Patriots owner Robert Kraft vehemently denies bad-mouthing Bill Belichick when the future Hall of Famer was interviewing for the Atlanta Falcons head coaching role, a New England spokesman told ESPN.

Stacey James, Patriots vice president of communications, defended Kraft during a disparaging ESPN report published Wednesday morning.

ESPN reported Kraft offered a “stark assessment” of Belichick’s character while speaking with Falcons owner Arthur Blank. ESPN wrote Kraft and Blank, who considers Kraft his closest friend among owners, spoke by phone at least twice during the process.

“Robert steadfastly denies saying anything negative to Arthur Blank about Bill Belichick after Robert and Bill mutually agreed to part ways,” James told ESPN. “In fact, Robert advocated for Bill to get the job.”

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When asked if Kraft had ever criticized Belichick in conversations with Blank, James told ESPN that Kraft had no recollection of doing so. However, James said Kraft might have done so prior to January.

“It would not surprise me to learn that owners sometimes lament to those close to them when their teams are struggling,” James told ESPN, “but Robert Kraft never questioned Bill’s character or trust when talking with Arthur Blank. Trust is important to Robert. He wouldn’t have employed Coach Belichick for the past 24 years if he ever questioned his trust.”

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ESPN reported Kraft spoke with “some candor” to Blank about Belichick. Kraft’s sentiments about Belichick reportedly played a “big part” in why the Falcons declined to hire Belichick.

In addition to Kraft’s opinions of Belichick, ESPN wrote Blank’s “top lieutenants” did not want to work with Belichick. That, too, reportedly swayed the Falcons owner.

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