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Opinion: NFL’s punishments for Patriots, Brady are fair

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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks to the media at a press conference at Gillette Stadium on Thursday. Jan. 22, 2015. The press conference centered around the fact that 11 of 12 Patriot game balls were under-inflated according to NFL rules during the first half of Sunday's AFC Championship victory over the Colts. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks to the media at a press conference at Gillette Stadium on Thursday. Jan. 22, 2015. The press conference centered around the fact that 11 of 12 Patriot game balls were under-inflated according to NFL rules during the first half of Sunday’s AFC Championship victory over the Colts. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

The NFL announced its punishment for the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady on Monday for the underinflation of footballs used in the 2015 AFC Championship Game, five days after league-appointed attorney Ted Wells released the findings of his lengthy investigation.

Wells concluded that it is “more probable than not” that members of Patriots personnel — specifically, Jim McNally, who is the officials’ locker room attendant for New England, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant for the Pats — deliberately released air from game footballs after they were inspected by the referee.

The report also found that Brady, who would go on to be named this year’s Super Bowl MVP, “was at least generally aware” of McNally and Jastremski’s illegal actions “involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”

New England was fined $1 million and was stripped of two future draft picks — a 2016 first-round selection and a fourth-rounder in 2017. Brady received a four-game suspension, without pay, for the start of the 2015-16 NFL season. Additionally, McNally and Jastremski were suspended by the league indefinitely.

The Wells report has garnered plenty of criticism. Brady’s agent, Don Yee, said in a statement that there was “no fairness” in the investigation and that it had a “pre-determined” outcome. The use of the language “more probable than not” in the report has drawn flak for not being definitive enough.

As for the punishment, Yee called it “ridiculous.” He said they will appeal the suspension.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft released a statement Monday night after he was informed of the discipline.

“Today’s punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation,” he said. “It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.”

He added that they still believe there was “no tampering with footballs” but that their “intention was to accept any discipline levied by the league.”

I believe this discipline is fair — for the most part.

First off, the comments from Yee and Kraft are expected. Of course they would not flat out say they agree.

I looked through the report and read the text messages between McNally and Jastremski. I took note of the other evidence Wells brought forth, and my personal conclusion was that a calculated and purposeful effort was made to deflate the footballs and that Brady knew about it. I do not think that such actions to deflate the balls would happen without the man who would be throwing them during the game — Brady — knowing about it.

And because of my personal conclusion drawn from the Wells report, I feel a four-game suspension for Brady is spot on. The argument is that an underinflated football becomes softer, which make it easier to grip, throw and catch. The extent of this competitive advantage is unknown to me but regardless, it is inconsequential.

If a cyclist uses banned performance-enhancing drugs but still loses in the Tour De France, he still broke a rule. Or if a wide receiver uses Stickum but still drops a pass, he still broke a rule. The fact of the matter is that a violation occurred. There are rules for a reason. A rule was broken and punishment rightfully should follow.

Do I think that if Brady played the AFC Championship Game with properly inflated footballs that they would have lost the game against the Indianapolis Colts? Obviously I can’t say for sure, but I do believe New England still would have won and advanced to Super Bowl XLIX.

The fact that they still might have won the game without committing the violation does not make the fact that Brady was “at least generally aware” of the violation any better. He needed to be punished, and I believe he received the proper discipline. It is a matter of protecting the integrity of the game.

To me, anything more than a four-game suspension would have been excessive. Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer recently was suspended for four games in 2015 for sending text messages to the sidelines during games. Considering this, I think four games for Brady being “at least generally aware” that the game balls for a crucial AFC Championship Game were being tampered with is totally reasonable and fair.

As for the rest of the punishment, there is no question McNally and Jastremski should be suspended indefinitely. The $1 million fine — tied for the largest in league history — given to the organization is also adequate, in my opinion. Bear in mind that this occurred in a game that determined who would play in the Super Bowl. Violating a rule in such a pivotal game should have harsh consequences.

The league also took two future draft picks away from the Patriots. This is a relatively common disciplinary action. Since 1980, 14 teams have lost draft choices because of infractions.

New England forfeits next year’s first-round selection and a fourth-round pick in 2017. It is only the second time since 1980 that a first-round pick was lost. The first time was in 2008, when the NFL took took away New England’s as a result of illegally videotaping an opposing team’s sideline.

The one in 2017 makes sense. However, I feel taking away a first-rounder is steep. The New Orleans Saints did not even lose a first-round pick because of their illegal paying of players to purposely injure the opposition. They lost second-round choices in 2012 and 2013.

Losing multiple draft picks is certainly reasonable, but taking away such a high selection seems to be slightly excessive. Vacating a third-round selection next year, instead of the first-rounder, would have satisfied me.

With that said though, I believe the NFL handed down mostly appropriate punishments. The “deliberate effort to circumvent the rules” deserved severe discipline, and the league issued just that.

The impact this has on Brady’s legacy and the Patriots franchise in the future remains to be seen.

But one thing is for sure: Brady’s first game back from his looming suspension is scheduled to be on Oct. 18 at 8:30 p.m. in Indianapolis against the Colts — the same team the Patriots faced during the AFC Championship Game with the deflated balls.

Interesting timing, to say the least. Mark your calendars for that one.

One comment

  1. Brady gets away with murder again. His penalty should have been harsher….suspension for 8 games. The failure to at least enforce the current penalty will bring a resounding scream from those of us who pay exhorbitent season ticket prices to support a sport we love, and a team that plays “by the rules.”
    Failure to follow through will give the game of pro football a terrible “black eye” and drive fans from the game. Why are these cheaters entitled to thier own rules (or lack of rules) ?

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