Buckle Up, Folks. Deflategate Is Just Beginning


Feb 2, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (left) and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pose with the Pete Rozelle trophy during the Super Bowl XLIX-Winning Head Coach and MVP Press Conference at Media Center-Press Conference Room B. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tired of deflategate yet? I hope not. The fun is just about to start.

If the NFL does what essentially everyone expects it to and suspends the greatest player in the history of its sport based on a report that has at its foundation zero facts, you can expect complete warfare from the Patriots, Tom Brady and the NFL Player’s Association. That’s like killing Rob Stark at the red wedding. It doesn’t go unnoticed and you’re damn well sure the north is gonna hold a grudge.

Let me be clear. The Patriots broke the rules. The chain of custody of the footballs used in the AFC Championship Game was broken. Jim “I swear I’m best friends with Tom Brady” McNally either deflated air out of game balls or let them sit in the corner of the bathroom while he submitted them to some other form of torture. Either way, he and, in essence, the organization, broke the rules and should be penalized for it. That’s it.

But that’s not the question at hand. The question is whether Tom Brady was involved in this apparent scandal and the real evidence to support that claim is nonexistent (see this “independent” report commissioned by the NFL and prepared by Ted Wells, probably for seven figures). Regardless, it appears that Roger Goodell is poised to suspend Brady, despite the complete lack of any evidence linking him to the crime that’s actually never been proven to have been committed. Sound logic, Rog.

Well, let me tell you what happens next if the NFL does suspend Brady. First, there’s a real softball for Goodell here and if I had to bet on it based on his record he’ll completely swing and miss at it. If he suspends Brady based at all on a supposed violation of the rules related to the preparation of footballs, he is in for a long and drawn out legal process. If he smartly bases that suspension on Brady’s apparent unwillingness to cooperate with the NFL’s investigation (yeah, let’s just be honest and stop calling this an independent investigation), he sits on a much stronger legal foundation. Like I said, I see him swinging and missing at this one and basing the ruling too much on his alleged involvement in the crime that was alleged to have happened.

Second, if Goodell and his band of “independent investigators” are smart, they’ll suspend Brady for the absolute minimum they think is sufficient. With a two game suspension, Brady and the Patriots might actually not appeal, for the sake of being done with it all. Anything longer and a whole different process unfolds likely involving some key figures.

Like I said, with a suspension of any significant length, we can assume Brady will appeal, which any innocent (or guilty for that matter) man would do. If that happens, you can consider Pandora’s box wide open.

The recent Adrian Peterson case is instructive to how this case could play out, assuming both a Brady suspension as well as a Brady appeal. Initially, the league banned Peterson indefinitely. Peterson appealed, at which point Goodell appointed Harold Henderson as an “independent” arbitrator to review the case. In a shocking turn of events, Henderson, a former league employee and well known for his front-office bias, upheld the decision. On behalf of Peterson, the NFL Players Association filed suit in district court to challenge the NFL’s ruling and judge David Doty eventually ruled in Peterson’s favor. Shortly thereafter, the NFL reinstated Peterson.

Should the NFL decide to suspend Brady for more than one or two games, it is likely inviting a similar process to unfold. Brady will appeal. Henderson, as Goodell’s favorite “independent” arbitrator, will be appointed again (he’s also currently reviewing the discipline levied on Greg Hardy). Henderson will again rule in favor of the league, which is essentially what he’s hired to do, and the player’s association will file suit, on behalf of Brady, against the league. If you think for a second that DeMaurice Smith, the head of the player’s association and sworn Goodell enemy, isn’t going to jump at the chance to take another swing at him you are sorely mistaken.

Now, what happens next largely depends on what kind of discipline Goodell imposes and, more importantly, on what basis. If he’s smart and bases the discipline on Brady’s apparent noncooperation with the investigation (interestingly, the rule says players must cooperate with  league investigations, not supposedly independent investigations). But, if Goodell overreaches, which is likely wondering if Rex Ryan’s gonna have another hot dog, he’ll set the table nicely for Brady’s and the player’s association’s lawyers, because basing a suspension at all on the offense of tampering with footballs will not stand up in court, not based on the Wells report.

Anyone with a shred of integrity who has actually read the Wells report – which is probably about five percent of the people actually expressing opinions about this – will know damn well that the conclusions drawn are based on speculative circumstantial evidence, at best. It won’t take a judge long to come to that conclusion and it’s not likely to end well for Goodell. If his elaborate sting operation explodes in his face and Brady ends up taking the field on opening night having won an appeal of a suspension then everyone will agree on one thing and one thing only: Roger Goodell played his cards wrong. Again.