What would the penalties be for the New England Patriots if they are found guilty by the NFL of intentional wrongdoing in the Deflategate case?
It’s difficult to say with any certainty at this point.
Several people familiar with the league’s deliberations on the matter said last week it was too soon to speculate on possible penalties. The NFL’s announcement Friday that attorney Ted Wells and Jeff Pash, an executive vice president for the league, are overseeing its investigation into the matter seemed to suggest that a resolution is not close and will come long after the Patriots face the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl this Sunday in Arizona. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady told ESPN during its Pro Bowl broadcast Sunday night that he had not spoken to NFL investigators and did not expect to do so until after the Super Bowl.
But one of those people with knowledge of the NFL’s deliberations said last week that league officials viewed the Patriots’ potential violation as, if willful, “very serious.” And NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell perhaps provided a bit of a clue in a March 2008 memo that he wrote to the league’s competition committee in the aftermath of the “Spygate” scandal.
Goodell vowed then to impose tougher penalties on future violators of the league’s competitive rules.
“Too often, competitive violations have gone unpunished because conclusive proof of the violation was lacking,” Goodell wrote in that memo. “I believe we should reconsider the standard of proof to be applied in such cases, and make it easier for a competitive violation to be established. And where a violation is shown, I intend to impose more stringent penalties on both the club and the responsible individual(s). I will also be prepared to make greater use of draft choice forfeiture in appropriate cases. I believe this will have the effect of deterring violations and making people more willing to report violations on a timely basis.”
In April 2008, the owners endorsed Goodell’s so-called anti-cheating measures.
“As the Commissioner and Competition Committee, we must take every appropriate step to safeguard the integrity of the NFL,” Goodell wrote in the 2008 memo. “We have already taken some positive and significant actions this past season, but we must go further to ensure fair competition amongst our 32 teams and maintain public confidence in our game.”
In September 2007, Goodell fined Patriots Coach Bill Belichick and the team a total of $750,000 in Spygate. He also stripped the Patriots of a first-round draft choice after the league determined that the team had videotaped opposing coaching signals in violation of NFL rules.
The league confirmed Friday that the Patriots used underinflated footballs in the first half of their victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game. The NFL’s written announcement Friday said the league’s investigation had not yet determined whether that was done deliberately by the Patriots.
Belichick said Saturday he was certain that the Patriots had broken no league rules. Belichick said a study by the team showed the footballs could have become deflated through a combination of exposure to outdoor weather conditions and returning to their “equilibrium” following the process used to break them in to achieve the proper texture.
So the league would have to establish that the Patriots willfully broke the rules, and presumably determine who was responsible, in order to impose any discipline.
If that happens, would the Patriots be considered repeat offenders under the sport’s competitive rules? That seems entirely possible, given the Spygate penalties and Goodell’s memo.
How serious would the league consider such an infraction to be? There has been talk about how widespread the practice might be. Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II told reporters last week he wouldn’t put the issue “on the scale of serious.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the league would agree with that assessment.
Some observers have cited the precedent set by the NFL in its Bountygate penalties imposed on the New Orleans Saints in 2012, including a season-long suspension of Coach Sean Payton. But that doesn’t necessarily apply, given there were player-safety issues involved in that case.
Goodell annually addresses media members two days before the Super Bowl. It is clear that he will have to field plenty of questions about the Patriots, deflated footballs and the status of the NFL’s latest investigation when he holds his state-of-the-league news conference Friday in Arizona.
… AND TEN
This one is tough.
These are clearly the two best teams in football. The Seahawks’ play late in the season resembled what they put on display during their dominant run to the Super Bowl title last season. The Seattle defense is fully capable of doing to Brady what it did to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in last season’s Super Bowl. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson surely will play far better than he did against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game.
But Belichick and the Patriots thrive on situations such as this. The last time the legitimacy of their accomplishments was questioned to this degree, in the Spygate aftermath, they won their first 18 games of the 2007 season before being upset by the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
One franchise will emerge with a claim to greatness. Either the Seahawks will secure consecutive Super Bowl triumphs. Or the Patriots will win their fourth Super Bowl with Belichick and Brady in tandem.
This Super Bowl buildup probably will be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Perhaps the game can be memorable for some more savory reasons.
Belichick’s news conference Saturday in Foxborough, Mass., was extraordinary for a number of reasons.
It wasn’t only his science-class-like lecture. It wasn’t only his “My Cousin Vinny” reference when he said he wasn’t a “Mona Lisa Vito” of knowledge about footballs.
The coach known for his dour demeanor, the coach of the “We’re on to Cincinnati” mantra, was at various times engaged, combative, annoyed and impassioned. He defended the Patriots’ integrity and honor.
He also offered a relatively expansive response on the Patriots’ conduct in Spygate.
“The guy is giving signals out in front of 80,000 people, okay?” Belichick said Saturday. “So we filmed him taking signals out in front of 80,000 people, like there were a lot of other teams doing at that time too. But forget about that. If we were wrong, then we’ve been disciplined for that…. The guy’s in front of 80,000 people; 80,000 people saw it. Everybody’s sideline saw it. Everybody sees our guy in front of 80,000 people. I mean, there he is.
“So it was wrong. We were disciplined for it. That’s it. We never did it again. We’re never gonna do it again. And anything else that’s close, we’re not gonna do either…. Anything that’s even remotely close, we’re on the side of caution.”
Belichick also said his comments Saturday on the deflated-footballs topic represented “the end of this subject for me for a long time.”
Given the intensity of the media scrutiny awaiting him and the Patriots when they arrive in Arizona on Monday, it will be interesting to see if he’s able to stick with that.
There is some evidence to back up the contention by some that even if the Patriots intentionally underinflated the footballs, it’s not a particularly big deal and it probably wouldn’t be regarded as such a major issue if another team was involved.
When the Minnesota Vikings beat the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 30 on a cold day in Minneapolis, television cameras showed heaters being used to warm footballs on the sideline.
What was the league’s reaction?
Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, told the league-owned NFL Network at the time that warnings were issued to both teams and a reminder was sent out league-wide.
“Yeah, you can’t do anything with the footballs in terms of any artificial, whether you’re heating them up, whether it’s a regular game ball or kicking ball,” Blandino said then, according to the NFL’s Web site. “You can’t do anything to the football. So that was noticed during the game. Both teams were made aware of it during the game and we will certainly remind the clubs as we get into more cold-weather games that you can’t do anything with the football in terms of heating them up with those sideline heaters.”
There’s no reason to spend much time on the Pro Bowl. But here is one quick thought: The NFL needs to stop trying to improve it. Just accept it for what it is, a meaningless exhibition, and be pleased and perhaps surprised that anyone actually watches it.
Goodell at one point threatened to eliminate the Pro Bowl if the quality of play didn’t improve. The NFL has tried to make the game more interesting by taking a series of steps that have included having the two competing teams formed via players being drafted instead of having the format be NFC vs. AFC.
But there is no way to overcome the game’s one inherent flaw: There is nothing at stake, and football is too violent and dangerous for players to go all-out under such conditions.
Andy Dalton, Pro Bowler?
Dalton was a late addition to the Pro Bowl after leading the Bengals to the playoffs for a fourth straight season. That’s a nice accomplishment. But Dalton didn’t have a particularly Pro Bowl-ish season. He threw 17 interceptions to go with 19 touchdown passes during the regular season and he was the NFL’s 25th-rated passer. That put him behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Mark Sanchez, Kyle Orton, Colin Kaepernick, Teddy Bridgewater and not one but two St. Louis Rams quarterbacks, Austin Davis and Shaun Hill.
Clearly, there is a Pro Bowl team, and there is a “Guys Actually Willing and Able to Show Up at the Pro Bowl” team. But sometimes the definition of a Pro Bowler gets stretched a bit too far.
Dalton, incidentally, completed only nine of 20 passes for 69 yards in Sunday night’s mostly defense-free game and reportedly drew boos from the crowd.
Add yet another item to the competition committee’s already crowded to-do list for this offseason.
A committee member confirmed last week that it will review the chain-of-custody issue that potentially contributed to Deflategate, if indeed there was an infraction by the Patriots.
Currently the footballs are given back to each team, after being inspected by the officials prior to a game, for that team to use on offense during the game. (That won’t be the case for the Super Bowl, in which the footballs are given to a third-party equipment manager two days before the game.)
An NFL spokesman previously said the league expected such a review.
It seems likely that the competition committee will enact a procedural change by which the attendants to whom the footballs are given after being inspected are employees of the league, rather than team-assigned.
The competition committee also is expected to consider reworking the so-called Calvin Johnson Rule that plays a part in determining what is a legal catch and what isn’t; contemplate making pass interference calls reviewable by instant replay; and work out the final details of a proposal to expand the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams.
Some storylines, other than Deflategate, worth monitoring during the week:
Waiting on Quinn: It’s relatively rare for a team with a head coaching vacancy to have the patience to wait until after the Super Bowl to hire an assistant coach from one of the participating teams. But that’s what the Atlanta Falcons apparently are doing with Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. The unusual circumstance leaves Quinn vulnerable to being criticized if Seattle’s defense does not play to its usual standard Sunday.
Lynch vs. the media: Seattle tailback Marshawn Lynch’s reticence to speak to reporters will be put to the ultimate test Tuesday during the annual spectacle known as Super Bowl media day.
Sherman’s elbow: Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman says the elbow that he injured during the NFC title game is improving and he plans to play Sunday. But the Packers were questioned for failing to test Sherman during the portion of the game in which he appeared to be virtually playing with only one functional arm. The Patriots almost certainly will test him to a far greater degree to see if his arm is sound.
Brady vs. Sherman: Sherman said last week that the public has a “skewed” view of Brady being clean-cut (perhaps the cornerback never has done much lip-reading of Brady’s sometimes-notably-profane on-field rants, which reportedly prompted a trio of viewer complaints at one point to the Federal Communications Commission). Sherman clearly is unafraid to take on the legendary quarterback, like when he posted a photo online of him sending postgame pleasantries Brady’s way with the caption “U MAD BRO?” following a Seahawks’ win over the Patriots in 2012.
Not-So-Fond Memories: The Patriots return to the site of their 17-14 Super Bowl defeat to the Giants on Feb. 3, 2008, to end their bid for an undefeated season.
Gronkowski vs. Seattle’s secondary: Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane said last week that he doesn’t think Rob Gronkowski is that good. Memo to Jeremy Lane: Gronkowski is very good. But the Seahawks, with their imposing secondary and particularly their superb safeties, match up far better with New England’s gifted tight end than just about any other team.
DeMaurice Smith: Goodell isn’t the only NFL leader with an interesting news conference scheduled for this week. The players’ union holds its annual Super Bowl week media briefing on Thursday, and it comes with DeMaurice Smith facing opposition from former NFL player Sean Gilbert next year for the executive director job.
NFL teams didn’t show a great deal of creativity in the moves that they made during this head coaching hiring cycle. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But clearly teams valued NFL head coaching experience during this year’s searches.
Four of the head coaches just hired — Jack Del Rio in Oakland, Rex Ryan in Buffalo, John Fox in Chicago and Gary Kubiak in Denver — are former NFL head coaches. Ryan and Fox just had been fired, Ryan by the New York Jets and Fox by the Broncos.
Quinn, once he’s hired in Atlanta, will join San Francisco’s Jim Tomsula and the Jets’ Todd Bowles as new head coaches.
Perhaps the only mild surprise of the hiring cycle was Tomsula getting the job in San Francisco over former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
Gase, like Bowles, had been regarded by many as a rising star in the coaching ranks. Gase was interviewed twice by the 49ers for their head coaching job but didn’t get it, and ended up in Chicago as Fox’s offensive coordinator with the Bears. Tomsula always had been viewed as a top internal candidate to replace Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco, though.
Gase and former Bills coach Doug Marrone once seemed well-positioned to land head coaching jobs during this hiring cycle. Neither did. Marrone opted out of his contract in Buffalo after leading the Bills to a 9-7 season and initially was thought by some in and around the league to be the favorite for the Jets’ job. Instead, Marrone now is the offensive line coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He at least receives his entire $4 million salary for next season from the Bills under a clause in his contract related to the franchise being sold.
The Washington Redskins made several moves that were well-received in and around the league this offseason when they hired Scot McCloughan as their general manager and Bill Callahan as their offensive line coach.
The Redskins tried but failed to hire former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. He went to Chicago instead. The Redskins also had interviewed Wade Phillips, one of the most successful defensive coaches in league history.
Instead, they went with Barry, the linebackers coach of the San Diego Chargers. Barry formerly was a defensive coordinator for two seasons in Detroit, overseeing Lions defenses that were undermanned and ranked last in the league in each of those years. He also formerly worked with Redskins Coach Jay Gruden and team president Bruce Allen in Tampa.
Gruden and Allen have put great faith in those with ties to them through the Buccaneers. It didn’t pay off last season, when the Redskins went 4-12 in Gruden’s first season in Washington. If Barry doesn’t turn around the Redskins’ defense as Jim Haslett’s successor, Gruden and Allen will have left themselves open to being questioned—justifiably—why they didn’t go with Phillips after being rebuffed by Fangio.
There was a time when the Cleveland Browns reasonably could have viewed quarterback Johnny Manziel and wide receiver Josh Gordon as their long-term offensive cornerstones.
They used a first-round choice on Manziel in last year’s NFL draft.
Gordon had one of the more productive pass-catching seasons in league history in 2013 as a second-year pro, with 1,646 receiving yards in only 14 games.
Now there is plenty of room to wonder if either player will be a significant part of the team’s future.
Manziel’s rookie-year issues were well documented, and now the Browns face an offseason decision about whether to re-sign potential free agent Brian Hoyer, entrust the starting job to Manziel or look elsewhere.
Gordon, according to multiple reports, faces a one-year suspension by the NFL after a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Gordon reportedly tested positive for alcohol after being subject to such testing following an arrest for driving while impaired. He missed the first 10 games of this season while suspended under the substance abuse policy.
Gordon is one of the NFL’s most promising young players. But his career apparently now will be on hold once more, and his future in Cleveland clearly is in question.