An open letter to Robert Kraft

655700.jpg

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 rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract

bears-patriots-housler-jordan-richards-081916.jpg

Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have signed free-agent tight end Rob Housler to a future contract. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound target last played for the Bears but was released at the end of training camp.

Housler won't be eligible to participate with the Patriots during the postseason, but he will be available for the offseason program and training camp leading up to the 2017 campaign. 

Housler taken in the third round by the Cardinals with the 69th overall selection in 2011. In 65 career games, he has 109 catches for 1,166 yards and one touchdown. 

The Patriots may have been intrigued by Housler's skill set last summer when he caught one pass for 52 yards -- making two Patriots defenders miss in the process -- during a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots and Bears held joint training camp practices in August that would have given Patriots coaches and scouts a closer look at everything Housler has to offer as a player. 

Housler was one of the better athletes at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2011, running a 4.55-second 40-yard dash (fastest among tight ends), posting a 6.9-second three-cone drill, and recording a 37-inch vertical leap.

Bill Belichick and his staff hit big on a future-contract signing two years ago when a running back with a significant injury history was available to scoop up at the behest of then-assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi. Since then, the Patriots still have never lost with Dion Lewis in uniform. 

Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity

harrison.jpg

Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity

FOXBORO -- On a daily basis, Patriots players are in the presence of perhaps the best late-30s player to ever lace up cleats. That's why it's noteworthy when those who inhabit the same locker room as Tom Brady marvel at another player playing at a high level despite being one of the oldest in the league. 

That's exactly the case with Steelers linebacker James Harrison, 38, who is the oldest non-quarterback, non-kicker in the NFL. 

Since the Patriots last saw Harrison, he's become an every-down player for Pittsburgh's improving defense, missing just nine total defensive snaps for the Steelers since Week 14. He's saved his best football for the postseason -- three sacks, two quarterback hits and seven quarterback pressures in the last two weeks, per Pro Football Focus -- and the Patriots have noticed.

Julian Edelman, who wears the same Kent State t-shirt to every Patriots practice, raved about his "fellow Flash."

"He’s an unbelievable stud," Edelman said of Harrison, who went undrafted seven years before Edelman was taken in the seventh round. "The guy has been doing it consistently for a long time.

"I’ve been a huge fan of him before I got in the league, and just to see and kind of have an idea where he came from, it’s unbelievable to show how hard he’s worked to get to where he’s got. He’s a large man that is fast, explosive, and if he’s coming my way, it’s going to be a 'get down.' "

While Edelman will do his best to avoid the 6-foot, 242-pounder, Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett will likely be asked to block Harrison at some point. The Steelers defense will move Harrison to different spots at times, but he does much of his work on the outside where Bennett will be situated. 

"Harrison is playing well," Bennett said. "He’s almost as old as my pops, and he’s still playing like a beast out there."