The long-awaited end to the DeflateGate saga finally is at hand, with U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman expected to rule in the coming days on Tom Brady’s challenge of his four-game suspension by the NFL.

Well, not quite.

With both Brady, the four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the New England Patriots, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell attending Monday’s federal court hearing in New York,  indeed Berman said his decision will come by Friday, and possibly as soon as Tuesday. The league and NFL Players Association had asked the judge to rule by Sept. 4, if there was no settlement in the case.

But that won’t be the end. Whichever side loses before Berman could turn next to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

A triumph by Brady and the union before Berman presumably would put Brady on the field when the Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL’s season-opening game Sept. 10. But Brady, in that case, would be risking having to serve his suspension later, potentially late in the season when the games really matter, if the NFL prevails on appeal.

If Berman sides with the league and Brady’s suspension is upheld, Brady and the union could seek to have the suspension set aside to enable him to play while his appeal is pending. But that would not be a certainty.

“Wheels of appellate justice turn slowly,” Gabriel Feldman, the director of sports law program at Tulane University, wrote on Twitter, “so [we] may not have [the] final decision for months, though Brady will fight to stay on [the] field during [an] appeal.”

Berman attempted to persuade the league and union to settle the case, and he said Monday he was satisfied that the two sides had made legitimate efforts to do so. New York Giants co-owner John Mara and Jay Feely, the veteran place kicker who is active in NFLPA affairs, also attended Monday’s hearing.

A last-minute compromise between the NFL and the union is not precluded. But it appears very unlikely. There simply was too far for the sides to travel. The union and Brady’s representatives seemed willing for Brady to accept a fine tied only to a lack of cooperation with the NFL’s investigation. The league appeared adamant that Brady serve a suspension of some length and acknowledge wrongdoing in the under-inflation of footballs used by the Patriots in the first half of last season’s AFC title game. The opposing stances leave little room for a compromise.

Many observers have interpreted Berman’s questioning of the two sides in court as him favoring the union’s legal arguments over those made by the league. But legal experts have cautioned against reading too much into that, saying that merely could have reflected Berman’s strategy for attempting to bring about a settlement.

“No one can honestly tell you they know which way it’ll go,” one person connected to the case said in recent days.

At some point the saga will move out of the court room and back to the football field. Brady has not looked like his usually reliable self during preseason games, possibly indicating he has been distracted by the case. But it’s only the preseason, and all of that will matter little if he is on the field for the opener. The Patriots have readied Brady’s second-year backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, to take over if Brady’s suspension remains intact. It is difficult to judge Garoppolo’s readiness, given he never has started an NFL game, but no one is better than Patriots Coach Bill Belichick at using every circumstance to his advantage. The Patriots coming oh-so-close to an unbeaten 2007 season in the Spygate aftermath.

Even as this phase of DeflateGate draws to a close, there’s plenty more to come.