The Patriots did their best throughout their week in Arizona to avoid questions about the NFL’s investigation into the team’s use of under-inflated footballs in the first half of the AFC title game. Owner Robert Kraft made a forceful statement on the matter last Monday just after the Patriots’ arrival. After that, Coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and others said they were focused on game preparations and not on the air pressure of footballs.
“As many of those things as we can put aside and deal with them at a later time, that’s what we’ll do,” Brady said early in the week. Now that the confetti has fallen and Brady has hoisted another Super Bowl MVP trophy, that time to face those questions should come soon.
The league decided to put off interviewing Patriots players until after the Super Bowl, according to the NFL Players Association, which intends to have a representative present at any such interview. Now those interviews presumably will take place soon.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fined Belichick and the Patriots a total of $750,000 in September 2007 and stripped the team of a first-round draft choice in the Spygate scandal. The Patriots were found guilty then of videotaping opposing coaching signals in violation of league rules.
In the Spygate aftermath, Goodell wrote a March 2008 memo to the NFL’s competition committee proposing a lower standard of proof and increased penalties for future cases of competitive violations. The owners of the NFL teams endorsed those proposals soon thereafter and they could be in effect in this case.
But for penalties to be imposed, the league would have to establish that the Patriots deliberately under-inflated the footballs. The Patriots have denied wrongdoing and Kraft said last Monday that he thinks Belichick and Brady are owed an apology if the NFL’s investigation fails to prove that a willful violation was committed.
“We want the truth,” Goodell said Friday at his annual state-of-the-league news conference two days before the Super Bowl. “That’s what I think our fans want. That’s what our clubs want. And so what we want to do is make sure that we find that truth. If there are violations of the rules, we take them seriously, particularly when they deal with the integrity of the game and the rules.”
Once the Patriots get to retooling their roster, Revis’s contract will be a top consideration. The two-year deal paid Revis $12 million this season and is to pay him $20 million next season. When Revis signed with the Patriots last offseason, it widely was believed that a $20 million price tag would be too hefty for the team to keep him for a second season and would lead to Revis being released and put back on the free agent market. More recently, however, there has been speculation that the Patriots might consider keeping Revis for a second season even at that salary.
“It’s very risky to take that chance,” Revis said during the week about the structure of his contract with the Patriots. “But I believe in myself. I have faith in myself, in what I bring to the table, in how I prepare and just me overall as a person. This is what I love. This is what I do. If I don’t believe in myself, who will?”
Brady turns 38 in August. He had another superb season after some early-season struggles, particularly during an ugly Monday night defeat at Kansas City in late September. That led to some conjecture that rookie backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was being groomed to take over sooner rather than much later.
Brady shows few signs of slowing down, however, and he has given no indication he intends to retire any time soon. To the contrary, he has sent signals he would like to keep playing well into his 40s. The Patriots perhaps already have Brady’s successor-in-waiting in place with Garoppolo. But it could be a long wait for while Patriots keep trying to assemble teams around Brady good enough to keep reaching Super Bowls.
The list of Patriots players eligible for unrestricted free agency this offseason reportedly includes running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, guard Dan Connolly, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, safety Devin McCourty and linebacker Akeem Ayers. McCourty may be the most pressing decision — after Revis — as he has been a strong performer this season.
No one has been better than Belichick at making the tough decisions necessary during the salary cap era to contend consistently for championships. His bid to try to reach a seventh Super Bowl in tandem with Brady begins now.