BOCA RATON, Fla. -- When taking the general pulse of New England Patriots fans and their stinging disappointment regarding how things unfolded with the NFL's Deflategate punishment, a defining moment occurred when owner Robert Kraft accepted the sanctions in May of 2015.
That was a crushing blow for many who viewed it as Kraft giving up too quickly. The passions of Patriots followers had been stirred up with strong rhetoric, which made the turn seem especially sudden.
Reaction in parts of New England was extreme.
It still feels raw today, and another round of emotions stirred with Kraft's remarks at the NFL's annual meeting.
Everything traces back to May of 2015, a time in which Kraft later said that he regretted putting his faith in the league. His strategy was that by accepting the penalties, he'd give quarterback Tom Brady a better chance to win the appeal of his four-game suspension, and then if things unfolded the way he envisioned with the league measuring/documenting the PSI of footballs during the 2015 season and Brady still playing at a high level, the team would ultimately be exonerated because science and the Ideal Gas Law explained the deflation in the AFC Championship Game.
The plan might have looked good on paper, but it blew up on him at almost every turn. The NFL never eased up on Brady, though a federal judge did, nor did it publicly share the PSI data it accumulated during the 2015 regular season despite initially saying it planned to do so. Meanwhile, no other owners stepped up to support Kraft and the Patriots.
All of which leads to the question: If allowed a re-do, what could Kraft have done differently?
This is where it gets tricky, because he essentially had two options -- appeal the decision or sue the NFL.
The viability of those options was questionable.
An appeal was basically a dead end, because it would have been heard by Goodell based on the system in place for discipline. Appealing might have appeased optics-wise -- similar to the Kansas City Chiefs' appeal on their tampering penalties -- but Goodell obviously wasn’t changing much, if anything.
As for suing the NFL, besides the low probability of victory based on the league's discipline arrangement that gives Goodell final authority on such decisions, Kraft would be backing out of the "we-won't-sue" agreement owners make when they join the league. The Oakland Raiders, who under the late Al Davis were the last franchise to take that route, are in some ways still paying the price today for doing so.
So without the leverage that usually helps him come out a winner in many business deals, Kraft took the route he felt gave him the best chance of victory, fighting to shape public opinion by creating the Wells Report in Context website, delivering blistering remarks at the start of 2015 training camp, and sharing his final plea of a letter sent to Goodell about a month ago.
To some fans and media-based opinion-shapers, that simply wasn't enough. To others, it showed that Kraft was still fighting in some form, which was important for them to see.
It's been polarizing, and on Monday, Kraft seemed resigned to the fact that despite trying to "work the system" as much as he could, the draft picks stripped by the NFL aren't being reinstated. He then pointed out some remarkable statistics from his family's 22-year ownership tenure, noting how the club has been to 11 conference championships and has won 15 division titles.
Kraft's often-shrewd decision-making has been a catalyst for that run, starting with hiring Bill Belichick as head coach in 2000.
As for his decision-making with Deflategate, the debate has raged on and off. It was back on Monday, emotions riding high, everything once again pointing back to his decision in May of 2015.
What could he have done differently?
The realistic options, much like the ones offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had in the AFC Championship Game, were truly limited.