Monday, March 22, 2010
Notes: Kraft mum on Thomas' future
By Mike Reiss
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The New England Patriots' offseason strategy in building their roster has put a heavy emphasis on improving chemistry in the locker room, owner Robert Kraft said Monday morning.
That was one of the primary points of emphasis in Kraft's hour-long breakfast with reporters. He felt that poor chemistry in the locker room contributed to the team's disappointing finish last season.
"I think the chemistry, the locker room, a lot of games are won and lost before you hit the field," Kraft said. "To come out and start a game like the way we played, a playoff game at our stadium [against the Baltimore Ravens], that should never happen. It was really one of the frustrating moments I've had since owning the franchise.
"You talk about sudden death. That was like in the first five minutes. I don't ever remember us being in a game and having things go that way and us appearing to be so noncompetitive in the 16 years I've owned the team. I can assure you I've heard from some fans, but I felt exactly what they felt. It was such an empty feeling."
Kraft said the team's offseason strategy was to commit to players who would improve chemistry, starting with nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
"I think Vince, just personally, speaking for myself, was a big part of that," Kraft said. "The kind of guy he is. The commitment he has. He's about football all the time. He's looked up to in the locker room. He has a wife who is very supportive of his efforts. He's into winning. I think he represents the future kind of leadership we want on the team."
Kraft declined to answer a question on whether linebacker Adalius Thomas, who has been fingered by some as being at the root of some of the chemistry problems, will return to the team in 2010.
More news and notes from Kraft's breakfast with reporters at the NFL annual meeting:
* Touching on Belichick's future: Asked how long he thinks Bill Belichick will be with the team, Kraft said: "We have an understanding. He's here, he's coaching, he loves what he does, and there is not another head coach that I'd prefer to have over him. It's working. It's like a marriage. There is an ebb and flow. It's not always straight-lined. I think we have something pretty good going here, and we want to keep it going."
* Patriots support new OT proposal: The Patriots support the NFL's proposed modified overtime rule, the owner said Monday morning. Kraft said the decision was made Sunday night.
While Kraft said he would prefer that the rule be for the regular season and playoffs, the Patriots will still vote for it this week.
The overtime format modification under consideration is for playoff games only, and would ensure that each team would have at least one possession unless the club receiving the ball scores a touchdown on the opening drive of the extra period. If the team kicked a field goal or did not score at all, the opposing team would have a chance to score a touchdown to win the game.
Kraft pointed to the Super Bowl this year and how one of the most exciting plays was an onside kick. He thinks the change could lead to more onside kicks.
"I think it will be more exciting," he said. "Probably the coaches collectively aren't for this, because it just puts more decision-making and more risk, but I think it's a good thing. It's another way that we keep working to improve our product."
* Unity among owners: Kraft reiterated comments he made to The Boston Globe's Albert Breer on Sunday, talking about how united owners are in their labor talks with the players' union. He said he enters these meetings encouraged, from a business perspective, because of that.
* Stadium experience a key to growing business: Kraft talked about ways to improve the quality of the NFL and Patriots, while "appreciating what the fans want and need. I think part of that is going to be, in our stadium, they're going to want more opportunities to have special things going on. Having access to special things. We're going to have to work to keep our product fresh."
* Crumpler should be on board soon: Asked where things stand on a possible deal with veteran free-agent tight end Alge Crumpler, Kraft said he thought something might be finalized by the end of the NFL's annual meeting Wednesday.
* Understanding market conditions: Kraft pointed out that because this is a year without a salary cap, teams can carry players on their roster that they don't intend to keep when the season begins (Thomas, perhaps?). He then cited the example of when the Patriots acquired nose tackle Ted Washington in a trade in 2003, and how it happened in training camp. With those two factors in mind, Kraft said he expects more opportunities in the coming weeks and months to continue improving the team, specifically at receiver. He said the start of training camp and right before the season begins figure to be times where there is meaningful player movement. He also mentioned 2009 third-round draft choice Brandon Tate as a player who could surprise.
* Impressed with scouting process: Kraft said he's been impressed with the organization in terms of draft preparation, which is a strong reflection on Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio and director of college scouting Jon Robinson & Co. "One of the things I think our guys have done is understand who is going to be there in the middle rounds," Kraft said. "They've put a lot of time and energy in understanding [that]. The only way you can do intelligent trades is to understand the product."
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.