The report is the culmination of a highly unusual situation in which the NFL, for the second time in less than nine years, investigated whether one of its most successful and highest-profile teams circumvented rules to gain a competitive advantage. In 2007, the league found the Patriots had improperly videotaped opposing coaching signals. These most recent accusations dominated discussion in the two weeks leading up to February’s Super Bowl, raising scrutiny of Brady and the Patriots’ competitive integrity even as they were pursuing their fourth title.
It remains unclear what — if any — punishment awaits.
The report’s most compelling evidence are colorful and frequently profane text messages between John Jastremski, a Patriots equipment assistant, and Jim McNally, the offcials’ locker room attendant at Gillette Stadium. McNally, in a text message to Jastresmski in May 2014, referred to himself as “the deflator,” according to the report.
“Based on the evidence developed in connection with the investigation and summarized in this Report, we have concluded that it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the NFL Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate attempt to circumvent those rules,” Wells wrote.
“In particular, we conclude that it is more probable than not that Jim McNally and John Jastremski participated in a deliberate plan to circumvent the rules by releasing air from Patriots game balls after the examination of the footballs by NFL game officials at the AFC Championship Game.”
Wells wrote that investigators also concluded “it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”
Investigators do not believe there was wrongdoing on the part of Coach Bill Belichick, any of his assistant coaches or the team’s ownership, Wells wrote.
Still, the investigation’s conclusions about Brady threaten to taint his legacy as one of the sport’s greatest quarterbacks. While lacking concrete evidence that Brady orchestrated or ordered the balls’ deflation, the report is starkly critical of his honesty in cooperating with investigators.
Brady insisted he had no involvement in any efforts to deflate game balls and that he did not know McNally nor his role, but the report states, “We found these claims not plausible and contradicted by other evidence.” McNally, the report added, also divulged to NFL Security that Brady had told him personally of the quarterback’s preferences regarding air pressure.
In a written statement released by the league, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said: “As with other recent matters involving violations of competitive rules, Troy Vincent [the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations] and his team will consider what steps to take in light of the report, both with respect to possible disciplinary action and to any changes in protocols that are necessary to avoid future incidents of this type.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft called the investigation and its findings “incomprehensible.”
Kraft said in a written statement he was “convinced” that Wells’s investigation “would find the same factual evidence supported by both scientific formula and independent research as we did and would ultimately exonerate the Patriots.” Kraft said that to “say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the AFC Championship Game, would be a gross understatement.”
Kraft also said the Patriots would accept the findings of the report and any discipline dispensed by the league, but he went on to opine that “the time, effort and resources expended to reach this conclusion are incomprehensible to me.”
Possible penalties against the Patriots could include a fine and the loss of one or more draft picks. Goodell fined Belichick and the Patriots a total of $750,000 in 2007 and stripped the team of a first-round draft choice in the “Spygate” scandal in which the Patriots were found to have improperly videotaped opposing coaching signals.
One person familiar with the league’s inner workings said decisions regarding potential discipline are “coming soon.” Possible discipline of Brady, as well as a fine and prospective loss of a draft choice, are “all under consideration,” according to that person, who requested anonymity because no official announcements had been made.
In a 2008 memo to the league’s competition committee, Goodell vowed tougher penalties for future violations of the sport’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).”
This year, the league fined the Atlanta Falcons $350,000 and stripped them of a fifth-round draft selection in 2016 for piping fake crowd noise into the Georgia Dome during home games. The NFL then suspended Falcons President Rich McKay from the league’s competition committee, even after concluding that McKay was not aware of the transgression. The league also fined the Cleveland Browns $250,000 and suspended their general manager, Ray Farmer, for the first four games of the 2015 season for improper in-game texting.
The Patriots’ latest scandal intensified the public debate as to whether the team’s accomplishments have been tarnished. Detractors have called them cheaters. Supporters of the team counter that such feelings result from jealousy over the franchise’s unmatched success.
“We want the truth,” Goodell said 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.”