Here we are again. The Wells report has been released and it appears Tom Brady was at least “generally aware” the balls were being tampered with. I am shocked! Okay, not at all. Let’s face it, NFL quarterbacks like their balls a certain way. Aaron Rodgers has gone on record saying he likes his balls as inflated as possible. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady lobbied for and earned the right for each team to play with their own balls. Why would they have done that? So they can massage their balls however they like and make sure the texture of their balls is to their individual liking. So again, no shock from me at all.
That being said, they did get caught with their hands in the cookie jar and will have to face the punishments that the league hands down, probable NFLPA appeal notwithstanding. This is similar to BountyGate in that Sean Payton and the Saints were caught. Other teams were doing it but they were caught and have to face the music.
The lines are being drawn on what punishment Roger Goodell should levy to save the face of his league. Some fans are screaming for lifetime bans or yearlong suspensions. Those would be the Patriot haters who want nothing more than to see as much fire and brimstone as technically possible.
Others are saying that it a lot to do about nothing and we should all just move on. The NFL will not and does not have that luxury in this instance. Why? There is a 243 page report financed by the NFL, an already perceived bias for Robert Kraft, and a myriad of other rational.
The answer is somewhere in the middle but most likely not as severe as many are clamoring for. The NFL rules state that a team caught deflating balls can be hit with a $25,000 fine, that’s it. No lost draft picks or volcanic damage from the netherworld. Now compound that with the fact that the Wells report implied (which it did a lot) that they found nothing tying the front office or Bill Belichick to the actions in question.
The transgressions appear tied to staffers Jim McNally and John Jastremski as well as the probable knowledge of Tom Brady that a devious plan was going to unfold. In the case of Jim McNally and John Jastremski, you can expect them to be let go and probably banned from NFL stadiums and events. That will be the end of their story.
However, Tom Brady is a different question. I am not one to think players deserve a pass because they are stars but the punishment should mirror the crime. If the league only feels that a fine is standard and the referees for the games cannot remember the actual PSI etc. then clearly the league is not losing its collective minds over the transgressions. Rather, the league is losing its mind over the negative publicity because it was the New England Patriots, Tom Brady, the AFC Championship game, and “another” Patriots transgression. The story would be written much differently if this was about Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars. This would be a fine and it would go away with not much more than a peep from anyone outside of Jacksonville.
For Brady the punishment will be less about the deflation of balls and more about his lack of cooperation with a league investigation. The last time a star in the NFL failed to be cooperative or not candid in an investigation was Brett Favre in 2010 when he was being investigated for sending inappropriate images and texts to Jenn Sterger in 2008 with the New York Jets. After a lengthy investigation, Favre was fined $50,000 for failing to cooperate. While not the same thing, the overarching ideas are still the same.
If Brady did generally know about the actions or if he was intimately involved in the plan is something we could possibly never know since he refused to turn over his phone or text messages with the staffers in question. But that in itself did not break a law and did not violate any league personal conduct policy. If he was aware and lied to the media about his knowledge, involvement or both he did not break the law or violate any league personal conduct policy.
Now, will Roger Goodell and the league only fine Tom Brady? Probably not, even considering past precedent. Right or wrong, many want blood so the league will have to prick the finger of Tom Brady at least a little bit. When the dust settles you can expect Brady to get a fine in the neighborhood of the Favre fine at a rate of about $50,000. Then to show that they are not doing favors for Robert Kraft, Tom Brady or the Super Bowl champions, the league will probably suspend Brady for one to three games. Especially given that the second and third games of the season are against the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars before they enter their bye in week four. I would lean towards the latter knowing the NFL Players Association will appeal then a fine and suspension of the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers will be the end result.