The union and Brady appear poised to take the case to court if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell does not overturn the suspension. A settlement between the league and the NFL Players Association would avoid such a courtroom clash, presumably reducing Brady’s penalties in return for him agreeing not to sue. But that is viewed as a long shot.
“Until a decision arrives in any case, I suppose there is always a chance,” said one person with knowledge of the union’s deliberations. But that person said he was not aware of any active settlement negotiations between the league and union.
Goodell is yet to rule on Brady’s appeal of the suspension imposed after an investigation determined it more probable than not that the four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback was at least generally aware of the New England Patriots’ use of improperly deflated footballs in last season’s AFC title game. The league also faulted Brady for failing to cooperate fully with the investigation.
People on Brady’s side of the case have been adamant throughout the appeal process that he deserves to be exonerated fully, suggesting he would not accept a suspension of any length.
For that reason, two people on the management side of the sport played down the likelihood of a negotiated settlement of the appeal, with one calling the chances “minimal.” Both pointed out the league and union have had a particularly confrontational relationship over the past year. The two sides have clashed repeatedly over the NFL’s handling of discipline in the Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Brady cases.
One person familiar with the league’s deliberations declined to directly confirm an ESPN report Wednesday that the union had made a settlement offer last week that had not drawn a response from the league. But the person noted that a willingness by the union to settle could be interpreted as Brady admitting at least some culpability, and added: “An admission of guilt is a significant move away from Brady’s previous position.”
However, one source with ties to the union believes there is a reasonable chance of a settlement, while declining to specify what the terms of such a prospective agreement might be.
Profootballtalk reported that settlement discussions have occurred but a deal is not expected. The Web site also reported that a small number of influential owners are urging Goodell not to reduce the four-game suspension.
It does appear that there is strong sentiment among at least some of the other NFL teams for the league to keep the four-game suspension intact.
“I would find it hard to believe he would change it, given that he made the original decision,” a high-ranking official with one NFL franchise said Thursday. “Was there anything compelling in the [appeal] hearing to make him change his mind? I don’t know that there was.”
Goodell has faced strong criticism from fans, media members and other groups since last fall. The high-ranking team official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said most NFL owners want to see Goodell do what bolsters the commissioner’s standing.
“I think other owners are concerned about what this means to the commissioner’s credibility,” the high-ranking team official said. “Do they care if it’s four games or two games or one game? I’m not sure they do. But they would like to see the commissioner emerge from it credible and looking like he’s dealing from a position of strength. I’m sure there are some [owners] who are anti-Patriots and jealous of their success. And then there are those who have to play them in the first four games.”
Asked what would best convey that Goodell is dealing from a position of strength, the team official said: “I think he has to stay with the same thing.”
An official with another NFL franchise said his team’s owner believes the suspension should not be reduced.
It has been a little more than four weeks since Brady’s appeal hearing took place last month. That is longer than the one week it took for Peterson’s suspension to be upheld on appeal by arbitrator Harold Henderson and the slightly more than three weeks between Rice’s appeal hearing and his reinstatement by Barbara S. Jones, the former judge appointed by Goodell to resolve that appeal.
It is not the lengthiest delay in a recent appeal, however. There was a six-week lag between Hardy’s appeal hearing and Henderson’s decision to reduce Hardy’s suspension from 10 to four games.