When Kraft returned to Boston the next day, he was spotted hugging Patriots quarterback Tom Brady after they got off a private jet.
Amid the solicitation case in Florida, it is unclear how involved Kraft will be in league business in the coming months. The N.F.L. is preparing not only for talks with television networks but also for negotiations with the players’ union, whose contract expires at the end of next season. Kraft also sits on the finance and compensation committees, and the management council, which represents the league in labor talks.
Kraft can be an affable but cunning negotiator, and both his business and people skills were hard to miss in 2011 during negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement. Several owners pushed the league to take a hard line and exploit their leverage over the players’ union after a court ruling in their favor, but Kraft was among a contingent of owners leading negotiations in Washington who saw an opening to push the talks across the finish line. While Kraft shuttled back and forth to Boston, where his wife, Myra, was dying of ovarian cancer, he maintained a direct line of communication with leaders of the players’ union.
After the two sides reached a deal, Jeff Saturday, a member of the union’s executive committee, thanked Kraft. “Without him, this deal does not get done,” he said at the time.
ESPN, where Saturday works, said he was not available for an interview. But nearly all of Kraft’s associates contacted for this article said Kraft was a careful listener who asked questions and had a knack for proposing solutions. While he does have a temper, they said, he rarely loses it.
Kraft has spoken often about the need to put league matters over personal ones. In November 2017, he was interviewed with his oldest son, Jonathan, onstage at a sports industry conference in New York. In a thinly veiled criticism of Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ owner, Kraft urged owners to act as partners and not perceive themselves as “bigger than the league itself.” Jones had threatened to sue Kraft and other owners who wanted to extend Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract.
“It’s more important,” Kraft said, “that the people running the league do the right thing for the league than for any one franchise.”