For the second straight year, the New England Patriots are the sideshow entering the NFL scouting combine. And once again, the franchise will run silent through the drama and hope some actual football developments redirect the conversation.
In 2018, the league was buzzing about Josh McDaniels blowing up his head coaching job with the Indianapolis Colts just weeks before the NFL’s annual talent evaluation bonanza. One year later, the gossip mill is primed to devour any available detail of Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s alleged solicitation of prostitution at a Florida massage parlor. And in turn, there will be bigger questions that begin to take shape before the league’s annual team owners meetings in March.
Will anyone from the Patriots participate in the combine’s executive and head coach availability with media?
If Kraft fails to escape prosecution or some level of plea, what will the league’s response sound like?
Since the NFL has been drawn more deeply into the social debates that touch the league, how will commissioner Roger Goodell respond to the charges against Kraft becoming a spotlight on ties between prostitution and sex-trafficking?
(Completely unknowable. For now.)
This is the sideshow that will kick into a higher gear at the combine, largely because it’s the first and last event where many of the league’s power brokers will come together before the March owners meetings (which will feature the first opportunity to question Goodell and potentially Kraft). In some respects, this is how the combine functions beyond the talent evaluation that draws most of the headlines. If you want to know what will be the big questions at the March meetings, listen to what executives are gossiping about late at night in Indianapolis.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Kraft story won’t get put on the back burner at the combine, even if he is issued an arrest warrant on two misdemeanor charges as is expected this week. It will, largely because there are always other developments that put the league’s news cycle in overdrive. And this one won’t disappoint, either. Not with Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray being such an intense point of curiosity, or the Antonio Brown trade watch, or continued speculation about whether Odell Beckham Jr. will remain with the New York Giants next season. Even that barely scratches the surface of what’s coming. Lest anyone forget, there is Rob Gronkowski’s NFL future still undecided, the destination of multiple veteran quarterbacks (starting with Nick Foles and Case Keenum), the free agency landscape, franchise tags … and of course, the actual combine performances of the next wave of draft picks.
Lurking behind all of that will be the biggest story of right now. And that is what happens next with Kraft, who inexplicably has joined head coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in having an uncomfortable news cycle devoted almost entirely to him. Regardless of what you think about the credibility of the investigations or their outcomes, it’s striking that three of the biggest stars in the Patriots’ historic dynasty will forever have some kind of embarrassing offseason probe tied to him – from spy-gate to deflate-gate to whatever “gate” Kraft is now embroiled in.
It started last week … it will ramp up this week … and it will hit a fever pitch at the March meetings. Maybe the only thing the NFL can do now is buckle up. It’s promising to be another one of those crazy offseasons. And if the charges stick against Kraft, the league can thank one of its most powerful owners for making it a reality.
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