The NFL looked upon the preponderance of the evidence detailed in the Wells Report an concluded that it was more probable than not that there was at least a three-person conspiracy involved in the New England Patriots underinflating footballs during the 2014 AFC Championship game, and possibly earlier.
But investigator Ted Wells’ findings also seem to correctly interpret that the evidence does not support the idea that the conspiracy spreads much further than that. While this does not exonerate anybody anew, nobody else has been on trial.
Perhaps that could explain the utter astonishment and contempt that we have seen from Patriots team owner Robert Kraft. It’s certainly plausible, after all, that he would be unaware of such a minute, mechanical detail of the game.
There is a somewhat well-known anecdote, from Gary Myers’ Coaching Confidential, that Kraft once asked head coach Bill Belichick how much filming opponents’ signals helped the team, with the head coach responding that it wasn’t much. Kraft then called him a schmuck.
Pardoning the digression, however, it does appear that the Wells investigation was unable to uncover any evidence that implicates any other significant member of the Patriots organization or staff, beyond perhaps some low-level ball boys.
Belichick’s testimony is especially interesting, recounted on page 99 on the Wells Report, for those playing along at home. He maintains that he spoke directly to quarterback Tom Brady, asking him what he knew, if anything, about the allegations of underinflated footballs.
Brady denied knowledge of any kind and reiterated that his approval of the game balls upon inspection means that the balls are already exactly as he wants them and would not want them altered. This testimony gave Belichick the confidence to tell the locker room subsequently that there is “not one shred of truth” to the allegations.
Either Brady lied to Belichick, or the two mutually constructed this narrative in an effort to distance and exonerate the head coach from any misconduct. After all, there would be no need to have the conversation if Belichick was involved, so if the discussion did in fact take place—which only Brady and Belichick know for certain—then Belichick knew nothing, or at least Brady was not aware of him knowing.
More relevant, however, seems to be the case of Dave Schoenfeld, the Patriots’ head equipment manager, who certainly appears, on multiple levels, to have had no knowledge about the actions of Jim McNally and John Jastremski, to whom he is their superior.
On multiple occasions, for example, Jastremski alluded to Schoenfeld as an obstacle in obtaining compensatory memorabilia for McNally’s role in deflating footballs, indicating that he did not want to raise suspicion by providing McNally with anything that might raise questions.
Later, the night of the AFC Championship game, football director Berj Najaran contacted Schoenfeld asking him if he was aware of the media reports about deflated footballs. Schoenfeld promptly contacted Jastremski about the issue, and Jastremski later related Schoenfeld’s inquisitiveness to both McNally and to Brady. He texted Brady with a heads up of sorts, saying “Dave will be picking your brain later about it. He’s not accusing me, or anyone…trying to get to the bottom of it. He knows it’s unrealistic you did it yourself…”
Whether or not the conspiracy is indeed largely confined to the three individuals identified in the Wells Report in actual fact, it is fair to say that the investigation did not turn up any substantial evidence that implicates anybody of significance.