An investigative report by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” says the New England Patriots’ system of spying on opposing teams was much more widespread than originally revealed by the league and that the NFL’s extensive efforts to punish Patriots quarterback Tom Brady over DeflateGate amounted to a “makeup call” for SpyGate in the eyes of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Among the most notable items in the report, which was based on interviews with “more than 90 league officials, owners, team executives and coaches, current and former Patriots coaches, staffers and players, and reviews of previously undisclosed private notes from key meetings”:
— That the Patriots videotaped the signals of opposing coaches in at least 40 games from 2000 (Coach Bill Belichick’s first season) to 2007, and not merely in the 2007 season opener against the New York Jets, when a Patriots employee was caught taping the Jets’ coaching signals in a sting operation. Such taping, when done from a team’s sideline, is illegal under NFL rules.
— That NFL executives, including NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, discovered “eight tapes containing game footage along with a half-inch-thick stack of notes of signals and other scouting information.” Goodell ordered everything to be destroyed, with Pash and the other executives stomping on the tapes in a Gillette Stadium office and feeding the scouting notes into a shredder.
— That the taping of opposing signals “got out of control,” according to one former Patriots assistant. But it also was just the tip of the iceberg in the Patriots’ bag of dirty tricks, according to ESPN’s Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta:
In fact, many former New England coaches and employees insist that the taping of signals wasn’t even the most effective cheating method the Patriots deployed in that era. Several of them acknowledge that during pregame warm-ups, a low-level Patriots employee would sneak into the visiting locker room and steal the play sheet, listing the first 20 or so scripted calls for the opposing team’s offense. (The practice became so notorious that some coaches put out fake play sheets for the Patriots to swipe.) Numerous former employees say the Patriots would have someone rummage through the visiting team hotel for playbooks or scouting reports. [Patriots video employee Matt] Walsh later told investigators that he was once instructed to remove the labels and erase tapes of a Patriots practice because the team had illegally used a player on injured reserve. At Gillette Stadium, the scrambling and jamming of the opponents’ coach-to-quarterback radio line — “small s—” that many teams do, according to a former Pats assistant coach — occurred so often that one team asked a league official to sit in the coaches’ box during the game and wait for it to happen. Sure enough, on a key third down, the headset went out.
— That Goodell pressured Mike Martz, whose St. Louis Rams lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI, to issue a statement in 2008 saying he was satisfied with the NFL’s SpyGate investigation. Goodell asked Martz to make the statement in order to ward off a possible congressional hearing into the NFL. Martz told Wickersham and Van Natta that he’s certain he did not write some of the statement, and that “even to this day, I think something happened” in his team’s Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.
— And, finally, that the perception that Goodell gave the Patriots a break on SpyGate — New England received a $500,000 fine of Belichick, a $250,000 fine of the team and the loss of a first-round draft pick after a brief investigation — shaped his dogged insistence that Brady be suspended for deflating footballs in last year’s AFC title game. One owner told Wickersham and Van Natta that DeflateGate was a “makeup call” over missed chances to further punish the Patriots over SpyGate, and some owners now say Goodell’s job is more secure because of his handling of DeflateGate.
Goodell denied any connection between SpyGate and DeflateGate on Monday morning.
“I’m not aware of any connection between the SpyGate procedures and the procedures we went through here,” Goodell said on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” show, shortly after the Outside the Lines report was released. “No connection in my mind.”
In a statement, the Patriots insisted they’ve done nothing wrong:
This type of reporting over the past seven years has led to additional unfounded, unwarranted and, quite frankly, unbelievable allegations by former players, coaches and executives. None of which have ever been substantiated, but many of which continue to be propagated. …
It is disappointing that some choose to believe in myths, conjecture and rumors rather than giving credit for the team’s successes to Coach Belichick, his staff and the players for their hard work, attention to detail, methodical weekly preparation, diligence and overall performance.”