The New England Patriots are the reigning Super Bowl champions, and when they open the 2015-16 NFL season on Thursday, September 10th, they will do so without their star quarterback, Tom Brady.
Yesterday, the league released a statement that they were disciplining the franchise and Brady for violations of the NFL Policy on Integrity of the Game and Enforcement of Competitive Rules, relating to the use of under-inflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game this past January.
The punishment? The New England Patriots will be fined $1 million and forfeit their first-round selection in next summer’s draft and a fourth-round selection the following year.
Their quarterback? Well, it looks like Jimmy Garroppolo will be playing under center for the first month as Tom Brady has been suspended the first four games of the regular season without pay.
While comparisons will surely be made over the next few months to prior suspensions the league has handed down to different players for violating league rules, especially Ray Rice who was only initially suspended two games for punching his fiancé in the face in a hotel elevator, the league reviews each case as a separate instance.
Did the NFL get this right? Absolutely not.
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From the start, this was a hunt on the New England Patriots integrity. The franchise has won consistently since head coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback took over 16 years ago, but they have not done it without controversy. In 2007 we went through the “Spygate” incident where the team was caught red-handed filming the New York Jet’s defensive coordinator. The Patriots were punished. Then the team broke the bank on a new contract for Aaron Hernandez in 2012, months before he would be indicted by a grand jury for the death of Odin Lloyd, and now sits in prison for life after being convicted of first-degree murder. The Patriots have had their share of off the field drama to go along with their on field success.
The Wells Report was released last week with so much confusion that I was ‘generally aware‘ that there was no hard evidence. Their outcome was simply speculation based on the investigators having nothing solid, just what they believed could be the truth. After reading all 263 pages, I felt certain the Patriots would get off from any franchise received punishment, and that the two locker room attendants would be suspended and Brady would receive a fine. I was way off.
Let’s take a look at the reasoning for the disciplinary actions handed down by Commissioner Roger Goodell, and NFL executive vice president of football operations, Troy Vincent.
In Vincent’s letter to the franchise, he notes that the first factor in assessing his punishment was, “The club’s prior record,” as he goes on to remind them of what happened in 2007 when the club and several individuals were sanctioned for videotaping signals of the New York Jets defensive coaches. The punishment the Patriots received for that was a $500,000 fine to Belichick, $250,000 to the team and docked their 2008 first round pick.
Tom Brady was not named, fined or suspended in that situation, so Vincent must be referencing this to justify him fining the Patriots and taking away their draft picks. He did not bring this up to justify suspending him since he was not involved in both incidents.
Well, if Belichick was fined in Spygate, but not in Deflategate, and vice versa for the quarterback, I do not see how the two are related to justify any Patriots related punishment. Furthermore, Vincent reports that only certain Patriots employees were aware or took part in deflating footballs in a way, “to hide these activities even from their own supervisors.” He also writes to the team that in the report there was no evidence of wrongdoing by the coaching staff, ownership or executives, and goes on to list Belichick and head equipment manager Dave Schoenfeld as clear in this situation. So why was the entire franchised fined such a large amount, and docked two draft picks if the front office or head coach were not a part of the deflation? They were guilty in 2007, but not in 2015, yet they received a much larger and severe punishment yesterday?
Vincent goes on to explain the second reason for the punishment was, “The extent to which the club and relevant individuals cooperated with the investigations,” and then goes on to list McNally and Brady as the two significant failures. How accurate is this statement? Yes, the quarterback did fail to turn over any electronic evidence and while he writes that they do not hold the team responsible, “it remains significant that the quarterback of the team failed to cooperate fully with the investigation.” This again brings up the validly of the franchise fine and docked picks. If only McNally and Brady failed to cooperate, then why does the team get punished when it is written right in his own letter that they are not responsible?
Furthermore, the Wells Report did conclude on page 23, “the Patriots provided substantial cooperation throughout the investigation.” How does Vincent blame the team when the investigator the league hired clearly states they cooperated? This is the most significant question mark in the punishment handed down.
As for Brady, he did meet with the investigators. He answered their questions, but failed to turn over the emails, texts and call logs. Fine, that was wrong for Brady to withhold that information, but that really seems to be the only significant failure. McNally met four times with the investigation team. It was only on the fifth time that they were denied the meeting. Help me understand where in here a four game suspension is warranted?
The final reason listed by Vincent in his punishment letter was that, “it is significant that key witness – Mr. Brady, Mr. Jastremski, and Mr. McNally – were not fully candid during their investigation.” Once again, no implication on the New England Patriots as a franchise or team, and no reason for a million dollar fine, nor lost draft picks. For what it’s worth, the New England Patriots have already released Jastremski and McNally of their duties.
Tom Brady will wear this mark forever. He will likely appeal this punishment, and may even get the suspension shortened, but what the NFL, Goodell and Vincent did yesterday is beyond repair. They screwed up how they handled Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson, so they wanted to make this their big mark. With no hard facts, no admissions, and no proof, the league hands down a severe punishment to a team who the investigative report lists as having no evidence of wrongdoing. The quarterback who was “generally aware” but not proven to be involved in a violation of the NFL’s rules was suspended without pay four games, including the league’s opening contest.
A severe punishment was given out yesterday to the New England Patriots without the league making proper references to a $5 million investigative report that the purchased. One of the sports all-time biggest stars has been given a quarter-season suspension and the league’s biggest reasoning is that he was “generally aware” he was breaking the rules. I’m pretty sure Rice was more than generally aware he was punching his fiancée and that Adrian Peterson was more than generally aware he was abusing his child. Again, each instance is separate and should be treated as such, but it is just hard to understand the league’s logic when reviewing their punishment handed out yesterday, especially when they used reasoning that contradicts the research.
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