PALM BEACH, Fla. – The dawn of a new day.
Literally, a bright, sunny, warm south Florida morning greeted NFL owners, coaches, team executives, and league officials as they convened for the first day of their annual meeting, this year being held at The Breakers. Over the next few days, the NFL's power brokers will discuss and debate several relevant business-related issues, including 14 on-field rules changes and procedural, management ones.
Figuratively speaking, weather conditions seemed to reflect the general mood of the proceedings, as the National Football League embarks on a new season free of all the foreboding clouds of doubt that hovered over last year's session. As he arrived, Patriots owner Robert Kraft acknowledged as much, referencing the now-resolved labor dispute of 2011 and the promise of the decade ahead that the new collective bargaining agreement provides.
Indeed, one year ago, the league was locked out, unable to do on-field business or make player-related transactions off it. So far already this off-season, the Patriots have been among the most active of clubs in the free agent signing period – a topic Kraft was happy to discuss before entering today's round of meetings. Though the names of the newest Patriots may not be household ones, Kraft said he believes they'll be important additions.
"We're in the business of quality depth management. I think we've done a lot, hopefully to improve our team this year," Kraft began. "We picked up a number of different, interesting people. I believe they'll all be good in the locker room. I'm excited about football to come back. I can't wait for it."
The biggest name in free agency, from a Patriots perspective, is, of course, Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker, who was assigned the team's franchise tag earlier this month. While other superstar receivers have been cashing in with mega-deals, New England did what it could for the moment to keep Welker in its employ.
However, the prolific Welker, who turns 31 May 1, has yet to sign the nearly $9.5 million, one-year franchise tender, nor have he and the team reached agreement on a longer-term contract. It is still very early in the process, certainly, but some observers have taken as a positive sign the recent news that quarterback Tom Brady has restructured his contract to give the Patriots more room under the salary cap.
Could that be perceived as an indication that New England is looking to shore up Welker, or perhaps another high-profile free agent? Kraft was non-committal. "We want to create incremental cap room, so that we can be flexible to make the moves we have to make," he explained. "There's still a lot that can come to the marketplace at the end, but I don't think there's any specific reason that people should be holding their breath for.
"Look, I'm a big fan of Wes," he was quick to add. "He represents everything that's important to us, and I'm happy he's going to be on the team this year." One Patriot who's not a free agent, but whose future remains unclear, is left tackle Matt Light. There's a growing sense among followers of his situation (he has one year remaining on a two-year pact) is that he's on the verge of retiring, despite having been elected last week to NFL Players Association's Executive Committee. Kraft's comments about Light this morning seemed to suggest that a decision – one way or the other – could be coming soon.
"Actually, we missed each other with some phone calls just recently. So, I probably should speak to him before finalizing … but the nice thing is, so far, his entire career has been with the Patriots and he's been a great leader, done a great job, both on and off the field. He's a pretty special guy … It's nice that we've had all that time with him."
Whether Light is back with New England or not, Kraft appeared energized as the meetings got underway.
"I'm excited about the draft [next month]," he concluded, "but I can't wait for football games to begin. And camp is even sooner than that."
Video of Kraft's entire remarks to Patriots Today reporter Brian Lowe is now available on patriots.com.