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Kraft, Goodell reunite at NFL spring meeting

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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is steaming mad over the lack of a smoking gun in Deflategate and “unfair” punishment handed down by the NFL last week.

“This whole thing has been very disturbing,” Kraft told Sports Illustrated. “I’m still thinking things out very carefully. But when you work for something your whole life I just get really worked up. To receive the harshest penalty in league history is just not fair. The anger and frustration with this process, to me, it wasn’t fair. If we’re giving all the power to the NFL and the office of the commissioner, this is something that can happen to all 32 teams. We need to have fair and balanced investigating and reporting. But in this report, every inference went against us … inferences from ambiguous, circumstantial evidence all went against us. That’s the thing that really bothers me.”

With that underlying subplot, one of the league’s most influential owners and his peers travel to San Francisco for the NFL owner’s meetings Tuesday and Wednesday. It will be the first contact between Kraft, whose team was harshly punished last week after investigator Ted Wells completed his investigation into the Patriots intentionally decreasing pressure of game-used footballs, and commissioner Roger Goodell.

Instead of league business ranging from extra points to the perceived three-team race to Los Angeles involving the Chargers, Raiders and Rams, breaking rules is again the dominant offseason headline in the NFL this week when the league assembles its power brokers for two days.

Goodell works for the 32 owners in the league and described Kraft as a friend and confidant in the past. They were two of the most visible and instrumental figures in settling the NFL lockout in 2011.

Kraft would not address in an interview with Peter King of Sports Illustrated his current relationship with Goodell, saying “You’ll have to ask him.”

Goodell said at the Super Bowl in Phoenix, four days after Kraft issued a scathing opening statement upon his team’s arrival demanding a personal apology to quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick, that he was doing his job to “protect the integrity” of the game by following through on the Deflategate matter.

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president appointed by Goodell to handle punishment, suspended Brady for the first four games of next season, took away the Patriots’ 2016 first-round and 2017 fourth-round picks, and fined the team $1 million.

Brady is appealing the decision, and changes to the pregame routine for game balls are coming. Wells’ investigation found that a Patriots’ game day employee disappeared into a restroom with the balls for more than a minute and a half before January’s AFC Championship game. The referee for the game said that had never happened in his 19 years in the league.

Kraft would make major waves if he doesn’t show up — sending his son, Jonathan as a proxy — because he is on multiple owners committees, including the broadcast committee and the new eight-person panel that will constantly review and address personal-conduct policy.

“There is just no evidence that tampering (with game balls) ever happened,” Kraft said.

A vote is expected on proposed alterations to the extra point procedure. Discussions on multiple possible changes were held in March at owner’s meetings in Phoenix. One possibility is moving the PAT to the 1-yard line to encourage teams to go for a two-point conversion. Past ideas bandied, including narrowing goal posts as was trialed at the 2015 Pro Bowl, will not be considered this week.

Formal discussions on stadium issues in Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis could advance planning for a team — possibly two — relocating to Los Angeles. Multiple stadium projects have been cleared in the L.A. area.


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