PALM BEACH, Fla. – Robert Kraft took a moment Monday to call out Matt Walsh, the resident pain in the New England Patriots' backside.
In short, it's time to put up or shut up. If the team's onetime video assistant has evidence or information that implicates New England of illegally taping foes, the Patriots owner wants to hear.
"I'm looking forward to having him speak and hopefully clear this up and completely exonerating us," Kraft said in between sessions at the owners meetings at The Breakers. "It's kind of strange that six or seven years after the fact, this all comes out. I know ourselves and the NFL have done everything we can do to help his lawyers have him speak. But he never signed a confidentiality agreement."
One day before Super Bowl XLII in February, the Boston Herald reported that a Patriots employee taped the St. Louis Rams' final walkthrough prior to Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. In an article the day prior to the Herald's report, Walsh was quoted as saying in a The New York Times article, "There would be things I'd be forced to answer that some people haven't taken responsibility for," in regards to the Patriots' spying allegations.
As a result, the league has since unsuccessfully tried to strike a deal to gather information from Walsh.
In the meanwhile, Kraft took time Monday to politely express his frustrations with reporters from the Herald and Times when he was supposed to be in a session with other owners. The articles helped further cast doubt on New England's three championships earlier this decade.
And, in effect, casting doubt on whether the playing field in the NFL is level at all. Even more, the situation and questionable handling calls into question the integrity of the entire league.
While conspiracy theorists and even Sen. Arlen Specter seemingly continue to believe that the NFL just wants Walsh to politely go away, the reality is different. This story will not go away until Walsh talks or, more important, shows concrete evidence that there were other violations beyond the taping of defensive signals against the New York Jets in the season opener that resulted in both coach Bill Belichick and the organization being fined and the team losing its first-round pick in this year's NFL draft.
It will certainly be the biggest topic of discussion Tuesday when Belichick will expectedly face reporters during a breakfast interview session for all AFC coaches. Belichick, who has only answered questions on the subject to the Boston Globe since the Super Bowl, regularly has been a no-show at this event.
Now, Belichick has to face the media. Unfortunately, even after this session, the issue will not be settled until Walsh speaks … if then. And so when will Walsh finally talk? Three weeks ago, the NFL issued a statement saying the sides had gotten closer to speaking and his attorney, Michael Levy of Washington, D.C., confirmed that. But as time continues to pass, Walsh remains tucked away on the island of Maui, sitting at his computer and helping tend to the golf course at the Kaanapali Resort.
"I believe that the public understands that we responded very aggressively to the Patriots issue," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, answering the latest series of questions that aren't a whole lot different than the ones he answered in February. "We were the ones that discovered and disclosed it and disciplined with unprecedented discipline. To date, all the other discussions and all of the other rhetoric (have) been rumors … I think these steps are necessary because we recognize there has been a great deal of discussion about this and questioning of our integrity. I believe very strongly in the integrity of our game and I know our fans do, so we're going to take steps to reassure our fans."
That's all fine rhetoric, but there will be no final rest to this story until Walsh talks. So why hasn't he? Levy said earlier that the protections provided by the NFL against a lawsuit weren't good enough. Implied is that Walsh had signed a confidentiality agreement upon leaving the Patriots. Both Goodell and Kraft say that no such agreement was signed. Thus, what is there for Walsh to hide from? Sure, the Patriots have the financial resources to make life messy for him. But would they really want to do that if Walsh has something irrefutable, like, say, a tape of the walkthrough practice the Boston Herald alleged that the Patriots made before playing St. Louis?
As a result, there's a strong feeling around the NFL that Walsh has nothing but a desire to stir the pot. The NFL, according to a league source, has talked to plenty of current and former Patriots employees. None claims to know anything about the tape of the Rams walkthrough.
Perhaps they're all lying. Or perhaps Walsh is. The problem is that no one knows. Not Kraft, not the Patriots, not the NFL, not the media and not the fans.
It's time to find out.
- Matt Walsh
- Robert Kraft