Robert Kraft won't attend meeting

NEW ORLEANS -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft will not attend the NFL's annual meeting because of a "private family medical matter," according to the team.

Kraft, 69, is one of the more influential owners in labor talks with players, which is the issue that figures to dominate the meetings that officially begin Monday morning. He is one of 10 members of the Management Council Executive Committee.

"Robert is fine and in good health," Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, who is heading the Patriots' contingent at the meeting, said Monday morning. "He is assisting in dealing with a family medical issue. Beyond that, I would ask that you respect the privacy of the situation."

On Friday, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel, who has emerged as a leader in labor talks on the players' side, mentioned Kraft as someone players wanted to directly negotiate with instead of lawyers.

"He's one of the most influential owners and one of the best owners we have in this league," New York Giants owner John Mara said. "His presence will certainly be missed for sure. He's somebody when he gets up to speak, people listen to."

Kraft bought the Patriots in 1994 and in addition to the team's success in his tenure (12 playoff and five Super Bowl appearances), he has become active in league matters. He is chairman of the league's broadcast committee and also serves on the compensation, finance and NFL Network committees.

Robert Kraft did not attend negotiations in the week leading up to the NFLPA's decertification and owners locking players out. Instead, he was in Israel on a business trip with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, but stayed abreast of developments via email and phone calls.

Patriots player representative Matt Light told the Boston Globe that Kraft's absence, along with other influential owners, was a disappointment.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.