How Long Is Bill Belichick’s Leash With Robert Kraft

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It was long ago at The Breakers when Robert Kraft defined his breaking point.

The question now, as the Patriots go through the worst stretch they have endured since BTB (Before Tom Brady), is how close is Kraft getting to that point?

Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick celebrating the win in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, walked the halls of the classic and posh old Florida resort, he was ruminating on the latest annoyance from coach Bill Belichick in the aftermath of the first SpyGate scandal.

The Apology

It was early April 2008 and Robert Kraft and Belichick had just taken part in a meeting that included only the owner and coach from each of the 32 teams at the annual spring owners meeting. Kraft had just fallen on a figurative sword in front of the other owners and coaches, profusely apologizing for the conduct of his team.

Belichick then got up and attempted to apologize, muttering for two minutes, claiming that he had not understood the rules and generally coming across as insincere. After the meeting, as Kraft walked, another owner approached him. The owner was annoyed with Bill Belichick’s response and asked Kraft a simple question.

“How long are you going to put up with this?” the owner asked.

Kraft wearily responded, “As long as he wins.”

Since then, Belichick has tacked on three more Super Bowl wins, two other title-game losses and combined with Brady to lead the most dominant run of the NFL’s Super Bowl Era. However, the Patriots have now gone 2-7 over their past nine games, their worst stretch since the 2000 season when Belichick first took over the team and the year before Brady took over as a starter.

In fairness, that does include a playoff loss to Buffalo at the end of quarterback Mac Jones’ rookie season. But it also includes six losses by double digits and the only wins were a shellacking of then-hapless Jacksonville at the end of last season and a narrow victory over the Mitch Trubisky-led Steelers in Week 2 of this season.

Patriot Future Hinges On Mac Jones

This is on top of questions that many people around the NFL have about the future of Mac Jones as a replacement for Brady.

“A lot of this depends on how you view Jones,” one executive said. “If Kraft thinks that there is some future with him, I think he sticks with Belichick awhile. If not, I think the rope is shorter.”

A former Patriots assistant coach said there was another critical factor in the future of the 70-year-old Belichick.

“If Jonathan has significant say, Belichick is gone sooner than later,” the coach said, referring to the eldest of Kraft’s four sons and the one who has been seemingly groomed to run the team.

Jonathan Kraft on the Super Bowl XLLIX stage with his father Robert. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Jonathan Kraft is the president of the team. “Jonathan is big about the future of the team and how to keep the money rolling in. If he thinks the thing could fall apart, he’ll cut Belichick loose in a heartbeat.”

Robert Kraft Is Still The Decision Maker

For now, the decision rests with the 81-year-old Kraft, who has regularly portrayed himself as a peacemaker and deal broker around the NFL. That belies how Robert Kraft built his fortune as a tough-minded businessman, but it is nonetheless how he sees himself.

“I think Bill has earned enough rope to make a few mistakes. Super Bowls do that,” the executive said. “But he also has pissed off a lot of people over the years. Nobody is going to call Kraft on Belichick’s behalf and say, ‘Oh, be patient.’”

Then the executive laughed and said, “Except for all the guys who are hoping to get some revenge on Bill and you know that’s a long line.”

Written by Jason Cole

Jason Cole has covered or written about pro football since 1992. He is one of 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has served as a selector since 2013. Cole has worked for publications such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and started his career with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto. Cole’s five-year investigation of Reggie Bush and the University of Southern California resulted in Bush becoming the only player to ever relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC losing its 2004 national championship.

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