Crafting labor deal is a top priority for Patriots owner
When Patriots owner Robert Kraft speaks about the NFL’s labor situation, everyone listens.
From commissioner Roger Goodell, to other owners, to the top of the NFL Players Association, Kraft is now viewed as the most powerful centrist on the ownership side, after Steelers owner Dan Rooney was appointed ambassador to Ireland.
While some on both sides of the aisle may take extreme positions or look out solely for their own interests, Kraft is a pragmatist, a realist. He sat on the aluminum bleachers of old Foxboro Stadium as a season-ticket owner long before he purchased the Patriots in 1994. He has made a career out of making deals that leave both sides feeling good.
Talk to anyone around the NFL or the NFLPA, and the overwhelming consensus is that Kraft gets it — the big picture — and will give it to you straight.
That’s why what he said last week in his Gillette Stadium office will reverberate throughout the league, and should give hope to fans who fear that a lockout is a fait accompli.
“I want to assure our fans and everyone else that I’m doing everything within my power to try to help to see if there isn’t a way we can’t have labor peace before the season ends,’’ Kraft said. “In my mind, it’s possible and actually something that should happen.
“Knowing what I know now — and I’m privileged to see a lot of what’s going on — there’s a wonderful opportunity for everyone associated with the NFL to grow together.
“I came out right away after our last [labor] meeting and said I believe [a deal will happen]. And I believe it even more now six weeks later.
“I think there will be real business contracted in the not-so-distant future, real opportunities to do things. And we’ll see. What’s going to happen here is I think we have a responsibility to bargain in good faith and then the other side has to come back and bargain in good faith.’’
Kraft is not some perpetual optimist. If there were no hope, he wouldn’t fathom trying to sell it. It’s just not in his nature.
Kraft, who is on the NFL owners’ committee on labor negotiations, knows that last week’s negotiating session on both sides went well, otherwise he would have kept quiet.
He also knows full well what a lockout would mean, not only to the game but to the fans.
“I remember the lockouts in 1982 and ’87,’’ he said. “It changed the way I looked at things in the fall. I was ticked.’’
And that led him to say something else. It might not go over well in the league offices, but the union will welcome it and fans should feel relief that somebody gets it on the ownership side — and isn’t afraid to say it.
“For us collectively to mess this up would be criminal,’’ Kraft said.
For everyone involved.
“We did an analysis that showed if we wind up having a lockout and we go right to Labor Day weekend and we get games going at the last minute — and that’s how union negotiations are, everyone takes extreme positions and everyone acts tough and you have brinksmanship and at the end you settle — well, that would not be good business.
“The whole ripple effect of the NFL and the impact, it wouldn’t be good. We collectively would lose a billion dollars, even if we played every game but we had this vacuum from the end of the season until the beginning of September.
“In the end, it’s not just ownership that’s hurt. Over 50 percent of that revenue, one way or the other, is going to the players. So it’s hurting them.’’
But Kraft thinks a deal is coming. The union’s stipulation for a rookie wage scale was a step in the right direction. A leap was the counterproposal made by the union on the 18-game season, something no one else in the league has commented on.
“Yeah, I think that’s the makings of a deal,’’ Kraft said. “That together with what we know we can create shifting to 18 games, the incremental revenue, together with having a rookie slotted system, give the union some kind of guarantee that that money is going to be spent on players.
“Those two things allow us to do a deal. The only people [hurt] in the short term are the incoming rookies who haven’t built the game. Give the money to the guys that have built it.
“So we have the makings of a deal, and I just . . . yeah, it was encouraging to see that, and we’re going to have to do things we know with roster sizes and things like that.’’
Kraft doesn’t want to wait until the league year ends in early March to do a deal. He wants one done now, and that’s what he’ll be pushing for until it happens.
“I’m trying to do this in the best interest of both sides because I know that there’s enough there for each side to come out a winner,’’ Kraft said. “So that’s why I think we have to go like the dickens and push very hard.
“We don’t need the way typical negotiations go — you start high, you start low — because time is the enemy here. The passage of time is opportunity lost, where we both lose big. And there’s enough good things happening that we can grab it together and it allows us to do the deal. Now we just have to force our two sides together to get it done.’’
At Jets game, Bruschi will be guest of honorThe Monday night showdown Dec. 6 between the Jets and Patriots — tied at 9-2 atop the division and the conference — didn’t need any extra juice, but it will get some anyway from one of the most emotional leaders in Patriots history.
Former linebacker Tedy Bruschi will be honored by the team at halftime of the game at Gillette Stadium.
The team hasn’t made a formal announcement, but those holding tickets for one of the biggest regular-season games ever played in Foxborough may have noticed Bruschi’s picture and a notation on the ticket.
The night will be similar to the one that honored former receiver Troy Brown on Nov. 13, 2008 — a Thursday night matchup with the Jets.
“Tedy was kind enough to let us honor him,’’ said Patriots owner Robert Kraft. “We know he’s working for ESPN, and knowing what a beloved rival the New York Jets are, we thought it was appropriate.’’
Bruschi retired in 2009 after being part of nine postseason appearances, eight division titles, five conference championships, and three Super Bowl titles. Bruschi’s 189 regular-season games played are the most by a Patriots linebacker, and he was a seven-time captain.
“I think Tedy, like Troy Brown and others, just represent what our brand and team and organization stand for, the way he overcame many things and showed great leadership and the way he played on the field,’’ Kraft said.
“We hope all the fans that come to our next home game will look forward to celebrating Tedy.’’
Bruschi, a third-round pick in the 1996 draft, played his entire 13-year career with the Patriots. He was the 2005 NFL Comeback Player of the Year for returning to action after a mild stroke.
“Having a guy like him who plays his whole career here, who had a chance to leave for a higher income and didn’t — he wanted to remain part of the organization and put team first and be a great leader — that’s the model,’’ Kraft said.
Ryan and Falcons have difficult Capers to solveWhile the Jets-Patriots Monday night matchup is already being hyped as a possible AFC Championship game preview, today we could get a preview of the NFC title game when the Packers (7-3) travel to the Georgia Dome to take on the Falcons (9-2).
Both teams have won four straight games, tops in the league.
The Falcons are very tough at home, where quarterback Matt Ryan, the former Boston College star, is 18-1 and has won 14 straight.
Ryan will be facing his toughest test, however, since the season opener against the Steelers. The Packers defense, led by coordinator Dom Capers, is tied with the Bears for the league lead in fewest points allowed (14.6).
“The defense, they’re in excellent rhythm right now,’’ said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “You want to play your best football in November and December. Our defense is in excellent rhythm as far as the communication, tackling, playing with the fundamentals, getting in and out of the personnel groups. There’s an excellent understanding.
“We’re No. 1 in the league in scoring defense, and that’s exactly where we want to stay.’’
Capers, who joined McCarthy’s staff in ’09 after one season as the Patriots’ special assistant/secondary, has been doing it despite a number of injuries.
The Packers have placed 10 players on injured reserve this season. Of the six starters lost, three were on defense: linebackers Nick Barnett and Brad Jones and rookie safety Morgan Burnett.
The Packers also lost promising end Mike Neal and former first-round pick Justin Harrell, and starting ends Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins have been beaten up and missed time. The Packers now have four players from outside the organization on the two-deep defensive depth chart.
The defense’s performance has revived talk that Capers, 60, could become a head coach again.
McDermott has Eagles flying high on defenseIt wasn’t all that long ago that somebody on the four-letter network speculated that Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott could be fired or demoted. Uh, wrong. Philadelphia has one of the league’s top run defenses and leads the league in takeaways. “That’s the business that we’re in,’’ said McDermott, who is in his second season after succeeding the late Jim Johnson. “I know this: I’ve made a living proving people wrong my whole life. This is no different. If you continue to work hard, good things happen.’’ In last week’s win over the Giants, the Eagles held the league’s third-ranked rushing offense to 61 yards and forced five turnovers. Five of McDermott’s starters have fewer than 10 career NFL starts. McDermott saw two lineup changes pay big dividends: benching strong-side linebacker Akeem Jordan in favor of Moise Fokou, and finding more time for tackle Antonio Dixon, who was claimed off waivers from the Redskins.
■ 4: Receptions needed by Andre Johnson of the Texans to become the first NFL receiver to catch 60 or more passes in each of his first eight seasons. Keyshawn Johnson is the only other player to do it in seven.
■ 7: Giveaways by the Chiefs this season, a league low. They are on pace to break the NFL record of 12, set by the 1982 Chiefs.
■ 71.4: Winning percentage of the Packers in divisional games under Mike McCarthy (20-8), tops among NFC North teams and third in the NFL since ’06.
■ 169: Consecutive pass attempts without an interception by Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, an NFL rookie record.
View from the outside From the desk of Bill Barnwell of Boston-based FootballOutsiders.com:
■ The Jets continue to lead a charmed life. After Thursday night’s win over the Bengals, they have recovered 23 of the 32 fumbles (71.8 percent) that have hit the ground in their games. Research has shown that fumble recovery rates are wildly inconsistent from year to year, but tend to be about 50 percent. Last year, the Jets recovered 16 of 35 fumbles (54.3 percent), a much more reasonable number.
■ The Buccaneers are 7-3, but those seven wins have come against teams that are a combined 17-54, none of whom having a winning record. Their three losses have been to teams that are a combined 23-8, all of whom have winning records. They play just one team with a losing record the rest of the season (Lions, 2-9).
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.