The NFL’s penalties against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for Deflategate are widely considered severe by the NFL world.
Tom Brady was suspended for four games. The league also took away the Patriots’ 2016 first-round pick and 2017 fourth-round pick, and fined them $US1 million.
SI’s Peter King called it a “borderline astonishing” punishment.
The NFL’s statement announcing the decision contained the letter that NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent sent the Patriots informing them of the penalties.
Vincent’s letter outlines the reasons why the NFL came down so hard on Brady and the Patriots, and it’s a pretty simple explanation:
1. Whether or not the Patriots gained any competitive advantage from the deflated footballs, it was still a deliberate attempt to gain an unlawful advantage.
The Patriots beat the Colts 45-7 in the AFC Championship, leaving little doubt they were the better team, deflated footballs or not. However, as Vincent describes in his letter, all that matters is the Patriots broke the rules by deflating the footballs after they’d been approved by the referee.
Vincent writes, “The key consideration in any case like this is that the playing rules exist for a reason, and all clubs are entitled to expect that the playing rules will be followed by participating teams. Violations that diminish the league’s reputation for integrity and fair play cannot be excused simply because the precise impact on the final score cannot be determined.”
2. The Patriots are repeat offenders.
This is not the first time the Patriots have been in violation of the league’s rules. In 2007, the Patriots were punished for “Spygate,” when they were illegally videotaping opposing defensive coaches signals. Bill Belichick was fined $US500,000 for the incident, and the Patriots were fined $US250,000 and were stripped of their 2008 first-round pick.
Vincent wrote, “Under the Integrity of the Game Policy, this prior violation of competitive rules was properly considered in determining the discipline in this case.”
3. The Patriots and Brady didn’t fully cooperate with the NFL’s investigation.
The Wells reported noted that locker room attendant Jim McNally wasn’t made available for an additional face-to-face interview by the Patriots attorneys, and that Tom Brady wouldn’t give electronic communication evidence (texts/emails) to the investigators, as two other employees did.
Vincent writes, “Although we do not hold the club directly responsible for Mr. Brady’s refusal to cooperate, it remains significant that the quarterback of the team failed to cooperate fully with the investigation.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft defended the Patriots’ level of cooperation in a statement, saying:
“In addition, given our level of cooperation throughout the process, I was offended by the comments made in the Wells Report in reference to not making an individual available for a follow-up interview. What the report fails to mention is that he had already been interviewed four times and we felt the fifth request for access was excessive for a part-time game day employee who has a full-time job with another employer.”
4. ‘Key witnesses were not fully candid during the investigation.’
At certain points in the investigation, McNally, Brady, and equipment assistant John Jastremski weren’t completely honest, Vincent says. The Wells report says McNally originally told the NFL that he took the balls directly to the field and nothing unusual happened before the AFC title game. However, it was later revealed that he took the ball on an unusual route to the field, stopping in the bathroom along the way.
According to the report, McNally and Jastremski also originally lied about what they spoke about on the phone after the game, saying they talked about the Patriots victory rather than the investigation into the deflated balls.
In an interview with investigators, Brady denied even knowing who McNally was, according to the report. But in an October text message from Jastremski to McNally, Jastremski said Brady mentioned McNally by name.
Ultimately, whether or not the deflated balls gave the Patriots a material advantage is only a small part of why they were punished so severely.
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