A report surfaced yesterday from Gary Myers of the New York Daily News that the league does indeed intend to issue a suspension of some duration for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in his role—and his lack of cooperation with—find findings of the Ted Wells investigation into his team engaging in the deflating of footballs prior to kickoff.
The league-commissioned investigation found that the four-time Super Bowl champion quarterback was “at least generally aware” of the practice of deflating footballs, and cited text messages exchanged between two long-term employees, one of whom referred to himself as “the deflator” in his report that seem to implicate him.
According to Myers’ sources, the league is supposed to come down with Brady’s suspension at some point during the next week, although speculation as to the length of that suspension varies, but at least a couple of games seems a reasonable assumption.
If Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to promote some type of consistency behind his trumpeting of the integrity of the NFL shield, however, that will not be the only discipline to come down from this report.
Even though the report does not directly implicate any type of institutional violation tying any of the coaching staff or ownership to permitting or even having knowledge of the actions of the staff responsible for altering the game balls, the league has already established that institutional penalty is warranted on this level.
When the league came down on the New Orleans Saints in the aftermath of its ‘Bountygate’ investigation, Goodell and the league, as part of a comprehension disciplinary profile, suspended head coach Sean Payton for an entire season as a result, even though he was in no way implicated in the goings on of the bounty system run by his defensive coordinator.
The logic behind this, Goodell said, was that ignorance was no excuse, and that the head coach was responsible for the actions of those under him. The Saints as an organization were also fined, were forced to forfeit draft picks, and the general manager was also suspended.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was not implicated in the Wells report. It’s possible that Belichick genuinely did not know anything about ‘Deflategate’, although that seems highly improbable in light of the fact that he has unprecedented control over every detail of his teams. Statistical evidence also suggests a dramatic correlation between increased ball security and their ability to handle their own footballs.
Presuming innocence, however, Belichick should still receive some type of suspension based on the previous precedent set, given that the league has already strongly offered its position that ignorance is no excuse.
A head coach is certainly to be held responsible for his quarterback orchestrating with team staff to deflate pre-game footballs below permitted regulations. Despite his profound incredulity over the findings, Robert Kraft, too, deserves culpability, if not personally, then to his institution, in the form of a fine and forfeiture of draft picks. Failure to do so would be a slight to the league’s own integrity.