Patriots owner Robert Kraft joined Dennis & Callahan to talk about the team, its future prospects, the status of Logan Mankins and his view of the labor issues in the league.
Optimism is running high around the Patriots, but Kraft has always advocated taking the long view. “I look at the glass as three quarters full,” he joked. “Every year our objective is to win the division. I’m really excited about where we are right now. I also think back to the  season where we were 5-5 after 10 games and then we won nine straight games in that 01 season and wound up winning the Super Bowl. There’s still a lot of things that can happen so we have to stay cool and take it one game at a time.”
Here are more highlights from the interview:
How important was the Jets game?
The stakes were so high in terms of winning that game versus what it meant for us. If we had lost that, we would have been swept in our division series by the Jets. Our only chance at the playoffs probably would have been being a wild card. Now our fans hopefully have a chance of hosting one if not two games at Gillette. That’s a big, big swing. We just got to keep it going the next few weeks.
Are you optimistic about keeping Logan Mankins?
First of all, Logan, we’ve always known is a great player. Since he’s been on the team he hasn’t missed a game. He’s started every game that he’s been here. Him coming in the way it did it just made a statement about what he’s about at the core. He’s happy to be here. I know we’re very happy that he’s here. I hope and believe he’ll be here for the long term.
One thing I’ve learned is in business transactions if we get the media involved in adjudicating or participating in the negotiation, sometimes the facts don’t come out the right way. We try to do our negotiations in private. That’s what we’ll do here.
On why Bill Belichick is the right fit for the franchise:
If it’s obvious to everyone then everyone’s going to do it. The way you differentiate is to do things other people can’t see. In the choice of Bill Belichick I was just comfortable when I got to know him in  that he was a manager. Football had changed when we bought the team in  and we had a salary cap, which meant that understanding the value of players became as important as how you coach people. Your evaluation of personnel had to have a financial part to it. I learned in  that Bill had a unique understanding.
When he was leaving [in 1996 to New York with Bill Parcells], He said to me, ‘Make sure you sign Troy Brown.’ Not everyone was in support of that but he saw things and he understood what he meant to [Drew] Bledsoe.
On the team’s approach to personnel:
There’s no right way. I can only say for us, we try to put an organization in place and we do this in all our businesses, where we try to think long-term. So much of what is going on in America today is short-term thinking and the public companies report on Wall Street, they have to do whatever makes the 90-day report card look good. We’re private and we try to take a longer view. We try to give Bill the autonomy in his thinking to think about what’s good years down the road. We don’t just want to be good this year.
I sort of like where we are as a team right now. We have five of the first 75 picks in the draft, which is the highest number any club has had in the last 20 years. The last time that happened was Dallas in  when they did that trade with Herschel Walker. We actually have three of the first 33 picks because we have the Carolina pick in the second round.
We are on pace for the highest rookie starts in our franchise history. We have the most starts in the league by first and second-year players. Twenty of our 53 players are in their first or second year. We’ve gone from the fifth-oldest starting defense in the league to the youngest one right now. I like the way our team is set up. If we do a wise job of selecting players in the future we’ve positioned ourselves to hopefully be able to compete for the next few years.
On whether he feels there will be a new labor agreement:
Just to be precise, what I said is I think there is a real good chance to get a deal done before the season is over. Some people interpreted that to mean the end of the calendar year. For me it means the year that goes through this labor agreement, which is really through the end of February and free agency starts in the beginning of March.
It would be criminal if we let this thing develop to the point where we had labor strife. Our ratings are so high. Most labor negotiations, you out your offer in and it’s high, they put their offer in and it’s low and you go back and forth and you play this charade game then at the last minute you settle, say Labor Day weekend, we will collectively lose a billion dollars in revenue if we did that.
The players receive close to 60 percent of that revenue right now. In a new deal it would probably be in the 50s. They still are the major beneficiaries. We will collectively lose that and I think also aggravate the American public. Given the economic climate, I think part of the reason that our ratings are so high is people want the NFL. The fan support has been wonderful. I think there will be a tremendous backlash. It’s a real challenge to both sides.
With all due respect to the many great lawyers in the country, especially the lawyers working on both sides on this deal we have to get a business-like approach on both sides of the table. The makings of a deal are there in my opinion and I just hope that we’re wise enough to do it.
On a potential 18-game schedule:
Right now the schedule is 20 games. What we’re doing is saying, instead of four of those games be preseason we make two of them [preseason]. Our fans definitely want it. I just think we have to manage it in a way, [possibly by expanding the rosters.] The only way we can continue to revenue and pay the players more is to grow the business. We look at it as a 20-game season now and we’re just making two of those games regular season games. It will require better management.
On the Randy Moss trade:
We discuss things and understand all major decisions before they’re done. Remember, we’re always looking at the long-term here. We’re not just trying to win the game this week. We want to win the game the next few years. How you differentiate yourself is by doing things that aren’t conventional.
You look around the league and you see three coaches have been fired during the season. It’s a business that breeds insecurity. Our job as ownership and top management is to create an environment where we encourage entrepreneurial decision-making. A lot of this business is not just great athletic skills, it’s the chemistry of the locker room, it’s the chemistry of the relationship. There are a lot of factors that go into it. In the end we’re just trying to make our team better, week in and week out.
On Tom Brady:
I think Tom Brady is very special and by far the best player in the league. Just think about what would have been happening in this market if what’s happening in Indy were happening here. Think how you guys would be having fun and chastising us. We had a situation and this goes back to our philosophy as a team, we did what was right for both the short and long term of this franchise. We didn’t have to do a deal. We did a deal. We wanted him to have security, peace of mind. We also thanked him for the job he’s doing. He didn’t have to think about his contract. He could only focus on football and putting our team in the best position to win.
We’re lucky to have this guy as a quarterback and I’m sure anyone who’s true fan of this team understands how special he is.