By Michael James
The Tribe Sports
If you arrived in the United States from another planet for the first time and witnessed the spectacle that was Super Bowl LII, you could easily get the impression that the New England Patriots are owned and operated by the one and only Bill Belichick.
By this premise, it would be totally understandable that Bill Belichick was under the very same impression.
That he, and not the suit and tie wearing white-haired man in the owners box, Robert Kraft, controlled this football dynasty and held its future wrapped around his little finger.
For that was the moment when Robert Kraft took back ownership of the New England Patriots by convincing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to spurn the nearly signed, sealed and delivered pact to become the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
While conspiracy theorists were quick to hypothesize that McDaniels’ decision to stand – and stay – Pats, was part of some dastardly plan to exact retribution upon the Colts for blowing the DeflateGate whistle on Tom Brady and the Equipment Managers, it was really something quite more ingenious:
What Robert Kraft actually did was to take out a Bill Belichick Insurance Policy.
The move was sensible, brilliant and declared in no uncertain terms that there are two evil geniuses in Foxborough.
See, with defensive coordinator Matt Patricia headed off to take over in Detroit and McDaniels set to do the same in Indianapolis, Kraft and his brain trust realized that they would be left with no other options should postseason negotiations turn sour between the Kraft-Belichick-Brady triumvirate.
In other words, Kraft took the sole power over his franchise’s future out of the hands of Bill Belichick, a man who has long reveled in that position.
By retaining McDaniels, Kraft assured that the Patriots will have a rather smooth transition of power and a chance to continue their winning tradition should Belichick decide to leave them high and dry as he once did to the New York Jets on January 4, 2000.
And whether you believe this or not, it was a very real possibility.
As written here by The Tribe Sports recently, there was truth to the piece by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham touting trouble in paradise after Kraft sided with Brady’s desire to remain his signal-caller into his mid-40s – against Belichick’s wishes.
There is no doubt that Bill Belichick remains sour over Kraft directing him to trade future franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Belichick played the good soldier and did what he was told, but promptly went about the business of dismantling the team’s football power structure by actively assisting Patricia and McDaniels in their head coach placements.
Although the Patriots in 2005 also lost both their offensive and defensive coordinators, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, Belichick was not actively a part of that process – and there was no reported discord between Belichick, Kraft and Brady at that time.
In 2018, fresh off a Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that should not have been, the New England Patriots faced an entirely different situation.
Without Patricia, McDaniels, and, quite possibly, Belichick, or quality available head coaching candidates, Kraft could have very well been left without a successor.
Which is just the way Bill Belichick planned it.
Robert Kraft, it appears, made other plans.
In sweetening the deal and convincing McDaniels to stay, Kraft did not simply enrich a valued offensive coordinator, he retained the man who will become the new head coach of the New England Patriots, if and whenever that time comes.
Kraft took the reins out of Belichick’s hands and placed them back firmly under his control. An entirely good bet to make is that Belichick, who once turned down the Jets in similar fashion after his head coach appointment was thought to be a foregone conclusion, didn’t even know the Kraft-McDaniels deal had been brokered until just before the media discovered it.
Now, should Belichick decide to end his 18-year tenure in New England, Kraft has his option. He can simply say, “Bye, Felicia.”
Let’s be clear: Josh McDaniels is no Bill Belichick. But he doesn’t have to be. He is an adherent of the Patriot Way, has long worked in the organization under Belichick and is better equipped than anyone outside the franchise to carry it into the future. He also has previous head coaching experience from his nearly two years spent in Denver, where he went 11-17 and got the best out of Tim Tebow.
Although us outsiders are a million miles away from the machinations in Foxborough, Kraft surely saw what we did during Super Bowl LII – that Bill Belichick’s still-unexplained benching of cornerback Malcolm Butler played a huge role in New England not winning a sixth title under the Belichick-Brady regime.
Kraft, the owner and an astute businessman, has been on the phone with Brady, who undoubtedly spoke of his displeasure with the wildly unpopular move that was exploited by the Eagles and is easily the reason why the championship parade will be held Thursday on Broad Street in Philadelphia and not in New England.
With Butler there, instead of cornerback Eric Rowe and a third-stringer, Philadelphia does not so easily drive against the Patriots in the final minutes and steal away millions of dollars in merchandise sales, reigning championship advertising revenue, prestige and continued National Football League dominance.
Bill Belichick may not have to answer to us for the cold and calculated excision of Butler – just before the national anthem was sung, no less – but he does have to answer to Kraft.
It will be a tense and acrimonious conversation, Kraft demanding an explanation as to why Belichick would undermine winning the Super Bowl and undercutting Brady’s further foray into the history books, which was lost despite likely the greatest quarterback performance in the big game in history.
Winning the Super Bowl, after all, is the only thing that matters. It’s a terrible time to teach a valuable player a lesson.
Bill Belichick better have a good answer. His future in New England depends upon it.
There’s a new owner and absolute owner in New England today. He’s the same as the old owner. His name is Robert Kraft.
He’s got tough questions for Bill Belichick, a man not used to being forced to answer them.
And this time, Robert Kraft also has an insurance policy.
Michael James has spent more than 20 years in sports journalism as a general assignment reporter with the Detroit News, an NBA beat writer for the New York Daily News and as head writer for ESPN’s Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith.