phil Perry, talked to the emergency tight end, a fella by the name of James Develin. If I knew how to link to the story, I’d put it RIGHT HERE.  I’d also say there’s a chance the other Gronkowski might find himself activated for Sunday’s game. Won’t that blow Rex’s mind??


Belichick: Dion Lewis is ‘on to the the next step’

Belichick: Dion Lewis is ‘on to the the next step’

FOXBORO - Dion Lewis was on the practice field for the first time on Thursday afternoon. The running back, who tore his ACL last season then sustained a patella stress fracture over the summer, will now have a maximum of three weeks to work out with the team before the Patriots decide whether to activate him or put him on injured reserve. 

Predictably, Bill Belichick was not particularly revealing when asked about Lewis' re-entry. 

"Well, he's been out there doing things with the training staff for a long time, so now it's on to the next step," Belichick explained, adding, "Dion works really hard. No one works harder than Dion."

It's a 53-man tie for the title of "Patriot Who Works Hardest" between Lewis and every other player on the roster who's been described as having nobody ahead of him in the "Works Harder" category. 

Anyway, Lewis will not be listed on the injury report until he's activated and that would seem an extreme longshot for this week, though the team would have until Saturday to make that move.