‘Reluctant’ Patriots owner will not appeal Deflategate punishment

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NEW: Players union formally asks Roger Goodell to step aside from arbitrating Tom Brady appeal

Patriots owner Robert Kraft will not appeal punishment over "Deflategate"

The team was fined $1 million and stripped of 2 future draft picks

CNN  — 

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Tuesday that he will not appeal the punishment handed down to him by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell over the controversy known as “Deflategate.”

Speaking at the NFL spring league meeting in San Francisco, Kraft said that while he disagrees with Goodell’s decision to fine the team $1 million and strip it of some future draft picks, he no longer wants to “continue the rhetoric” that has lingered over the topic for months.

“I don’t think anyone can believe that after four months (since) the AFC championship game, we are still talking about air pressure and the psi in footballs,” he said. “I have two options: I can try and end it, or I can extend it.”

After an “emotionally charged couple of weeks,” Kraft was ready to end it.

“I’m going to accept, reluctantly, what (Goodell) has given to us and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric – and we won’t appeal.”

The punishment came in the wake of an NFL-commissioned investigation that found the Patriots used footballs inflated below what the rules allow during the first half of the 2015 AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts in January.

The Patriots trounced the Colts 45-7 in that game, earning themselves a spot in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots eked out a dramatic victory in the Super Bowl’s final moments.

But the controversy, weeks old at that point, had already cast a pall over the Patriots’ victory – and in particular over the team’s prized quarterback, Tom Brady.

Kraft did his own part at the time to ratchet up the rhetoric that he lamented Tuesday, saying that he’d expect the NFL to apologize to the team, Brady and coach Bill Belichick if the investigation found no wrongdoing.

The commissioner fired back. “I represent 32 teams,” he said. “And if we have any information where the potential is that those rules were violated, I have to pursue that, and I have to pursue that aggressively.”

But then for months, nothing much was heard on Deflategate from either camp. The issue only seemed to live on the airwaves of sports radio and in Twittersphere missives.

Until earlier this month, when the league made public the 243-page report from attorney Ted Wells on the findings of the investigation.

There would be no such apology coming from the NFL.

In fact, its conclusions – although admittedly circumstantial – were nevertheless damning for Brady.

“It is more probable than not” that Brady was “at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities” of locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski, Wells wrote.

Punishment for both the Patriots and for Brady came swiftly and decisively – and according to Kraft, unfairly.

The team was fined $1 million and will forfeit its first-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft and its fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft.

“I think I made it clear when the report came out that I didn’t think it was fair,” Kraft said Tuesday. “There was no hard evidence and everything was circumstantial and at the same time when the discipline came out, I felt it was way over the top, as it was unreasonable and unprecedented in my opinion.”

“Although I might disagree with what is decided,” Kraft continued, “I do have respect for the commissioner and believe that he’s doing what he perceives to be in the best interest of the full 32 (teams).”

Kraft’s decision to forgo an appeal has no bearing on what’s already been levied against Brady – a four-game suspension without pay – or the quarterback’s appeal, something the NFL Players Association tweeted immediately after Kraft’s announcement.

The union later said on its website it had filed a request for Goodell to recuse himself as the arbitrator of Brady’s appeal. It said the commissioner will be called as a witness in the case and also has a “history of inconsistently issuing discipline against our players.”

“If the NFL believes the Ted Wells report has credibility because it is independent, then the NFL should embrace our request for an independent review,” the union said in its written statement.

CNN’s Jillian Martin and Steve Almasy contributed to this report