ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian, a frequent critic of the Patriots, joined the Middays with MFB crew on Friday to discuss Deflategate and how the Patriots are perceived around the NFL. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.
Polian, a former longtime Colts executive, had high praise for Robert Kraft, who this week announced the Patriots would not appeal their punishment for Deflategate.
“I think it’s just typical of Mr. Kraft. He’s always been the NFL’s leading citizen. He’s a leader in every way. He’s a guy who thinks about the league first, last and always,” Polian said. “Anybody else you might be a little bit surprised by the reaction, but knowing Mr. Kraft, I’m not surprised at all. He did what was best for the league rather than his own franchise.”
As for speculation that Kraft gave in to other owners, Polian said that’s unlikely due to the Patriots owner’s standing.
“No, I don’t think so. He’s one of the leading owners in the league. There’s no one going to pressure him,” Polian said. “The bottom line is he looked at the issues and recognized that while he probably would have liked things to turn out better for the Patriots in the long run, what’s important for the league is what ultimately counts. That attitude was called ‘league think,’ that phrase created, at least to my knowledge, by Pete Rozelle. And Mr. Kraft follows it to the letter.”
Polian said the issue is not about what did or did not happen, but whether the commissioner has the right to do what he did.
“It wasn’t about the argument,” Polian said. “At this point it isn’t about the Patriots or Tom Brady, even. It’s about the commissioner’s right to handle unilaterally — and in conjunction with the rights given him in the collective bargaining agreement since 1968, and tradition dating all the way back to the Black Sox in 1919, with Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball. The commissioner has the right to handle the integrity of the game. It is his responsibility. And that responsibility extends not only to the owners and players and coaches and general managers and staff people, but to the fans as well. Because if the integrity of the game is called into question in any way, it affects the overall health of the game and standing of the game in society.
“So to take that from the commissioner is an absolutely bad precedent. And of course Round 2 of that takes place in Tom Brady‘s grievance hearing. But the fact that Mr. Kraft went ahead and accepted the commissioner’s decision is in line with the longstanding tradition of the league and is what is best for the league in the long run.”
Many Patriots fans have expressed their disappointment with Kraft’s decision to give up the fight. Polian said those fans should appreciate what Kraft has done and continues to do.
“I would say they’re lucky to have him as an owner, just as the NFL is lucky to have him as an owner,” Polian said. “He’s doing what’s best for the league in the long run. It isn’t about this particular issue at this point in time. It’s about what’s good for the league in the long run. That’s what outstanding owners do, it’s what commissioners do, it’s what outstanding coaches and general managers do. At some point in time you have to take off your individual team hat and put on your league hat. That’s what protecting the shield is called.”
Regarding Brady’s four-game suspension, Polian pointed to the quarterback’s refusal to cooperate, noting that NFL investigator Ted Wells gave Brady’s agent, Don Yee, the opportunity to forward only relevant texts from Brady’s cell phone, but Yee refused.
“I think many fans missed this: As part of the policy that the commissioner enunciated back in 2007 or 2008, after Spygate, he set the standard of proof, which has been talked about a lot, and in addition to that he made clear that every single person in the league had a responsibility to cooperate with any investigation that the league undertook. By any standard, Tom and his attorney were not cooperative,” Polian said. “I don’t have any doubt that they took that into consideration when they assessed the penalty.”
Polian further noted that the league does not need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Brady cheated, only that it was more likely than not — which is the conclusion of the Wells Report.
“The investigation was conducted under a standard set by the commissioner back in 2008,” Polian said. “Everybody in the league knows it. Everybody in the league understands it.”
Polian added that based on the standard set by the NFL, the punishment was reasonable.
“I thought given the non-cooperation part of it — which, again, I understand that fans do not understand that, [but] people in the league do — I thought it was pretty fair,” he said.
For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.